Thursday, October 04, 2007


Numerous scholars of the history of Christianity, while they often differ on many details, are in substantial agreement that a new era in the course of Christianity began in the sixteenth century. Great political, social, economic, intellectual, and religious changes were sweeping the globe. Through the adventures and discoveries of mariners like Columbus and Magellan in the prior century, the oceans of the world had become highways for trade and the exchange of knowledge. Printing by movable-type had also made knowledge available to the common man. In the religious realm, a great battle was being waged. The early reformers like John Wycliffe of England, who died in 1384, and John Huss of Bohemia (1415) had challenged the authority of Roman papacy with the authority of God’s Word. They were called “dissenters,” a Latin word which means to disagree. Praise God for such dissenters. Many doctrines of the Catholic Church were subjected to the light of Holy Scripture and judged to be in error. As Isaiah the prophet said, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). The great spiritual battle over the question of proper authority and the right to interpret Scripture reached its zenith on October 31, 1517 in Germany, when a disillusioned Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg. Many would agree that Luther was the man raised up by God to lead a reformation that would take the church back to its biblical roots. Historian Bruce Shelley states: “In the summer of 1520 a document bearing an impressive seal circulated throughout Germany in search of a remote figure. “Arise, O Lord,” the writing began, “and judge Thy cause. A wild boar has invaded Thy vineyard.” [1] The document was a papal bull condemning the beliefs of a wild boar named Luther. Rather than retract his teachings, Luther preached them with even more boldness, and the fire of the Protestant Reformation spread beyond the borders of Germany.

Though known for his protests against ecclesiastical abuses, Luther was foremost a biblical scholar. While studying Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he came to the glorious truth that man is sinful and God is holy. In His holiness, God demanded a righteousness that sinful man could never satisfy through religious duty or sacramental merit. In 1520, Luther grasped what Paul had taught the ancient Church of Rome: Only the cross of Christ could satisfy the just demands of an all-holy God. In the words of Luther, “Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by faith’ (Romans 1:17). Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which, through grace and sheer mercy, God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”

Luther may have been judged to be the wild boar who invaded the Pope’s vineyard, but the truth is that Martin Luther’s soul was invaded by the penetrating and liberating power of God’s Word. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The wild boar had been liberated from the tyranny of a works-based religion. He understood in his heart that “to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). The troubled soul of Martin Luther found great joy and rest in the words of Paul: "[Christ] loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). What a precious thought.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

As churches born out of the 16th century Reformation celebrate their spiritual heritage in the month of October, we must all pause to ponder the liberating truth of the gospel of grace which we have freely received. Luther’s experience is our experience, and it is reflected in the many hymns and songs of praise that constitute the heart of our corporate worship. We gather together as the redeemed saints of God each Lord’s Day to offer our praise and gratitude for His marvelous work of redemption. Hallelujah! We have been justified by faith, without human mediation. We have no priest but Christ, no sacrifice but Calvary, no confession but the throne of grace, and no authority but the Word of God.

Titus 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Dear brethren,

Worship Him alone from Whom all true blessings flow, “The Lamb slain for sinners”!

Pastor Tom

[1] Bruce L Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Word Publishing: Dallas, 1982), p.255
Note: At the Diet of Worms in April 1521, Martin Luther refused to recant his theses and concluded his defense with the statement, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

1 comment:

Chris Baumgart said...

James 2: 14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

-- Luther received a revelation from God that separated doctrine that the Catholic church made manifest outside the merit of the Holy Scriptures... Today's teachings of Grace without the personal duties to reinforce Faith through Works can dangerously replace the commission of duty with an ambiguous lifestyle where sin retains its foothold on the soul. Knowing the Sciptures say that Sin separates us from God, we should be giving full attention to the "power plant of selfishness" that produces it in us... To think that God will in His time "whisk" sin away supernaturally is foolishness. Obedience to the Word, abiding in the character of Christ through Faith is central to overcoming sin. This is our responsibility not Gods.