Romans 4:1-3 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
I want to share with you today why I find so much joy over October 31st. One of the Greatest Revivals of all time – the Protestant Reformation, began on October 31, 1517. October 31st is celebrated by many Christians the world over as “Reformation Day”. Many Bible believing groups, including Baptists, owe part of their heritage to the Reformation for preserving the Biblical truths of the authority of scripture, the Gospel of grace alone through faith alone and the Biblical concept of the church. Baptists in their history built off of the foundation recast by the Reformation and went one step further in reaffirming the Biblical teaching of regenerate church membership and believer’s baptism. In a 2007 sermon, South Western Baptist Theological Seminary President Dr. Paige Patterson noted the following about Reformation Day for Southern Baptists: “If you want to be faithful to the Book, and if you want to be faithful to that part of the Reformation that died on every hand (for teaching believer’s baptism) … then stop being ashamed of being a New Testament Christian and a Baptist,” Patterson said. “You are not judging anybody else’s eternity. Many other folks who are not a part of our movement are born-again believers. Praise God for that. All we are saying is that the best way to be faithful to the Lord Jesus is to keep the whole of the Great Commission.” As I think about what this day means and the message it conveys, three reasons can be proposed as to why I find great cause to rejoice over what God did in the Reformation of nearly five hundred years ago. As we think about Reformation Day, I will then conclude with two challenges for our application.
The Reformation was a movement back to the Bible
At the heart of the Reformation movement was the cry to get back to the scriptures. Dr. R.C Sproul tells the story of a monument dedicated to the Reformation in one of the key cities wherein the movement gained ground, Geneva Switzerland: “In modern Geneva, Switzerland, a memorial wall has been built and dedicated to the sixteenth century Reformation. This Reformation Monument is adorned with statues of the great leaders….. Surrounding these figures is the phrase, post tenebras lux – “After darkness, light.”
Thus we can praise God for the Reformation due to the fact that it was used of God to realign Christianity back to the Bible. Baptists share this conviction with other Bible believing groups of the Bible as the supreme authority over all other forms of authority – a concept called by the Reformers: sola scriptura or scripture alone. That idea recognizes the Bible alone has having authority over the conscience and being the final court of appeal to all matters of life, faith and eternity. Note 2 Tim 3:15-16 “and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”. The Reformation got us back to the Bible. But now notice the second and closely related reason to rejoice over Reformation day…
The Reformation was a movement back to the Gospel.
Spiritual darkness had increased in the period of history called the Middle Ages (variously defined, but for simplicity we’ll assign 800-1517 A.D). The light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, though dimmed by the human traditions of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe, was not quenched. As we learned a moment ago, the Reformation was a movement of post tenebras lux or “after darkness, light”. True to Jesus’ promise, the scriptures remained intact and throughout the centuries a handful of Bible teachers like John Wycliffe, John Huss and others preached the Gospel’s central message of Justification by faith alone. Justification by faith alone states that God declares the sinner righteous based upon the necessity and sufficiency of saving faith. Sadly Justification by Faith Alone was not the North Star doctrine of the church, but rather was on the outer edges of the firmament of the church’s teaching. The majority report teaching of the church of the Middle ages in 16th century Europe was the Papal system, the Roman Catholic church’s system of sacraments and centuries of tradition mixed with Christianity.
Justification by Faith alone, taught by the Prophets, Christ and the Apostles needed to be front and center once again. The Biblical Gospel needed to be in not just a few mouths of travelling preachers and groups journeying throughout the regions of spiritually darkened Europe, but rather central to the preaching of pulpits everywhere. God used men like Martin Luther in Europe, John Calvin in Switzerland and Ulrich Zwingli to rekindle the Biblical Gospel that had become but a burning ember in the hands of a church loaded down by traditions of men. The Reformation is to be celebrated because of how God used it to get us back to the Bible, to the Gospel and then thirdly….
The Reformation was a movement back to the Biblical church
As men like Martin Luther began the reform process in the 1500’s, a system of centuries old tradition needed confronted. Nearly 500 years ago the Roman Catholic Church had a repressive system of religion that had people buying what was in their minds a right standing with God. Over the centuries a whole system of church tradition had accumulated, telling people that in order to be right with God, they had to make pilgrimages to certain churches and make financial contributions to secure their place with God both in this life and the one to come. In addition, the church also manipulated people to make contributions, alleging that once paid, their dead relatives would be freed from an imagined place called purgatory, and thus go to heaven. In such a system, saving faith would have been included in the definition of salvation, but it would had not been deemed sufficient for one to be justified or declared righteous by God. Other things would have been required for the sinner to perform to be counted truly righteous.
