This year, evangelical Christianity celebrates 500 years since Martin Luther of Germany confronted the Pope and the prevalent Catholic doctrine that had deviated from the truth of the scriptures. Martin Luther was a German professor of theology, composer, priest, and monk. His main bone of contention was the fact that indulgences (advance forgiveness for sins) were being sold by the clergy to the people. Locals would get indulgences from the Pope as opposed to seeking repentance and forgiveness from God.
Some received letters of pardon from the Pope granting them permission to commit certain sins due to circumstances apparently beyond their control. Vulnerable people were mistreated by the church at the time. The famous crusaders of the 1500s took advantage of indulgences and pillaged villages, killed men and raped women. After all, they had received their advance forgiveness and letters of pardon. And if they ran out of them, they would purchase more from the church. It was diabolical at best. Martin Luther posed to the Pope and the Catholic church a list of questions and propositions for debate known as the 95 theses. The 95 theses challenged the way the church of the time ran things and out-rightly refuted their faulty theology that was at best unbiblical.
The exact date when the 95 theses were publicly nailed by Martin Luther was October 31st 1517. He nailed them on the door of Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. It was my hope that this blog post would be penned in October, to honour the Reformation month and the exact date. However, I only got the chance to do it today. I am still happy to do it before the year 2017 ends, hence still celebrating Martin Luther’s courage to start what evangelical Christians call the Reformation.
Some may dismiss this as unimportant and even state that the early church had no denominations. But that is hardly the point. The heart of the Reformation is the importance to stick to sound biblical doctrine. Any other denominational emphasis, which is often cultural and not biblical, is of little importance. The Reformers were guided by the conviction that the church of their day had drifted away from the essential, original teachings of Christianity, especially in regard to what it was teaching about salvation—how people can be forgiven of sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and receive eternal life with God. The Reformation sought to re-orient Christianity on the original message of Jesus and the early church. And we ought to have the same attitude. It is somewhat similar to the commendable behaviour of the Bereans in Acts 17:11. True doctrine is important. False doctrine is dangerous.
I recently read a blog by a lady who calls herself The Reluctant First Lady. In it she states: False doctrine is dangerous. It can provide immediate gratification but no preparation when fear, doubt or difficult times come. And they will come. It can give you a false sense of hope so that, when you learn the hard way that you’ve been knee-deep in crap, you might abandon the faith altogether because you haven’t been given any real direction on how to get out of it. It gives you a distorted view of Almighty God, so that you see Him more as your magic genie than as your merciful Lord. This can then lead you to being a bad witness to non-believers, only fueling their reasons for continuing to reject Jesus.
The message of true doctrine is important today in a world filled with bizarre strains of professed Christianity. The true Gospel of Jesus seems stranger and stranger in our post-modern world. It has been overtaken by a false kind of Gospel that promotes health, wealth and prosperity and teaching God as a means to personal success. There are many more powerful false doctrines today in the guise of Christianity e.g. The merging of Christianity and Islam (Chrislam), the New Age movement, hyper-grace/antinomianism, the name it and claim it message etc. These and many more others that I cannot exhaust are not mere harmless deviations from the faith. They are not minor interpretations that we can overlook. They are whole new teachings, false teachings. False enough to send a soul to hell by blinding them from the truth.
So what is the main message behind Martin Luther’s Reformation? Well, for starters you must realize that this is Martin Luther of the 1500s and not the famous African American Martin Luther King Jr. who fought for the end of racism and injustice. That said, you can download the 95 theses by Luther right here. Added to that, the Reformers after Martin Luther held these convictions about the essentials of Christianity. They are popularly knows as the Five Solas.
- Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.
- Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
- Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
- Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.
- Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.
Take time and read the 95 theses and research these 5 solas. And after you have done so, execute the words of Paul the Apostle in 1 Timothy 4:16 “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (NIV). As the Holy Spirit works on your heart, you may see the gaps in your life, your church and even your upbringing. And perhaps the next year on 31st October, instead of arguing about celebrating Halloween as believers, celebrate something worthwhile for the faith. Celebrate the Reformation.