On the 31st of October 2017, we commemorate 500 years since the start of the Great Reformation. As a school, we want to celebrate the meaning and significance of this event in history. However, for some of us, we struggle to comprehend what the ‘Reformation’ means for us today. Unfortunately, it is much easier to tell someone about Halloween (which is also celebrated on the same day), than convey the true importance of the Reformation.
Let’s first start with the fruits of the Reformation. The word ‘reformation’ suggests that something was REFORMED. In other words, something was out of form, and thus needed to be FORMED AGAIN (re-formed). In every-day life, people’s hearts were REFORMED from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. Intellects were REFORMED from darkness to light. Actions were REFORMED from wickedness to righteousness. Towns and villages were REFORMED from oppression to liberty and justice. Whole nations and continents were REFORMED from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age.
Try and recognise some of these names – John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Knox, Zwingli, etc. These men were all of the first Reformers starting with Luther. They and their followers were known as the Protestants (protesting against the increasing wickedness in the Catholic Church), and God did such a great work in their lives that Europe was transformed into a prosperous continent form 1519 onwards.
So, how did this Reformation come about?
God used Martin Luther as a catalyst to ignite the flames of the Reformation. He was not the first or only one to preach the Reformed message, but he was surely the beachhead to prepare the way for others to follow. Luther got more and more disillusioned with the state of the Roman Catholic Church, and as a catholic priest, his desire was to reform the church from the inside. However, the leadership of the Catholic Church did not respond well to Luther’s Reformed message, and started to persecute him and his followers. Ultimately, they had to break away from the Catholic Church, because of her refusal to reform.
What were the main concerns and themes of the Reformation?
- Eternal Salvation is a Free Gift from God through Faith
In Luther’s day, the members of the Catholic Church had to buy Indulgences from the church in order to obtain forgiveness for sins. As Martin Luther was studying the Bible, he saw that the practice of paying for your forgiveness was not consistent with the teachings of Scripture.
“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” Ephesians 2:8 (NLT)
We cannot work for our salvation; no, Christ died on the cross to PAY for our sins with His own blood. All we have to do is ACCEPT what God has done for us through Christ, and allow Him to work IN us what He has already completed 2000 years ago.
This message of Good News (the Gospel) is summarised in the well-known verse in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV)
- The Word of God Carries the Highest Authority in the Church and Individual Christians.
The Pope and Rome held the highest authority on matters of faith and doctrine in Luther’s day. But as Martin Luther started to read Scripture, he saw that the Holy Scriptures are the highest authority by which we measure everything else. Even church leadership (the Pope included) had to submit under the authority of Scripture. In other words, where traditions of men (or the church) were in contradiction with the Bible, the former had to change.
“The whole Bible was given to us by inspiration from God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives; it straightens us out and helps us do what is right.” 2 Timothy 3:16 (TLB)
In the early 1500’s, the Bible was mainly available in Latin, and only to be read and understood by the priests. The average church member, who spoke other languages (e.g. German, English, Dutch, French, etc.), did not understand what was read or preached (as most speaking in church was done in Latin). The Reformers’ focus on the Bible’s authority and infallibility ignited a series of Bible translations into other European, and later world languages. At last the lay people could hear and read the Bible in their mother tongue. Many schools were established by churches in order to teach children how to read and write (esp. the Bible).
In summary, the Reformation roused Europe out of the Middle Ages and empowered her to become a powerful continent from where the Gospel was spread all over the world (Americas, Africa, Asia & Oceania) from 1520-1950. God used this spiritual revolution to awaken its True Church, and making her a blessing to all nations.
May we never forget the truths revealed during this great epoch in history,
and may our lives reflect its beauty to the Glory of God!!!