Thursday, October 26, 2017

#Reformation500: The Reformation


On Oct 31st 2017, we will mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On that day 500 years ago, the German monk Martin Luther penned and nailed his 95 Theses upon the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, protesting the sale of indulgences by the late medieval church. Originally penned as a challenge for an academic disputation, the recent invention of the printing press resulted in the widespread dissemination of the 95 Theses, creating a cascade of events beyond Luther's, or anyone's, control. Four years later at the Imperial Diet of Worms (Jan 28-May 26 1521), Luther was called to repent of his teachings, upon which he uttered his famous words, "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound. [Here I stand, I can do no other.] God help me. Amen."

Luther's defiance of Rome came about due to his recovery of the biblical Gospel of justification by faith alone. Over and against Rome's insistence on the necessity of good works for gaining heaven, Luther and the Reformers that came after him saw that the Bible teaches that we are counted righteous not because we are inherently righteous, but because God saves us by grace alone through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9). God "justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5), not the godly. Under the medieval system, no one could be certain of their salvation or standing with God, whether they would or would not go to heaven or hell. Despite their baptisms, if they did not perform enough good works, they would suffer the fires of Purgatory. And woe to those who commit mortal sins and die without making amends before the church, for their lot is damnation in hell. People live in constant fear that they would either commit an unpardonable sin, or not perform enough good works to make the grade for God to accept them, and thus they did not live in the freedom and joy of the salvation the Scriptures promise us (Gal. 5:1).

The primary opponent of the Reformers was the emerging Roman Catholic Church, especially the Tridentine Roman Catholic Church (after the Council of Trent). The main fault line was the topic of justification by faith alone, but the division soon spread to other loci of theology. What is known as the 5 Solas was formulated to encapsulate the fundamental differences the Reformers have with Rome. The Reformers held to Sola Fide (Faith alone), as opposed to justification by faith and works. They held to Sola Gratia (Grace alone), as opposed to God's grace co-operating with the will of man for salvation. They held to Solus Christus (Christ alone), as opposed to the merits of Christ plus Mary and the saints. They held to Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), as opposed to the authority of Scripture and Tradition. Lastly, they held to Soli Deo Gloria (For the glory of God alone), which is the goal of all the other solas, to bring glory to God alone, not to God and the church, or God and Mary and the saints.

On this 500th anniversary, there are countless articles that commemorate the Reformation, in defending both its formal and material principle (Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide respectively), against the errors of Rome. I would like to do my tribute piece for this 500th anniversary differently. As I look through the 5 solas, I would like to look at it from a viewpoint of contrast with the radical wing of the Anabaptists. Many Evangelicals do not realize that the Reformation was not just against Rome, but rather against both the Roman church and the Anabaptists. Just because something is not Roman Catholic does not necessarily imply that it is in line with the truths recovered at the Reformation, a proposition which will be made plain subsequently.

[to be continued]

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