“Why should I care about the Protestant Reformation?” is a question I have heard a few times this year. Most Christians do not understand the significance of Martin Luther nailing his “95 Theses” to the church door. This year we are celebrating 500 years since the day Protestants broke away from the tyranny that was plaguing the world through the Roman Catholic church. Understanding the implications of what Luther and others did, and their re-focus on sound biblical doctrine and theology, play a significant role for believers today in how we read, interpret, and understand the Scriptures.
The Protestant Reformation began in 1517 when a German lawyer-turned-monk, Martin Luther, wrote the “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” or as we know it, the “95 Theses,” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. These 95 questions and propositions that Luther wrote were in direct contradiction to the Catholic church’s teaching and practices. Luther’s statements can be compacted into what we call today the Five Solas;
These five points were of utmost importance when Luther began this Reformation, and the importance continues into our modern day as each of these five points are being questioned, attacked, and convoluted by those who do not understand what Christ did for us on the cross.
The first one, Sola Scriptura, states that Scripture alone is of supreme trustworthiness and ultimate authority for our faith and how it is practiced and lived out. The Bible alone is what the Christian needs to be able to learn and understand the deep theological truths and doctrines contained within. At the time of Luther, the Bible was only written in a scholarly language, Latin. Only the priests were able to read from it, so the people of the day could not read or study the Bible themselves. This claim by Luther about God’s Word moved power away from the priests, bishops, and cardinals, and allowed the Scriptures to be read and understood by everyone. After the Reformation, with the help of the printing press, Luther printed the New Testament in German (which was the lay person’s language in 1522), so that everyone would be able to read the Scriptures freely.
Sola Fide and Sola Gratia go together to help frame the process of regeneration, sanctification, and justification from sinner to believer. This is done exclusively through faith in Jesus and God’s grace poured out to sinners. Paul makes this explicitly clear in Ephesians 2:8–9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” This was, again, contradictory to the practices and sacraments being done by the Catholic church, which at that time were considered the only way one’s sins could be forgiven and be granted everlasting life.
Solus Christus shows that there is no other way to inherit eternal life except through God’s son Jesus, who died and was buried, and rose again on the third day. We see this written by Luke in Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” This shows that our faith must lie solely on Christ and on no one or nothing else. Again, at the time of Luther this was not the case; confessions were necessary for the “Christian” to continue to have “salvation,” and monetary payments were due yearly in order to retain salvation and good standing with the church.
Finally, Soli Deo Gloria—glory belongs only to God. God put his glory on display by sending his perfect son to pay the price for our sinfulness by execution on the cross. The focus is on God and God alone—not on pastors, speakers, priests, or kings—but God. At the time of Luther this was antithetical to the Catholic church and its bestowing of glory. The papal authority was the supreme authority on earth, directly appointed by God (so they believed), and by Luther stating this truth, title and power were stripped from the Catholic church.
But the question remains about the Reformation: “Why should I care about it?” First, if you are a Protestant today, regardless of denomination, you owe that to the breaking away from the Catholic church that took place 500 years ago. The Reformation reintroduced Christianity the way Christ had originated it during his ministry on the earth: through his disciples and the first-century Church as described in the book of Acts. The idea that we should have to go to an earthly priest to ask for forgiveness and continue to live a life bound by physical laws and boundaries is absurd. In Hebrews 4:14–15, we clearly see that we have a great High Priest, Jesus, and he alone is worthy to draw us into everlasting life.
The Reformation was a resounding call back to orthodoxy. We have seen in modern days a resurgence of the Reformation continuing into our lifetime, as the Reformation will never cease. We must continue to seek and understand the “knowledge of God’s will” (Col.1:9). This must be the Christian’s framework for understanding how and through what power we can know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13), and have confidence in what we believe. The Reformation is important, but should never replace the Bible as the Word of God. The Reformation era helps illustrate how mankind misconstrues the gospel, displays the acts within the Bible, and points us back to proper biblical doctrinal beliefs.
So, whether you knew it or not, the way you worship and read the Scriptures today was influenced by what happened 500 years ago by a German monk and the many other individuals who were involved in Luther’s biblical understanding. And it is certainly worth caring about.
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