One man, a monk, a “holy man” in the Roman Catholic system of religion, was very troubled in his soul. This man, Martin Luther, had dedicated his life to achieving the salvation promised by the Roman Catholic church. In a freak thunder and lightening storm, history tells us that a thunderclap knocked Martin Luther from his horse and in a moment of desparation he pledged himself in service to the Roman Catholic Saint Anne and chose to become a Monk in the Augustinian order of the Catholic church. Despite Luther’s best efforts, he felt more guilty and alienated from God, even though he confessed to the priests, prayed hours a day and went on long fasts. Luther earned Master’s and Doctorate degrees in prestigious European Roman Catholic Schools and was even teaching Roman Catholic Theology prior to the great Reformation break through. Despite being at the top of the religious heap in the eyes of men, Luther could not find peace with the very God he professed to know but knew deep down that he had never known.
Martin Luther was so troubled that he began searching the scriptures and read these words in Galatians 3:11 – “The just shall live by faith”.
God’s Grace was at work, and suddenly Martin Luther saw that all of the pilgrimages, the contributions to the churches, the confessions, fastings, being baptized into the church, even being a Monk – all of it – contributed nothing to his salvation. Alas, Luther rediscovered the heart of the Christian Gospel that all but a faithful few had forgotten over the centuries – that a man is made right before God by faith alone in Christ Alone. This truth was summarized by Luther and the later Reformers as “sola fide” or “faith alone”. As the Reformation recaptured the Biblical Gospel, the central truth was that Jesus’ righteousness accomplished by His perfect life, death and resurrection is credited to the sinner at saving faith. Saving faith is not only viewed as necessary, but enough for the sinner to be deemed righteous by God.
What got the Reformation off the ground was when Luther did a 16th century equivalent of facebook – He made a post. Only this post was pen and paper nailed to the door of a church (much like if we were to post on facebook or announcements on a bulletin board).
Luther wanted to make a public announcement for all to see, posting what was called his “95 theses” on a church door in Wittenberg Germany. These 95 reasons or “theses” aimed to protest the Roman Catholic system to which the Bible revealed to be corrupt. Luther did this on October 31, 1517, sparking the greatest move of God in the past 500 years – The Protestant Reformation. Luther’s main objective was to oppose the system of Indulgences wherein the church promised to those who paid money access to the overflow of grace contained in the Roman Catholic Church’s treasury of merits. Martin Luther’s reformation movement in German sparked the beginning call for Reform across Europe and thus the recovery of the true church of Jesus Christ committed to the Word of God and the Gospel of Justification by Faith Alone. As we noted a moment ago, Luther’s central theme of “faith alone” (or sola fide) marked the return to the Biblical Gospel so obscured by centuries of human tradition.
So as we think about how to take the message of Reformation Day and make it practical to our lives, I offer to concluding challenges to the listener:
The Rejoicing Challenge: 3 reasons to rejoice on Reformation Day, October 31st
As we looked at above, the Reformation was used by God to get Christians back to the Biblical teaching of Biblical authority, the Gospel and the church. Thus praise God for the preservation of His truth through such movements as the Protestant Reformation. Then secondly..
The Take Back Challenge: Let’s take back October 31st and celebrate God’s Word, the Gospel and Jesus’ mission for His church
It is time to take back October 31, and use this day to proclaim the truth of scripture and the reformation, sparked on October 31, 1517. Truly the message of the Reformation is a message about “after darkness, light” (post tenebras lux). Gospel Light, not darkness, should characterize our lives as Christians. October 31st has been used for years by Wiccans and people of the Pagan/Witchcraft worldview to observe one of the so-called “spirit nights” on their yearly calendar. Rather than promoting a day of darkness and wickedness, witches, ghosts and goblins, Christians need to take a God-centered event like the Reformation and remind themselves of how God led His church back to the Bible and salvation through faith alone in Christ alone.
The Reformation was about calling forth people from spiritual darkness into the light of Jesus Christ. Someone once said: “It is more effective to light a candle than merely curse the darkness”. Lets light the Gospel light and shine the glory of the Gospel. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 – “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Truly Christians are a people who have been called out of darkness and into His marvelous light.