October 31, 1517. It has been 500 years since the then Catholic monk, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 Theses to the church doors in Wittenberg, Germany. It has been 500 years since the heart of Christianity was finally taken back to its roots: sola fide, sola scriptura, solus christus, sola gratia and soli deo Gloria.
In one seemingly simple act, an act intended to open mere discussion rather than launch a reformation, the Western world was taken by storm and the light of Christianity was finally taken out from under a basket of heresy.
However, though this monumental anniversary celebrates one act of courage that lit the spark of the Reformation, many more were involved in paving the way before and after this Augustinian monk.
Jan Hus (John Huss) was burned at the stake after refusing to recant his biblically based beliefs, saying “God is my witness . . . In the same truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, drawing upon the sayings and positions of the holy doctors, I am ready to die today.”
John of Gaunt and John Wycliffe stood together in England, condemning the corruption of the popes and priests. William Tyndale, the translator of the first English bible drawn directly from the original languages rather than the Latin Vulgate, was seized and burned at the stake. During his execution he prayed for his executioner, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” John Knox, a Scottish reformer whose tombstone says, “Here lies one who never feared any flesh,” was imprisoned twice for going against the human doctrine of the Catholic church but refused to preach the inerrant gospel until his death.
Courageous. Bold. Convicted on Truth. Fearless. Prayerful. In love with God. These men stand as testimony’s to the God they served and yet, in the midst of this 500-year anniversary, people are trying to discount their influence and disparage their reputation. Luther, the face of the Reformation, is not exempt from these attacks.
Mark Haefele, a writer for the news station 89.3 KPCC, wrote about his disappointment with the Reformation display hosted by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in it’s omission of Martin Luther’s well documented anti-Semitic sentiments. He writes, “But it is essential, and not mentioning it is a serious historical inaccuracy, idealizing a historic movement while ignoring its deep, dark flaws. An old saying goes, ‘where God builds a cathedral, the Devil will build a chapel.’ The devil built a mega church right inside the Mighty Reformation.”
Nathan Busenitz, a professor at The Master’s Seminary, said, “Sadly, Luther did make harsh statements against some of the Jewish people who lived near Wittenberg. It is important for contemporary evangelicals to state, without equivocation, that there is no excuse for those statements. Luther was wrong to make them, and we should be quick to repudiate such statements because they do not reflect the love and compassion inherent in the gospel. Finally, it is important to remember that the best of men are men at best. Luther was a sinner saved only by God’s grace; and God used him in spite of his failings and faults.”
Those who venerate man’s self-made laws and life, using it as the foundation for their faith, are in danger of doing just what the Roman Catholic Church has. The RCC is found on three things: Scripture, tradition and the pope, and has made way for human tradition to supersede Scripture, and the veneration of fallible people to diminish the one perfect, powerful and true God. Those who do the same with the thinkers of the Reformation, taking all written by a fallible man as truth, can easily fall into the same trap making their “faith” null and void.
Though this quintessential anniversary revolves around Luther’s ‘voice in wind,’ the reminders that he was, in fact, a sinner, is an encouragement to cling to the inerrant Word of God for our faith.
This is why we do not follow flawed man, nor human tradition, but rather hold the Scripture to the standard we do: it is inerrant, the source of all truth and the foundation on which we build our lives. This is what the Reformation was about, not the men behind it, but the Bible which inspired it and what it propagates: by faith alone, scripture alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone and glory to God alone.
Let us be able to say, like so many of the reformers did:
“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 anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen” (Martin Luther)
This January, John MacArthur, Steve Lawson, Paul Washer and Tom Pennington will be speaking on The Five Solas of the Reformation at the 2017 Truth & Life Conference. To register, please go to masters.edu/truthandlife.