What was the Reformation?

Regardless of your faith convictions, the Reformation has impacted your life. And not in unsignificant ways. The Reformation has been linked to capitalism, politics, and the scientific revolution. Those within the Christian faith unknowingly lean on the effects of the Reformation when we open our Bible app, head to our local Baptist, Presbyterian, or other church denomination on Sundays, and much more.

Consider this a primer. The Reformation was not one moment, like Pearl Harbor or 9/11/2001. It was like the swell of a wave that rose and crashed; it was a movement spanning years and generations through a time of rapid historical upheaval and change.

What Happened: Martin Luther, a German monk in the Catholic Church, rediscovered the gospel.

This is a huge simplification*. For the sake of being short, it works. The Bible was rarely read & studied in Luther’s day — but Luther made it his obsession. He studied relentlessly as a local priest/pastor and as a Doctor of Theology, teaching on Galatians, the Psalms, and Romans.

Eric Metaxas argues that Luther probably didn’t nail his 95 theses in a dramatic fashion. In fact, Luther sent a letter on Oct. 31, 1517. The theses document was likely posted by the church custodian on the church doors, which served as the town bulletin board. Maybe right next to “Ye Olde Karaoke Night” and “Town Hall Bingo”.

Luther’s commitment to the Bible as a Catholic monk was abnormal and highly personal. He doubted his salvation constantly.

This vacuum accelerated rot and decay within the Catholic (or “one”) Church. What pricked Luther’s conscience was his experience as a pastor. His people were being told by the Church that their money could count as good works.**

Luther became convinced by Scripture that God saves people by grace through faith. Scripture teaches that God saves us not on the basis of our own ability to do good works. God saves humans by crediting or depositing the righteousness of Jesus into their spiritual bank account, through faith, see 2 Corinthians 5:20–22. Luther would write

“Through faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours”

So what did Luther do after making his discovery? In 21st century language, he composed 95 theologically fused tweets, and posted them on the community Facebook page. In his day, that meant posting his 95 theses on the door of the local church — which served as a community bulletin board.

He meant to start conversation and create health in the Catholic church, instead he lit a spark that would lead to it’s fracture, all because Luther decided to read the Bible.

Ironically, gospel means good news, but so long as men and women live in negotiation with God over their sin, there can never be peace with God about our sin.

Why It Matters: The Reformation brought the good news back to the gospel.

Luther understood this. He could never confess enough, or be righteous enough. He was a sinner***. If you know anything about negotiation, you need leverage. Sinners before a holy God have no leverage.

The gospel, preserved through the Reformation, teaches Jesus died for sin at the cross, and that He shares his perfect standing before God with those who trust him.

So long as men and women remain in negotiation with God over their sin, there can never be peace with God about our sin.

How did the Reformers arrive at this crucial place?

Enter the Five Solas. The “Five Solas” represent the basic truths held in common among the early Reformers.

Sola Scriptura, scripture alone! God’s Word is the ultimate authority, not the church. Sola Fide, faith alone! Salvation is not by trusting in works, but by a working trust in Christ. Sola Gratia, grace alone! Not because of anything in man, but out of God’s good pleasure. Sola Christus, Christ alone! Not through the church or any other method but the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Sola Deo Gloria, to the glory of God alone! Why salvation? To the “praise of God’s glorious grace” (Ephesians 1).

Now What: Keep standing on the gospel.

The Reformation was a call back to the gospel. To remember it today, is not to idolize Luther.*** The Reformation is call back to stand for the gospel in a way that preserves the gospel for the next generation.

To this end, you will either be a parrot or a pursuer.

Luther spoke of people in his own culture who, like parrots, simply repeated phrases and words, convincing others of their faith — while lacking real trust in and surrender to Christ — which takes the form of love for neighbor.

Luther’s very first thesis placed on that door 500 years ago read as follows:

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

To embrace the gospel, to stand in it and keep standing in it, is to let continual repentance make way for the life of Jesus to flourish in you.

In this way, repentance is the way Christians pursue Jesus, instead of parroting Him.

Jared Wilson calls this “non-negotiable brokeness”, in order to come to Jesus, we must own our brokeness. When we repent, believe, and obey —we own our sin, take it to the cross, and allow the life of our risen King to work it’s way out of us through loving obedience.

Happy Reformation Day! May we preserve the gospel, not just for ourselves but for others.

*Eric Metaxas uses similar language about “rediscovering the gospel” in his great book, Martin Luther. Luther was one of many “reformers” who sought to create health within the church. What makes Luther unique is the almost providential circumstances — from politics, to location, to technology, that ensured his spark would be the one to start a fire.

**Ryan M. Reeves has a great video explaining indulgences.

***Luther is widely known to have harbored racist anti-semetic views that have no place in a Christian’s life

PhD Candidate • University of Aberdeen • Applied Theology • Pastor • Writer

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