It is some four hundred and fifty years ago (447 to be exact) that Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg thus beginning what is known in history as the Protestant Reformation. Perhaps a brief review of the events which led to this memorable and earth shaking act is worthwhile. The pope at this time was Leo X. He is described by historians as “scholar, poet, a gentleman, kindly and generous, in love with classical literature and delicate art.” Moreover, he was one who spent money rapidly and, while pope, the full coffers he had inherited from Pope Julius II were soon depleted. Leo needed money for one project in particular viz. the restoration of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. For this purpose, he offered the indulgence of 1517. Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar, known to be a successful money-raiser, was assigned parts of Germany. He was barred from entering Saxony by Frederick the Wise. But Tetzel came so close to its borders that many people of Wittenberg crossed the border to obtain the remission of sins which he sold. It was thus that Dr. Martin Luther came into contact with these corruptions of the papacy. In the prescribed manner of the day he issued in his ninety-five theses a challenge to debate the question of indulgences. Thus as the historian Will Durant writes in Vol. VI of The Story of Civilization, p. 341 “Courteously, piously, unwittingly, the Reformation had begun.” Luther, of course, had no intention of breaking with the Romish Church at this time.
Of course volumes more could be written on this history but let this be sufficient to remind us of this God-designed reform of the church. That we wish to remind ourselves of this event is very important. Important because of all the great events in the history of the church, the one most “churchmen” of today like to minimize is the Reformation of the 16th century. This is true of Protestant Christendom as well as of the Roman Catholic Church. One of the great aims of the Vatican Council is to bring back the “erring” brethren into the fold of the Romish Church. This is also, it may safely be said, true of the World Council of churches.
What must our reaction be to all of this? In answer we may perhaps suggest two things. As we remember the Reformation at this time of the year, let us resolve to dedicate ourselves to a defense of the same. We ought to busy ourselves in the study of the great truths of Scripture which were again set forth by brave men of God in the 16th and following century. If at any time in history it is imperative for the church to know its heritage it is NOW! Now is the time of merger talks, of breaking down the walls of separation between churches; now is the time of union at the expense of the truth.
Then too, let us resolve to develop those truths. For two reasons this is important. First, through such endeavor we shall by the Grace of God be blessed in the knowledge of the truth and be drawn closer to Him. Second, we shall, also by the Grace of God, by such endeavor avoid stagnation and dead orthodoxy.
This, young people, is your calling. Especially in the world of today is it crucial that we clearly understand this. All things are increasingly pointing to the end.
In so doing we may be sure of one thing; we will make ourselves very odious to the vast majority of men. In fact, the Bible tells us in more than one passage we will be hated, scorned, ridiculed and even put to death as the day of our Lord approaches. But let this detain us not. Pray for grace to be faithful. Thank God for Martin Luther. Thank Him for the precious heritage He gave us through the Reformation and ask Him for the necessary grace and strength to defend and develop the same in this hostile world which hastens toward the end. And as far as the opposition and persecution of that world is concerned, never fear, but listen to the Word of God in Rev. 2:10: “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” That Word can never fail; may it be our strength and consolation as we battle in the Lord’s cause.