A Reformer’s Starter Pack: Welcome To The Reformation!
Reformation 500 Hoodie
The day is October 31st. For many in the West, it is a day of costumes, scary ghosts and monsters, jack-o’-lanterns, candy, and parties. For some of us in Malaysia, it is the Festival of Lights, a celebration of light’s victory over darkness, characterised by fireworks, open houses, curries, and muruku. But for Reformed Christians around the world, it’s a day to commemorate and celebrate the Protestant Reformation. It all began with an Augustinian monk nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany on 31st October, 1517. This ignited a flame that would bring about a widespread transformation across the entire Western society. The impact was so profound that it brought about much-needed changes in all areas of Medieval society, in culture, politics, ecclesiology, and theology. Among such monumental changes are the improvement of women’s status in society, alteration of the political landscape, the improvement of literacy, enablement of the scientific revolution and the empowerment of the layman in church.
Central to the theological convictions of the Protestant Reformation was the recovery of the Gospel as revealed in Scripture.
The Reformers fought tooth and nail against the papal authority to restore the authority of Scripture over and above even the authority of the church because they knew Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura), as God’s Word and authority, reveals the truth of our salvation by God to us. It is through Scripture that we know of our unworthiness as sinners, our inability to save ourselves, and our well-deserved judgment by God. With that, the glorious doctrine of justification by grace alone (Sola Gratia) through faith alone (Sola Fide), in Christ alone (Solus Christus) defies any man-made religion that claims salvation can be achieved by man’s works and points to the one who alone deserves all glory – God (Soli Deo Gloria).
“My conscience is captive to the Word of God.– Martin Luther
In the 16th century, Europe was in turmoil. In addition to the political, social, economical, and intellectual unrest, there was an erosion of papal credibility together with the widespread abuse of papal authority. At this pregnant moment in history, God raised up a dynamic talented man deeply concerned for God and His glory – Martin Luther – to be the catalyst of the Reformation in Germany. While his original intention with the 95 Theses was not to cause a schism but merely reform the wayward church by addressing the abuse of papal authority through the sale of indulgences, his study of Scripture with its prescription of salvation by grace through faith in Christ eventually made him realise the fundamental differences between the papal teachings and God’s Word. Emboldened by his conviction in God’s Word, Luther went on to not only make a stand against the corrupt papal authorities but also to make reforms within the church and clerical office. Perhaps one of his most significant contributions to the Protestant church includes his translation of the Bible from Latin into the local language of German, which put Scripture in the hands of the populace, allowing them to study it for themselves. Today, we are the fruits of his labour over five centuries ago. The Bible has been translated into nearly 700 different languages, making God’s Word accessible to thousands of souls and bringing the Gospel to many nations.
“The Christian life is a battle, so sharp and full of danger that effort can nowhere be relaxed without loss.– Ulrich Zwingli
In 1519, just two years after the Reformation took hold of Germany, Switzerland too caught the blaze of the Reformation. Ulrich Zwingli, the pioneer and most influential person of the Swiss Reformation himself had started preaching the Gospel even before Luther’s name reached his ears. Convicted through the study of Scripture, Zwingli’s ministry was characterised by the Reformation’s goal of recovering Biblical preaching and Scriptural authority. His approach to preaching was revolutionary at a time when Sunday sermons were more Gospel moral lessons than expository preaching. Zwingli preached a systematic exposition of the books of the Bible, beginning with Matthew, then throughout the New Testament, and finally, the Old Testament. Zwingli taught that the supreme authority of Scripture should permeate into doctrines, practices, conduct and every area of life, and emphasised that the church is ruled ultimately by God’s Word because she is born of God’s Word. Zwingli’s surrendering of self to the rule of Scripture, which can only come from a deep love and reverence for God’s Word, remains an inspiration and standard for us to live up to even in the 21st century.
“A dog barks when his master is attacked. I’d be a coward if I saw God’s truth is attacked and yet remain silent.– John Calvin
While the Reformation broke up the papacy’s monopoly on the interpretation of God’s Word through its championing of the priesthood of all believers, it also opened the floodgates to new controversies and wild speculations arising from many of these would-be priests, which threatened the moral order. Like a light piercing through the fog of theological confusion in this tumultuous time, John Calvin, a French lawyer-turned-theologian, provided a systematic, Scripture-founded theological framework, which allowed believers to have a better grasp on the gospel in its fullness through clearly ordered theological thought and expression. Just like Luther and Zwingli, Calvin held Scripture to be the highest authority and only means by which we truly know who we are and who God is. In the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin wrote, “It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, then descends from contemplating himself to scrutinise himself…Now, in order that true religion may shine upon us, we ought to hold that it must take its beginning from heavenly doctrine and that no one can get even the slightest taste of right and sound doctrine unless he be a pupil of Scripture.” In the postmodern 21st century, where the truth about man and God is relative, Calvin’s words ring true – we can only sniff out what is right or wrong, even the slightest, if we are students of Scripture, investing our time, money and effort to study the Word.
“Central to the theological convictions of the Protestant Reformation wasthe recovery of the Gospel as revealed in Scripture.
Today, the flames of the Reformation remain ablaze in Protestant churches across continents and throughout countries, including Malaysia. For us at CERC, October 31st is also a day of gratitude, because it reminds us that we are part of God’s salvation history. We celebrate Reformation Day because we see God’s sovereign hand powerfully working through and in history to preserve His church for Himself through His Word. Reformation Day also reminds us of the “R” (Reformed) in CERC because we stand on the shoulders of the Reformers who fought and died for the truth so that we can have the gospel today. Reformation Day calls us to hold onto firm foundations in Scripture and to always reorient ourselves around the Word just like these heroes of the Reformation. It is ecclesia semper reformanda est (the church is always being reformed). It calls us to be nakedly exposed before God and His Word (Hebrews 4:11-13). It calls us to let Scripture rule over and dictate our lives, both as individual Christians and as the corporate body of Christ.
Celebrating this amazing heritage that we have, here’s how you can be a part of this movement as well: By picking up a set of Reformation Pins (for a limited time only) at CERC! These are handy conversation starters which also helps to remind us of the weight of what it means to fight for the preservation and propagation of the gospel. Plus they look real cool. Click the link below to grab one!
Ecclesia semper reformanda est.Blessed Reformation Day!
Posted on 2nd November 2019