Happy Reformation Day! Today marks the 500th anniversary of the unofficial start of the Reformation. This day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door in Wittenburg. While there were many events and people both prior to and following this publishing that contributed mightily to the reformation, this is an easily remembered and significant moment in the Reformation movement from which we still benefit today. While some today within a very narrow segment of Protestant theology have sought to claim the title Reformed, that title belongs to the legacy of all who fought for the reclamation of Scripture alone without the mixture of church tradition as our way to learn about God and Faith alone as our only means to find forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of Jesus who took our place on Calvary. We as Baptist are products of the Reformation and are deeply indebted to the reformers of the 16th and 17th century who paved the way for us.
One of the great tragedies today is that many take the view of the 95 Theses as a form of a modern-day “break up letter” where Luther divorced himself from the Catholic church. In fact, he would say, “Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter’s church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.” In today’s context it resonates so well with us, after all, American Christianity is littered with breakups in our churches. The great sin of previous years was that our pastors would leave churches as soon as things got tough looking for the easier ground where they would feel appreciated. The great sin of our present day is becoming now the church member who leaves as soon as things get tough looking for the easier ground where they would feel appreciated. Luther certainly had plenty of theological reasons why he could have left the Catholic church in 1517. The theological problems were massive and of major importance. Yet the tone of the 95 Theses is not one of break up but one of reconciliation and hopeful for correction. He earnestly desired to start a debate that would eventually lead the pope and the church toward a more Biblical understanding of forgiveness and grace. It would not be until 1521 that Luther would make his famous objection to the pope’s demands to Luther to repent of his teachings. Luther would say in face of excommunication:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by plain reason-for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves-I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.
Oh, that we would have the same commitment as Luther and the early reformers who sought first the restoration of proper doctrine and worked to strengthen the health of the church even against such incredible odds. Is the answer to the problems in our Southern Baptist churches to go out and build an 11th Baptist Church in a city with barely a single functioning grocery store? The reformers show us that there are times where we have to leave and go elsewhere, but they also show us that it is only after much work has been done to restore what has tarnished and illuminate what has grown dark.
Perhaps the next great work of reformation in our churches is a bold reclamation of evangelism. We have lost sight of a lost and dying world. Our motto once again needs to be “rescue the perishing, care for the dying.” In your church, today on this Reformation Day, be the one who works for revival and revitalization, not the one who looks for an exit sign. Imagine the glory given to God when a church that the world has written off makes a come back and reclaims the gospel work. What a beautiful gift to present to the Savior. Happy Reformation Day! Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone)!