By Ray Van Neste
On Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 theses for academic debate on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. While posting topics for debate in this way was a very common act at the time, this time it reverberated throughout Europe and launched the Protestant Reformation. This month we mark the 500th anniversary of this event that changed the world and continues to shape our lives today.
Discussions of this anniversary can be seen even in many secular news sources. When I was in Germany earlier in the Spring with the Union University Singers, secular Germany seemed to be captivated by Luther-mania! But, as Baptists we may wonder if the Reformation has anything to do with us. Why should we celebrate something that happened 500 years ago?
I believe the Reformation has much to do with us, and we are duty-bound to celebrate it. Here is why: At its heart, the Reformation was a rediscovery of the gospel.
During the years prior to the Reformation, the false belief that people had to earn the forgiveness of God had largely obscured God’s glorious gospel. This doctrinal belief led to the corruption and spiritual weakening of the church.
But God, as He has done so often in the past, began to stir and awaken His people. The Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone came in power once again. Luther said this discovery to him was like the opening of the eyes to the blind. Preaching of this gospel inspired and emboldened the church, and this renewed vigor resulted in the training of death-defying God-exalting missionary-pastors.
Souls were saved, churches were purified and planted, and the missionary efforts extended even to the Americas.
Furthermore, the Bible was translated into the language of the common people, giving them direct access to the Word of God. For all of these reasons, the Reformation is the greatest revival in the history of the church after Pentecost.
So, should you celebrate the Reformation? Only if you appreciate knowing how your sins can be forgiven; only if you rejoice in being able to share that news with others; only if you love to see souls saved; only if you love having the Word of God in your own language; only if you want to see the gospel spread around the world.
If those truths rejoice your heart, you have reason to celebrate the Reformation. Of course, the Reformation was a human event, and there were excesses and things with which we’d disagree. But that has been true of every spiritual revival.
If we long to see a radical renewal of the church in our own day, we’d do well to study this divine outpouring from the past and see what lessons we can learn. If we look back carefully, we will be able to see forward more clearly. So, let’s acknowledge the dynamic work of God 500 years ago in renewing His church and pray that He might revive us again.