Today, October 31, 2017, marks the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation. And to be honest, a few months ago, I would have X’ed out of this blog post when I read that sentence. I had heard of the Reformation but I didn’t really understand what the big deal was or why I should care about it. However, for the past few months, I haven’t been able to escape hearing about it. I’ve been to two churches doing series on it, and listened to my favorite pastor on podcast, JD Greear, doing a sermon series on it as well.
Here’s what you need to know.
Simply put, the Reformation was the biggest turning point in the church that has ever happened. Before this day 500 years ago, the Bible was taught only in Latin and only by priests, which meant that the common person had no real access to study Scripture themselves. Whatever the Pope said went, and although the Pope did some amazing things, he also set forth some bad principles like buying indulgences, which were basically merit tokens to earn you extra credit for heaven. The path to heaven revolved around Jesus + good works. No one during that time could be assured of their salvation because they were taught that it was contingent on what they did and not solely what Jesus has done.
Here’s where a guy named Martin Luther comes in.
For the longest time, whenever I saw a quote by Martin Luther, I always just assumed it meant Martin Luther King Jr. and they just left off the King Jr. because that wasn’t important. However, I found out a few years ago that Martin Luther is a completely different person and is arguably more important that his King Jr. counterpart because he changed the entire direction of the church.
“Your are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.” – Martin Luther
Martin Luther, a monk of the time, became obsessed about what was going to happen to him when he died, scared that he would be rejected by God. He would fast for days on end, spend hours in confession trying to remember all his sins of the past, and do many other crazy things to show God that he was sorry.
At one point, he started studying the Scripture to teach it to others, and he was enlightened by the words found in Romans that described the “righteousness of God” and the mercy God extends to those who put their faith in His Son alone for their salvation.
Romans 3:28 says, “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”
When Luther realized this, he finally understood that it wasn’t about confessing enough or feeling sorry enough because Jesus had done enough! He soon after developed five phrases to set straight the essential, original teachings of Christianity and especially salvation.
- Sola Scriptura “Scripture alone”: The Bible alone is our highest authority.
- Sola Fide “faith alone”: We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
- Sola Gratia “grace alone”: We are saved by the grace of God alone.
- Solus Christus “Christ alone”: Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.
- Soli Deo Gloria “to the glory of God alone”: We live for the glory of God alone.
After publicly sharing his work and being tried for heresy and rising up against the authority of the Catholic church, he was sentenced to death. However, Luther escaped into the countryside where he spent years translating the Bible from Latin into German so that regular citizens would be able to read it. The work that he started created a spark in many people who were fed up with the church’s corruption, and they began to rebel. Preachers all over Europe began translating the Bible into their languages, and the idea that salvation came through faith in Christ alone spread like wildfire, causing many people to die for their beliefs. The name of this huge movement that Luther started was called the Reformation. Although many more influential people are a huge part of the Reformation, I wanted to highlight why we are celebrating the 500th anniversary, and that is because it is the day Luther posted his findings. Long story short, here we are 500 years later with an abundance of churches that preach the same message that so many people died for.
But there’s one death that was more important than them all, and that was the death of Jesus on the cross over 2,000 years ago. When we put our faith in Him alone, our eternity is guaranteed, and we can live our life in thankfulness and in worship of the righteous God who saves us.
“Our works do not generate righteousness, rather our righteousness in Christ generates works.” – Martin Luther
So, to answer the question in the blog title, “Why should I care about the Reformation?” You should care because 500 years ago today, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, and this changed the direction of the church for the better, setting forth the doctrine that salvation is through Christ alone. What a beautiful gift we have in Jesus.
For a longer version of the Reformation story and to see where I got a lot of my inspiration to write this from, check out this blog post by JD Greear.
For more information on the 5 Solas, check out this article!