|Martin Luther and the 95 Theses: Oct 31, 1517.|
Briefly, the Roman Catholic Church and its Eastern Orthodox twin-cousin had become deluged in medieval theology. As the institutional church claimed for itself more and more authority--eventually regarding itself as having equal with Scripture--the dogmas of the church moved further and further away from biblical moorings. Such doctrines as purgatory, the selling of indulgences, the re-sacrifice of Christ at the mass, and the adoration of Mary--none of which are found in Scripture--gained prominence.
On October 31st 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, unsettled the status quo by challenging the powers-that-be to a debate regarding the abhorrent doctrine of indulgences. On this day, Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. This marked the formal beginning of the Reformation, although some men who came before him helped to set the stage (John Wycliffe and John Huss for instance).
Originally, Martin Luther had no intentions of starting a new branch of Christianity. He had no desire to form a "Lutheran" contingent of followers. He certainly did not foresee the proliferation of Protestant denominations that would be spawned shortly. He merely wanted to spark an "in-house" debate to reform the existing church, which he loved deeply.
However, Luther's ideas regarding the ultimate authority of Scripture were considered too radical, and were seen as a "slap in the face" to papal authority. Eventually, Luther was summoned to recant his writings at the Diet of Worms (1521). He did not.
The Reformation fires quickly spread to other nations outside of Germany. Ulrich Zwingli seemingly uncovered the doctrine of "justification by faith alone" simultaneously, or even before Luther (as he himself claimed). A half-generation later, John Calvin stormed onto the worldwide scene with his small book the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536) which meant to clarify and defend Reformed doctrine to the King of France. His own work brought revival to Geneva, Swizerland, which became a new center of evangelical theology and training.
William Tyndale (England), John Knox (Scotland), Heinrick Bullinger (Switzerland) and others fanned the flames of revival all over Europe. The Netherlands, Belgium and other further reaching lands were likewise impacted as the throngs of laypersons were revived by a fresh preaching of God's word, especially as it pertains to salvation by free grace in Jesus Christ.
During this time, Protestants (as they were called) began writing vibrant new confessions of faith; the Augsburg Confession of 1530 and the Heidelberg Confession of 1563, for instance, defined Lutheran and Reformed theology respectively. Many stood strong for their convictions despite heavy persecution and a Counter-Reformation attempted by Rome.
As a movement, the ramifications of the Reformation are difficult to quantify because they are so deep and long-lasting. Some would say the Reformation is still not over in some regards. In our own land here in America, our forefathers, the Puritans, considered themselves to be the direct heirs of Reformation teaching and theology. Our own founding as a nation was deeply impacted by Reformed beliefs and convictions as it regards God's holy Law and saving Gospel.
As we celebrate this month of October, let us pray that God would bless our land with passionate preachers of revival who lift up such glorious Biblical doctrines as those which came to be known as the Five Solas:
- Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)
- Sola Fide (Faith alone)
- Solus Christus (Christ alone)
- Sola Gratia (Grace alone) and
- Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone Glory)