By RJ McCauley
It can be argued there is no greater transformational movement in church history other than the Reformation. The Reformation was a movement in the 16th century (1500s) by godly men who stood up against the Catholic Church that was not teaching the biblical gospel. These godly men, known as reformers, called all Christians to go back and study the Bible like never before.
The Reformation revealed that the 16th century Catholic Church had not been teaching the correct biblical gospel for over a thousand years. Churchgoers were denied access to the Scripture which had been misquoted by the church that had fabricated their own interpretations, and mistreated the authority of Scripture. The Catholic Church kept the Bible out of the hands of the public, chaining copies printed in Latin to the pulpit in order to retain supreme control over everyone who attended church and would seek salvation. This type of mishandling of Scripture led to an uprising that would change the course of church history.
It all started when a German Catholic monk named Martin Luther began reading an accurate Greek translation of the Bible. Luther noticed that the Catholic Church was not teaching Scripture as it was written, but rather was proclaiming a message from problematic Latin translations that were not properly interpreted. This produced a false teaching on the doctrine of salvation. The Latin translations taught that Christians needed to perform works for salvation, where the Greek translation said repentance and faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ led to salvation. Luther soon realized, for the first time, that believers are justified by faith in Christ alone.
After a vigorous study of the Bible, Luther decided to make a stand and reveal the truth of Scripture. On October 31, 1517, Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses (a list of suggestions put forward for consideration to be discussed, proved, or maintained against for objection) and nailed it to the Catholic Church door in Wittenberg, Germany, describing the false teachings of the church, and started what is known as the Protestant Reformation.
Luther went on to correctly translate the Bible into his native tongue so his people could read the Bible for themselves. Hence, Luther’s works were printed and circulated in Europe inspiring other Christians to be reformers like him. Men and women would follow Luther’s example in the centuries that would come, which led to the translation of the English Bible and the evangelization of western world. Luther, alongside other reformers, changed history because they consequently made Scripture accessible for all people.
Every year people commemorate this transformational movement in church history at the end of October on what is known as Reformation Day – a day where Christians look back at the Reformation and see the importance of knowing the gospel that saves.
Associate Dean and Professor of Church History at California Baptist University, Dr. Anthony Chute, describes Reformation Day as a “celebration of several movements that broke the authority of the Catholic Church over the life of the Christian, and helped the Christian see the gospel that had been lost and clouded for some time.” Chute explains how Reformation Day is a day that looks back at key historical outcomes from the Reformation and how they are applied to us in our modern day. Those historical outcomes of the Reformation changed the way people viewed the Christian faith. Chute says, “The gospel itself mattered to every Christian; how we are made right with God, and what is the good news that God has done for us in Christ. The Reformation period was a time in which the gospel became central to the Christian faith, where a person can know they were saved by the finished work of Christ, not by anything they can do themselves, not by any merit in themselves, and not by anything the church could do on their behalf.” The Catholic Church taught that followers could buy salvation through penance, so Martin Luther and other reformers such as Huldreich Zwingli, John Calvin, and John Knox brought clarity to the Scripture in order to reaffirm that true salvation is found through grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone. The reformers wanted Christians to know they were justified by faith, a statement that became the hallmark doctrine of the Reformation period.
There is great importance in understanding the history of the Reformation, because it reminds us how important it is to know Scripture. Chute emphasizes two historical points Christians need to remember on Reformation Day. First, the Reformation brought about a radical call to return to Scripture. Second, the movement prompted a serious recovery of the biblical gospel that had been lost through the traditions of men. During the Reformation period, many Bibles were accurately translated into multiple languages so people could read the Bible individually for the first time. The Reformation also brought back expository preaching and sound biblical teaching, revealing the same biblical truths that were taught by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament.
The significance of the Reformation presents to the world that there is eternal security for those who believe in the biblical gospel. Chute notes that the Catholic Church could not provide satisfactory assurances for salvation because one would have to keep working for salvation. Nevertheless, Martin Luther and the reformers taught the gospel saves believers once and for all through the finished work of Christ. At last, people could know they are saved and know all of God’s promises in Scripture apply to them individually. The bold proclamation of a personal and individual relationship with Jesus Christ became preeminent. The faithful preaching of the good news restored a hope and peace to
Christians that had been entirely forgotten. Heaven became a reality that many thought they could never reach outside of the church.
The spirit of the Reformation resonates with sharing the gospel. Chute states, “The spirit of the reformation is the giving of the gospel to others.” Before the Reformation period, the gospel was a dead message that was buried under religion. What the reformers did was bring the gospel to life by accurately proclaiming the good news publicly as a glorious gift to sinners in need of a Savior. Since people could not know the gospel due to their limited access, the reformers brought the gospel to them. The Reformation teaches us that we are all called to risk our lives and share the good news with the lost so they can know the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who is the true God and offers eternal life.
Reformation Day is ironically on Halloween, so use the holiday as an opportunity to share the gospel as the general public visits your front porch. It is an opportunity for you to connect with people you probably would never connect with throughout the rest of the year. Hand out a tract or invite them to your church. Show the true spirit of the Reformation – the giving of the gospel to others.
Below in an interview with RJ McCauley and Dr. Anthony Chute, Associate Dean and Professor of Church History at California Baptist University. The discussion looks at Christian Heritage and Faith and how the prodistant movement come to be.