A Renegade's Reformation


ben white 181034

What is Reformation Day? Who was Martin Luther? What does any of it have to do with us today?

I asked these questions when the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day rolled around. I know I was taught something about the Reformation in history class at school. The story seemed long and overly complex as it dove into the messy history of the church, religion, and politics so I tuned it out. So, what did Martin Luther do that was so important to us?

The key to the Reformation movement was the Bible.

This is my brief history lesson and then you can look up the details for yourself.

500 years ago, Martin Luther was grieved by the corruption that was happening within the church. Driven by greed, church leaders preyed on their flock. They took every advantage of man’s guilt, his fear of death, and his uncertainty of final judgement. Forgiveness and freedom from eternal punishment was sold to the masses at high prices to line the pockets of those in church authority.

Luther nailed what is now known as his “95 Theses of Contention” to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. This paper was a call to debate with the leaders of the church simply listing 95 numbered points that he wanted to discuss. I believe that he meant to challenge hearts and minds of these men, whom he loved and at one time respected, by showing them the Truth in God’s Word.

What drew me in the most about this piece of history?

Let’s back up a little. Luther was a devout Biblical scholar. He spent years studying the Bible. From what I have experienced personally, and from what I have witnessed in others, you cannot spend devoted time in God’s Word without being deeply impacted and changed by it. Luther had been studying Paul’s letters to the churches in Rome and Galatia for his lectures. In the Bible, Paul is very clear in every letter than he wrote to the New Testament churches. He repeatedly highlights God’s grace and His gift of salvation only through Jesus Christ. He reminds us that we are saved by faith in Christ alone and not by works. He calls out to those who suppress the Truth and who hold fast to old laws for salvation to be saved. Luther’s eyes were opened, and he couldn’t ignore the deception that he was witnessing. The key to the Reformation movement was the Bible.  

The common person at the time didn’t have easy access to Scripture in the language they most understood. Bibles were not found on every coffee table. They obtained what scripture that knew from their popes and bishops. They were taught to respect the church as the authority in all things. To make it more challenging, scripture was only allowed to be read and taught in Latin even though this was a German speaking community. Leaders were so rigid about this rule that in 1517, seven people were burned at the stake just for teaching children the Lord’s Prayer in English rather than Latin! These people had little choice but to believe what these “men of God” taught them. God’s truth was suppressed, lies spread, people lived in darkness and fear.

Luther simply took a big spotlight and shined it on the Bible. (I say simply but if you read the whole history of the Reformation you will know it wasn’t a simple process. Fighting for God never is.) Luther recognized that the Bible was not meant to be just a fancy book of pretty words. It is the plumb line, the measuring stick, and the first and final say in everything. God’s Word tells us how to live, how to be saved, and how much He loves and cares for us. It teaches us how to survive in this world, how to withstand the attacks of Satin and how to fight back. It is the most empowering physical tool that we have. Anytime the spotlight strays away from God and His Word, darkness sneaks in and people are easily deceived and confused.

Yes, Luther took on the church and worked to bring reform within it, but that wasn’t all he was doing at that time. He was also working to bring the Truth to everyone so that they could measure what they were told against God’s Word for themselves. They could see for themselves the great gift of salvation that came as a result of Christ’s sacrifice for them. In the months following October 31, 1517, Luther’s Theses was translated and distributed across Europe and Germany. Soon after, he translated the New Testament into the spoken German language so that it could be understood by the common person. By spreading God’s Word and making it accessible and understood, he was removing the power of the deceivers and empowering believers.

I found it fascinating that this was prophesied a hundred years prior:

“John Hus, actively promoted Wycliffe’s ideas: that people should be permitted to read the Bible in their own language, and they should oppose the tyranny of the Roman church that threatened anyone possessing a non-Latin Bible with execution. Hus was burned at the stake in 1415, with Wycliffe’s manuscript Bibles used as kindling for the fire. The last words of John Hus were that, “in 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.” Almost exactly 100 years later, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses of Contention (a list of 95 issues of heretical theology and crimes of the Roman Catholic Church) into the church door at Wittenberg. The prophecy of Hus had come true! Martin Luther went on to be the first person to translate and publish the Bible in the commonly-spoken dialect of the German people; a translation more appealing than previous German Biblical translations. -taken from http://www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history/

This wasn’t a coincidence. God planned every step that it would take to spread the Bible throughout the world!

Fast forward 500 years. Thanks to Luther’s movement, there are countless churches that continue to keep the spotlight on God and His Word. Because of Luther and men like him, there are billions of Bibles printed in hundreds of languages. With access to a single Bible, churches are started underground in places where religious freedom isn’t allowed. People are reading and studying the Bible and they are being impacted and changed by it, just like Luther was in his day and it is spreading like fire. Of course, there are still churches in existence that follow their own rules for salvation. There are still churches that prey upon the weak and vulnerable for their money with promises of prosperity. The church is not immune to sin.

In America, we are so blessed to live in a time where God’s Word is so easily accessed. We have Bibles available to us in many translations of the English language to help us to understand. We don’t even need to carry the paper book with us anymore if we prefer. We have access to the Bible on our smart phones and on the internet. And yet, we are still deceived with lies, confused about our salvation, and unclear about “the rules”. Is this church’s fault? In this day, we can’t point the finger back at the church. Oh, don’t get me wrong, God is clear that he will hold leaders to a high level of accountability, but we have so many ways to access God’s Word that we have no excuse to remain in the dark.

This piece of history speaks to me, not only of church reformation, but to a reformation of the heart. It speaks to me of personal accountability. We choose to be deceived when we don’t take the time to read and hear what God has said to us. We choose to live in darkness when we believe what we are told instead of taking the time to seek out the answers ourselves. We choose to be confused when we don’t test everything as Paul instructs us in 1 Thessalonians 5:21. We are living in a time where the light shining brightly straight from God’s Word and it is aimed at our hearts. Are we blocking and filtering that light so we can remain in the shadows? Or are we embracing it with open and eager hearts?