Celebrating 500 Years of Reformation Today, October 31, 2017

One man, Martin Luther, stood alone against an empire. His motivation was spiritual, but the outcome of his conviction was spiritual and political, leaving a global legacy 500 years later and celebrated this October 31st.

Unbeknownst to even himself, Luther completely upended the current religious system. He initially sought to clarify church doctrine and reform it from within. Despite attempts on his life and retaliation and persecution, his persistence led to one of the most significant events in history that quite literally changed political and religious institutions forever.

Here are ten key principles about the Reformation:

  1. At the time of the Reformation the Roman State Church Ruled All. 

The Holy Roman Church ruled the Holy Roman Empire through a feudal system of kings, queens, lords, landowners, and bishops. It stretched across several continents and rivaled other empires for thousands of years in economic and military prowess. Rome was its capital; the Vatican, the seat of its state religion and papacy. In AD 1054 the empire divided between East and West; its Eastern counterpart, the Byzantine Empire, ruled alongside the Eastern Orthodox Church, in Constantinople.

The Roman Catholic Church/Empire waged war against numerous countries for thousands of years. Its popes initiated seven out of the nine Crusades, one of which was solely against the Byzantine Empire, which subsequently hastened its catastrophic end in AD 1453. The Roman Catholic Church imposed taxes on everyone except its clergy. Its bishops ruled with an iron scepter, collecting taxes, and torturing and imprisoning those who couldn’t pay. The church regulated nearly all areas of life, including literacy. Its edicts were in Latin; no bibles existed in anyone’s native language.

2. One Bible Verse Helped Shape the Doctrine of the Reformation:

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘the righteous shall live by faith(Romans 1:17)

This text also became the foundation for Luther’s declaration of the Five Solas:

On October 31, 1517, Luther posted Ninety-Five Theses to the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, which listed 95 issues he could not reconcile between Roman Catholic doctrine and the Bible. This was a political act as much as it was theological, and it nearly cost him his life. Eventually, Luther stood trial at the Diet of Worms, where he was forced to recant or be excommunicated; which he could not do, and was.

3. Luther Infamously Declared “Here I Stand” to His Accusers.

For many, many centuries, the Roman Catholic Church was the political and religious authoritative head of the Holy Roman Empire. Marriages and national alliances could not be forged without the Pope’s consent. The Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church ruled through “the Divine Right of Kings.” Meaning, what the Roman Catholic Church ruled, was civil and criminal law.

The German monk, Martin Luther, upended this entire system, beginning the era of Protestantism, and a movement called the Protestant Reformation, which celebrates its 500-year anniversary this October.

But in what conviction did Luther stake his life, knowing he would be sentenced to death unless he recanted? And why?

4. Sola Scriptura Has Three Key Components: a) The Bible is God’s Word communicated to humankind so that they may know and love their Creator. It offers wisdom, hope and guidance for all areas of life. b) God’s Word is the sole authority over all of life, the only source of truth about life, and clearly communicates how one can know, love, and spend eternity with God. (Rom. 1:16-17). c) Anyone can freely read the Bible and have direct access to God; only the Lord Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man.

5. Sola Fide and Sola Gratia– salvation through faith and grace alone– shape the identity of true believers today. Salvation through faith alone in Jesus, and through God’s grace alone, not through baptism or penance or purchasing indulgences or Hail Mary’s, but through Jesus alone, could anyone be saved. Thus, the first two Solas, Sola fide (Faith alone) and Sola gratia (Grace alone)– became the foundational principle for the identity of believers.

After meditating on Romans 1:17, Luther wrote:

There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: The righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely the passive righteousness with which the merciful God justifies us by faith. … Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.

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