- make changes in (something, typically a social, political, or economic institution or practice) in order to improve it.
500 years ago today, October 31, 1517, a German monk nailed 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Martin Luther’s 95 grievances were against the Catholic Church and specifically against the Pope. He did this, not with the intent of breaking away from the church, rather, he wished to call the church to refocus and recommit to a more biblical way of doing church and life.
From the Reformation came what is known as the Five Solas. These statements all work together in order to summarize the Gospel, salvation, and how a believer ought to live.
–Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) –The Bible is the source of authority for Christians. Scripture is efficient. 2 Peter 1:20-21 & 1 Timothy 3:16-17
–Sola Fide (Faith Alone) –Salvation is a free gift; it is never based on human efforts or deeds. Christians must have faith in God alone. Ephesians 2:9
–Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) –Salvation is by grace alone. It is a result of what Jesus has done, not what we do. Ephesians 2:8-9
–Sola Christo (Christ Alone) –Salvation is through Christ alone. Jesus alone is our great High Priest and mediator. Hebrews 4:15
–Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone) –The goal in life for every believer should be to bring glory to God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
Martin Luther usually gets a lot of credit for his reform work, and rightly so. However, I want to shed some light on a few other great and godly men who were unafraid to reform. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but just simply a few snapshots.
John Wycliffe in the 1380s worked to translate the Bible into English from Latin. Wycliffe also fervently opposed unbiblical teachings of the Catholic Church and was eventually declared a heretic. Wycliffe’s writings and work inspired other future reformers.
Jan Hus was a Czech priest who was committed to the idea that people deserved and needed to hear the truth of the Bible in their own language. He began performing services in the local Czech language rather than Latin, and adamantly opposed the same teachings that Luther would also later condemn. Hus was eventually arrested and burned at the stake for his “heresy.”
At the same time that Luther led reform in Germany, Huldrych Zwingli led the Reformation in Switzerland. Although Zwingli and Luther did not always see eye to eye it should be said that Zwingli had a profound impact.
In 1536 William Tyndale was burned at the stake for his stances against unbiblical teachings of the Catholic Church. Tyndale was the first to translate the Bible into English from the original Greek and Hebrew.
So here we are, 500 years removed, what does all of this mean for us today?
The sad reality is that many people today are ignorant of what the Bible has to say. Even sadder is that Biblical illiteracy does not just apply to those outside churches, but to many sitting in pews as well.
The Bible (whole) is available in 636 languages and the New Testament is available in 1442 languages! There are currently six Bible apps on my phone and I would bet there is at least one on your phone as well. In fact, most of those apps have an audio option so that God’s Word can be listened to at any time.
We are running out of excuses.
Clearly, the Reformation was about much more than just reading or listening to the Bible. But studying and understanding God’s Word was certainly at its core. Luther and the other Reformers all knew and loved God’s Word dearly. We would do well to follow their example.
Here are 5 “theses” for us to be challenged with on this 500-year anniversary:
- Let us continually reform our commitment to God.
- Let us continually reform our love for Jesus.
- Let us reform to a higher view of Scripture.
- Let us reform our obedience to the Spirit.
- Let us allow God to continually reform us.