Reformation. What does it mean to you? Is it merely some historical fact that you learned in school? Is it just a day that you celebrate every year by going to a lecture? How much do we really know about the Reformation? How much do we really care? After all that was almost 460 years ago!
But wait! Let’s look back and see what happened back there in 1517. It was on October 31 of that year that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church at Wittenburg. This event marked the beginning of the Reformation. The church that came out of the Reformation was the continuation of the true Church of Christ of which our churches today are historically a part.
Let’s take a closer look at the theses of Luther and the condition of the Roman Catholic Church at that time. The main thrust of the theses dealt with indulgences. Indulgences were pieces of paper, sold by the church to the people, that would take place of punishment for sins. It was the sale of forgiveness of sins for money! Buying an indulgence was like buying a ticket to heaven. Oh, the poor people who couldn’t afford indulgences. They would have to pay for their own sins in purgatory. After all, you must pay for your salvation. You can’t expect it to be given unto you. Following this same logic, if man can save himself in this way he can’t possibly be as bad as everyone believed he was. Certainly not totally depraved! He must have some good in him if he can will to save himself.
Martin Luther, with his 95 theses attacked the practices of indulgences and more importantly the doctrines that laid behind these practices. He also fought the idea of the free will of man in his book “The Bondage of the Will”. In this book he proclaimed that man’s will was prisoner and a slave to the will of Satan.*
So there stood Luther and his small but growing groups of Protestants on the foundation of the Scriptures. The Infallible Word of God!
But what has happened to these truths of the Reformation of 460 years ago? A large percentage of the world still claims to be Protestant. We live in a “Protestant” nation. Yet most of Protestantism lives in total disregard for the Scriptures and the truths proclaimed in the Reformation of the 16th century.
Can it be that these truths don’t apply anymore? Impossible! God and his Word are eternal and unchangeable! This is why it is so important for us to know and understand the workings of not only the 16th century Reformation, but the entire history of the church.
Today, much of the Protestant world goes along with the Roman Catholic Church of the 16th century, in proclaiming that man can have a part in his own salvation. Oh, he can’t buy indulgences, but he must fill certain quotas of good works. He must accept the offer of the gospel and let Christ into his heart. Even the church from which the Protestant Reformed Church was formed in 1924, is leaning in this direction when they claim in the second point of common grace that the Holy Spirit preserves some “good” in fallen man thus restraining the process of sin making human life and society possible. Can’t they see that these are the same errors that Luther, the leader of their Reformation fought in 1517?
We must see it! It is a beautiful heritage! We must know and understand and fight for it! We must fight with all that we have to preserve it. And all the while in our fight we must be thanking God, that he has chosen to open our eyes that we may see these truths.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” I Cor. 15:38.
“Watch ye, stand ye fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” I Cor. 16:13.
* For a more detailed account of the works of Luther and the doctrines he defended, read Rev. David Engelsma’s Pamphlet “The Reformation and Twentieth Century Protestantism”.s