A good friend called me yesterday to remind me this year marks the 500th year birthday of the Protestant Reformation.
Though already aware, when he said it I realized I had not reflected on that fact over the course of this year. Later that day, I listened to some Christian leaders dialogue around the question, “Is the Protestant Reformation over?” I have some thoughts about that question that I briefly have penned in this blog.
Of course, as a Sixteenth Century historical movement that swept through Europe and changed the entire world, it is over in the same sense that one might say that the Civil War is over. Sadly, many modern Christians today are ignorant of the history, and I strongly urge them to use the occasion of this the 500th anniversary to brush up on the main events that fueled. It is not necessary to read a huge volume that might take a year to work through (unless you want to). There are many good, shorter works that will suffice on gaining a basic overview of the players and history that changed the world.
Having said that, I believe it is safe to say that the Reformation is not over. What I mean by that is the Reformation was about the Gospel—recovering the proclamation lost for a millennium. It is not about Luther or Calvin or Zwingli, though learning about the Reformation will bring you to familiarize yourself with the main players. It was about the recovery of the Message, which changed the world at that time and is still changing lives today.
The Reformation ignited a flame for truth unable to be quenched. Every generation must freshly discover the truth and power of the Gospel. So it’s over as far as a historical event, but it’s not over when it comes to our need to continually rediscover the Message the Church stewards.
Luther played a key role in Reformation theology by giving the Church the five Solas, a Latin term meaning alone: Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone) and soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be the glory). These were the things that set the Protestant church apart from Roman Catholicism then and still does today. In the dialogue I heard, one of the pastors said (and I paraphrase), “the reason the Reformation is not over is the Catholic Church has never repented of having forsaken the Gospel of grace.”
Sola Scriptura is the powerful truth that our faith must be built entirely on Scripture alone. It challenges us to have the highest view of God’s Word Written, as the very voice of God to the Church! In a day when many doubt the veracity and inerrancy of Scripture, giving as much authority to the utterances of men as to the Word of God, this emphasis is once again is desperately needed. While other books are helpful and assist in shedding light on Scripture, it is Scripture alone that is authoritative. When our boys were young, and we were home schooling them, I once brought them into my library and showed them all the hundreds of books I had. I then help up my Bible and said that this Book was in a category by itself. I wanted to drive deep into their hearts the realization of II Timothy 3:16-17.
Sola Fide (faith alone) takes us to a major New Testament teaching; that salvation comes to men and women by faith alone apart from anything they can do or ever will do. Faith alone doesn’t mean that faith can be shorn of any works; indeed, the New Testament teaches that works will always accompany true faith. Nevertheless, salvation is by faith from start to finish. Our works do not justify us initially or continually: “faith alone,” asserts that good works are not a means or requisite for salvation. This sets the Gospel apart from any other religion which teaches men and women must work to be approved by God. The apostles taught that men and women are both justified and sanctified by faith alone. Works are evidence of true faith, not the cause of it.
Sola Gratia (grace alone) “is the teaching that salvation comes by divine grace or “unmerited favor” only, not as something merited by the sinner. This means that salvation is an unearned gift from God for Jesus’ sake” (Five Solae, Wikipedia). The believer is saved solely by the merit of Jesus’ finished work on his or her behalf. Paul and the apostles speak of being saved by grace—through God’s gracious pardon accomplished through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8).
Sola Christus (Christ alone) is the glorious truth that the Lord Jesus Christ alone accomplished divine salvation. It is the glorious truth that no other priest is needed except Jesus Christ, our High Priest, to maintain our relationship with God. It rejected all other human priests and mediators whether Mary, the mother of Jesus or human mediators. Jesus alone means that Christ perfectly maintains our relationship to God without any other mediators necessary. The three offices of the Old Testament needed to maintain Israel’s economy of prophet, priest and king are now fulfilled in Jesus who is our Prophet, Priest, and King.
Soli Deo Gloria (to God be the glory alone) is the glorious truth that since salvation is wholly of the Lord, He alone gets the glory for it. “The reformers believed that human beings —even saints canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, the popes, and the ecclesiastical hierarchy— are not worthy of the glory that was accorded them; that is, one should not exalt such humans for their good works, but rather praise and give glory to God who is the author and sanctifier of these people and their good works.”
Let’s not forget the past.
“While there has always been a fairly deep antipathy in American culture
toward the past and an obsession with the present and future,
Christianity is a religion dedicated to remembering”
(Here We Stand, Michael Horton, pg. 99).