5 Things The Protestant Reformation Gave Us That We Take Forgranted
Normally I dedicate space on this blog site to posts that revolve around equipping and encouraging small group and Sunday school leaders, and that is still it's purpose. But today, Halloween, October 31, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the event that is attributed with sparking the Protestant Reformation. An event all protestants should know about and celebrate, but too many of us have forgotten it or at least taken it for granted.
The event, of course, was the nailing of Martin Luther's 95 Theses to the castle doors of Wittenburg on October 31, 1517. So I think it important that we take some time and remind ourselves of the blessings the Protestant Reformation gave us. There were many, but I have listed 5 below.
Justification By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone, In Christ Alone, To The Glory of God Alone
Today the Reformation is known for emphasizing the 5 solas: sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (in Christ alone), and soli Deo gloria (to the glory of God alone). I will speak on sola Scriptura more below, but what the reformation did was change how we think about salvation. The teachings of the Catholic church had led to a works based salvation. People were burdened by having to earn salvation or justification, being declared right with God, based on their own merits. The reformation recaptured the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in the completed work of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. The Reformation taught us salvation was a gift not an earned wage. It taught us that grace is not dispensed by a pope or a priest or the Church but is something God gives freely and it is received by faith alone in the completed work of Christ alone on our behalf. This is the primary contribution of the Protestant Reformation.
Preaching as Central to Corporate Worship
The reformers wanted the word of God to take deep root in the heart of their hearers. The reformers certainly didn't invent the sermon, but they brought it back to its proper place at the center of the corporate worship service. Before the reformation the sermon as a small part of the greater liturgy of the Catholic church. A great article was written about this earlier this year by Christian George. You can find that here. I think this is important for today's church to remember because often the sermon gets relegated to just a moralistic pep talk that takes up only about 1/4 to 1/3 of the service. For the reformers, preaching the word and the congregation hearing the word taught was the main act of worship in their corporate gatherings. Reformers like Luther and Calvin viewed the call to preach as a sacred trust and they took seriously their responsibility to preach to their congregations. We should remember this and treat both the act of preaching and the act of listening as the word is being preached as a primary act of worship in our churches.
Reclaimed the Sole Authority of Scripture
The reformation recaptured the idea of sola Scriptura, that the Bible alone is our sole authority for faith and practice. The Catholic church had elevated tradition and papal authority to the level of Scripture. The Reformation placed the Bible back on the pedestal alone as sole authority for faith. They said the Bible alone reveals everything we need to know about God and salvation and the practice of faith, and that everything else is interpreted in light of the truths of Scripture. All 66 books of the Bible are inspired by God, and the Holy Spirit helps us understand them.
Made the Bible Available to the Masses
One of Luther's major contributions during his time was the interpreting of the Bible into common German. The primary translation of Scripture used in the Catholic church was Latin which the common person couldn't read or understand. So the common person had to depend on the church to not only read Scripture to them but also to interpret it. It was one of the ways the church held power over the people. The reformers believed that holy Scripture should be made available to all people in their own common language. Men like Luther and William Tyndale and many others did the pain staking work of translating Scripture from it's original Hebrew and Greek into the common languages of the people. Along with this work came the invention of the printing press. So now not only did people have Scripture in their language they also had it in mass production. The fact that we have an Bible in common English today is a result in large part to the Protestant Reformation. Be thankful everyday for that. Study it, meditate on it, and cherish it.
Hymns For the People
One final contribution is the writing and singing of hymns in the common language of the people. Hymns were not new to the church prior to the reformation, but they were mostly sung in Latin. Luther believed that not only should hymns be text driven but the music should be orderly and refined and be able to be sung by the common people in their language. Luther penned what is probably the most popular hymn of the reformation era in "A Mighty Fortress is Our God". This hymn movement continues today and is making a resurgence as modern hymn writers such as Keith and Kristyn Getty, Matt Boswell, Stuart Townsend and Matt Redman continue the practice started by the reformers, and the church should be grateful for this as it has given us such songs as "In Christ Alone", "How Deep the Father's Love For Us", "Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery", and most recently "His Mercy if More" to name a few. I'll end by quoting one of my favorites written and produced by Sovereign Grace Music All I Have is Christ.
But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross
And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life