While the actual date of the event is disputed in Eric Metaxas' new book, Luther, October 31 is widely known as the day that Martin Luther posted his history changing 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany. The year was 1517. That was five hundred years ago. This is a big year for church history junkies like me.
So while some will be celebrating Halloween, I will be celebrating some of the joys of what it means to be Protestant. I know that talking this way may be seen as polemical to some of our Catholic or non-religious types. I do not mean to do so. I have no problem with anybody celebrating their traditions which mean something. I hope they can return the favour.
There is so much that we could say about the Reformation. I will just highlight three things:
- The Priesthood and Stewardship of All Believers
- The Gift of the Bible in My Language
- The Heroic Legacy We've Been Passed On
1. The Priesthood and Stewardship of All Believers
One of the biggest "Eureka" moments that Martin Luther had was when he realized that everyone has access to God. To have a relationship with your Creator, you didn't have to go to anyone but God himself. You didn't need to see a priest, a bishop or the Pope to gain heaven's ear. You simply had to come by faith. God was available to all who would call upon him. Luther learned that we could confess our sins to God and that Jesus' finished work on the cross was enough to give us a full pardon and guarantee our peace with God. What did we have to do? Not works. Just faith.
Romans 1:16-17 was a hallmark verse for the Reformer. The righteous will live by faith alone in Jesus alone.
Because we could all come to God, we could all please him with our work. Before the Reformation, society was divided between those who work in the church and those who did not. If you wanted to really please God and serve him, you went to work in the church. Luther rediscovered the truth that all work is holy if the worker is holy. All our efforts whether they are in cow-milking or shoe-making could be seen as work unto God.
After the Reformation, it was widely believed that everyone had a calling before God. The Reformation championed the belief that all of us are accountable to God for how we steward the gifts that he has given.
That's where the Protestant work ethic came from. It is rooted in the idea that everyone will be accountable to God for what they did with the talent(s) that were given to them.
We know that whatever we do, whether in word or deed, we do for the glory of God.
2. The Gift of the Bible in My Language
You would never think it would be controversial to read the Bible in English...but it really was. Men and women were persecuted and many died so that we could have the Bible in our own language. What a gift it is for us to know the truth in a language we can understand. What a gift to be able to study and interpret God's love letter to us for ourselves.
I take this for granted too much. While the reasons are varied, the Catholic Church did not want people either profaning the Bible by translating it out of Latin and Greek or reading it poorly and being mistaken about what it says.
The Reformers empowered people to read the Bible for themselves. The printing press was cutting edge technology to be able to print the Bible and other works of literature en masse. The populace was inspired to learn to read so they could read the Bible.
Next time you crack open the Bible or scroll through your Bible app, be thankful for those who worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make sure you could do just that.
I can't even imagine what my life would be like without the truth of God's Word as a part of my everyday experience.
3. The Heroic Legacy We've Been Passed On
Luther, Calvin, Zwingli are three of the most famous Reformers. But there are so many great heroes whose shoulders we stand on. How I have been encouraged in my faith by the historical testimonies of Wycliffe, Tyndale, Hus, Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, and Hutter.
God raised up some amazing men and women of deep faith and courage. They gave everything for the convictions that were in their heart about what was real, and true and worth fighting for.
Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses...let us stand up for truth, lead with conviction and stand with courage on the Word of God.
Let us champion the belief that humanity is lost without Jesus and his work, the gospel, is their only hope.
While there is more that could be said and should be said, I have used up my time.
As evangelical Christians, we did not just show up on the scene a hundred years ago. There are some ideas that have shaped our society. Many of them came right out of the Reformation.
They are beautiful. They are timeless and they should be celebrated.
Join me as we celebrate five hundred years of this great Protestant tradition.