If you are not familiar with Reformation Day, it celebrates the day that the Reformation began in Europe with Martin Lutherposting his 95 theses on the Wittenburg church door to protest the selling of indulgences on October 31, 1517. Little did he realize how his 95 theses would be used by God to change the world. His desire was to see the Catholic Church reform in terms of God’s Word. His intention was to begin a
discussion with other teachers in the Catholic Church. Instead, Luther was used by God to begin a reformation of the church by returning to the foundation of Scripture alone. Scripture alone taught that salvation was not earned or sold by indulgences and grace was God’s alone to give.
Martin Luther is widely considered the father of the Protestant Reformation. As a monk, Luther struggled to find peace with God. He dedicated himself to fasting, flagellation, long hours in prayer, pilgrimage and constant confession. In all these rituals, he still did not find peace with God. Later, he was ordered to pursue an academic career and in doing so studied Scripture in-depth. In his studies as a Monk and university professor, Luther began to develop a sense that the Roman Church had abandoned several essential doctrines of the Christian faith; among these was what he considered to be the chief article of Christian Doctrine: Justification by Faith Alone (Sola Fide). This doctrine states that justification is entirely a work of God (monergism) and is received by men through faith in Jesus Christ. This runs contrary to the understanding taught by the Roman Church that justification is an act of coöperation between God and man (synergism).
The teachings of the Reformation are established upon Scripture alone. These doctrines are Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and all the glory to God alone. Salvation is only found by going to Christ, not by going through the motions of external obedience. The righteousness of Christ is received by faith alone. Christ’s righteousness, not ours, allows us to stand before a Holy and Just God. Christ alone is our sanctification and it is He who has paid the ransom price to purchase us from the consequences of sin and make us children of God.
One sola of the Reformation, “sola scripture”, includes emphasis on the implementation of the entire Bible in our living out our lives. We can celebrate on Reformation Day the same truth that Luther rediscovered then: that salvation is by faith alone through grace alone.
History records that Luther, Calvin and other reformers were not greeted with open arms in appreciation for their work. In fact, they faced much opposition. Many were martyred for holding to reformation principles. Let us mention three of the most well-known men here:
Huldrych Zwingli was a contemporary of Martin Luther and the leader of the Swiss Reformation. Although much less recognized, Zwingli was developing many of the same conclusions concurrently with Luther. Zwingli was killed in a battle against the Roman Cantons at Kappel am Albis in October of 1851.
John Calvin is the much celebrated father of Calvinism and much of what we now call Reformed Christian theology. While, today, Calvin is often singled out for his teachings on election and predestination, most of the earlier reformers held to this view as well. The overarching theme of Calvin’s teaching was an emphasis on the sovereignty of God, or that God is absolutely sovereign in all things. His book, Institutes of the Christian Religion, and his commentaries on the books of the Bible are still used today (especially by me!).
John Knox was the leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland and a student and contemporary of John Calvin. Prior to his instruction in Geneva, he was an influential reformer in the Church
of England. During one of his frequent exiles he settled in Geneva where he was instructed in the particulars of Calvin’s Reformed theology and Presbyterian church government. Upon returning to Scotland, he was influential in the Scottish Reformation and in creating the Kirk (now Church of Scotland), instituted after Scotland’s break with Rome in 1560.
While the Reformation continues to have profound and lasting impacts on the political, economic, social, literary, and artistic aspects of modern society, it is at its heart a religious movement. The Reformation was the great rediscovery of the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
The truth of the gospel — is that God offers forgiveness and salvation not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has already done for us. The Holy Spirit used Martin Luther to restore the gospel to its rightful place as the cornerstone doctrine of Christianity. Martin Luther and the other reformers came to understand that if we sinners had to earn salvation by our own merits and good works, we would be lost and without hope. However, through the working of the Holy Spirit, the reformers rediscovered the truth of Scripture.
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