Without question, the Protestant Reformation is one of the most controversial (and perhaps thrilling) eras in the history of the church. This is a story that needs to be retold again and again and again. The Reformation is our heritage, it is our history, it is our biography, it is our spiritual family tree and the Reformers were our comrades—many of whom lost their lives for doctrines that you and I oftentimes just assume and take for granted.
The Reformation is, without question, the most far-reaching, world-changing display of God’s sovereign grace over history since the birth and early expansion of the church. And this this Tuesday, October 31st we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
What is the Reformation? Certainly not a single act led by one man. Rather, the Reformation was a God-ordained, history-altering movement that took place over several decades that was, at its very essence, the recovery of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and its unparalleled influence on churches, nations and even entire civilizations.
In other words, the Reformation was a development in redemptive history when the Gospel and the doctrines of sovereign grace were not only rediscovered, but also when these very same doctrines resurrected the church out of the spiritual graveyard into which it had been buried for centuries.
To put the Reformation in its most crude terms, it is when authentic Christianity emerged out of and severed itself from the Roman Catholic church and its corrupted gospel of works and merit.
Theologian Steve Lawson put it like this: “The church was greatly in need of reform. Spiritual darkness personified the Roman Catholic church. The Bible was a closed Book. Spiritual ignorance ruled the minds of the people. The Gospel was perverted. Church tradition trumped divine truth. Personal holiness was abandoned. The rotten stench of manmade traditions covered pope and priest. The corruption of ungodliness contaminated both dogma and practice.” (Pillars of Grace, vol. 2, p. 393)
And yet, everything changed on October 31st, 1517 when a German monk named Martin Luther hammered onto the Wittenberg church doors a document that exposed some of the most tragic corruptions of the Roman Catholic church (called the 95 theses).
This was, again, one of those proverbial “rocks in the pond of history” that caused such devastating ripple effects that they can still be felt in a profound way in 21st century America. To put it another way, the hammer blows at Wittenberg are still being heard even to this very day. But Luther was not alone—not by a long shot! There were the pre-reformers John Wyclif of England (d. 1384), Jan Hus of the Czech Republic (martyred 1415) and then of course, there was John Calvin of Geneva, Switzerland; Francis Turretino of Rome, Italy; Martin Bucer of Strasburg, Germany; William Tyndale of England and John Knox of Scotland. Yes, they were just men, flawed men—even just “dust” according to Psalm 103:14, but what dust they were! The fragile dust of these men’s lives was used to influence the shifting of entire civilizations!
Church historian Philip Schaff put it like this: “The Reformation of the 16th century is, next to the introduction of Christianity, the greatest event in history. It marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern times. Starting from religion it made Protestantism the chief propelling force in the history of modern civilization.” (History of the Christian Church, vol. VII, p. 1)
What you must understand is that we believe what we do today in large measure because God sovereignly used Luther and the Reformers to open the eyes of the church—including us now—to truth in scripture. For instance, we prize the absolute sovereignty of God in our salvation because of Luther and the Reformers.
We love the Scriptures and treasure them as supreme and central because of Luther and the Reformers (Sola Scriptura).
We cherish the foundational truth of Christ alone as the all-sufficient object of saving faith because of Luther and the Reformers (Solus Christus).
We fiercely hold—even unto death, to sovereign grace alone as the source of our salvation because of Luther and the Reformers (Sola Gratia).
We value faith alone and not human works or merit as that which freely gains us access to the treasure of salvation purchased by Christ because of Luther and the Reformers (Sola Fide).
And we have as the foundation of life and reality the glory of God as the chief end of everything because of Luther and the Reformers (Soli Deo Gloria). In other words, Luther and the Reformers opened our eyes to the centrality of the display of God’s glory as the ultimate end and purpose of God in everything He does.
In other words, like it or not, Reformation Christianity is authentic, Biblical Christianity—which means, we are sons of daughters of the Reformation, which means: the Reformation is not over.