The Protestant Reformation. Outside of Biblically recorded events and the closing of the canon of Scripture, it is arguably the most important event in church history, and one of the most important events in world history as well, yet many Christians today are unaware of this landmark incident in their heritage which birthed the Protestant church.
The year was 1517. A monk named Martin Luther gripped his hammer and nailed a list of biblical grievances against the Roman Catholic Church to the door of CastleChurch in Wittenberg, Germany, much like we might post a notice to a community bulletin board today. These 95 Theses protested the Catholic Church’s unbiblical policy of selling indulgences, part of an effort to raise funds for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Catholic Church had created the idea of the Treasury of Merit, sort of a “bank account” of merit deposited by Christ, Mary, the saints, and others as a result of their good works. When church members sinned, they could purchase an indulgence, which was akin to asking the Church to “transfer funds” from the Treasury of Merit to the sinner’s account. The indulgence basically excused the sinner from a certain amount of time in purgatory and/or temporal punishment for that sin.
In addition to protesting the sale of indulgences, Luther’s 95 Theses called the Catholic Church to conform to Scripture by abandoning its unbiblical practices and teachings regarding the doctrines of salvation, religious authority, the nature of the church, and the essence of Christian living.
Luther’s calls for reform spread quickly throughout Europe, inspiring the likes of church fathers Ulrich Zwingli (Zurich), John Calvin (Geneva), and John Knox (Scotland) to join the effort in their own locales. As they worked to address the issues raised in Luther’s document, these men codified what we know today as the “Five Solas of the Reformation,” the basis of Protestant church doctrine. The five solas are:
1. Sola Scriptura– Scripture alone is the basis for all church doctrine, belief, and practice. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
2. Sola Gratia– Salvation is by grace alone. It is an unmerited gift of God based solely on His goodness, not our own (because we don’t have any). (Ephesians 2:8-9)
3. Sola Fide– Salvation is through faith alone. Faith is a gift bestowed by God. We are saved only by placing that faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross, not by doing good works or by any other attempts to earn salvation. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
4. Solus Christus– Salvation is found in Christ alone. As Acts 4:12 says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
5. Soli Deo Gloria– God saves man for God’s glory alone, and Believers are to live our lives to glorify Him alone. (Romans 11:36)
One of Luther’s most cherished ideals, from which we still benefit today, was that common people should have access to both the Scriptures and worship services in their own language. Primary to the Reformation, the Bible was only available in Latin. Likewise, all masses and other church services were conducted in Latin. Luther translated the Bible into German, and was later followed by William Tyndale, Myles Coverdale, David Brainerd, and others who translated the Bible into various languages.
Today, we commemorate the work, zeal, and sacrifices of Luther and the other reformers on Reformation Day. Reformation Day is observed on October 31.
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