Tuesday 3 October 2023

T H E  P R O T E S T A N T   R E F O R MA T I O N


In this month of October, it is a time when the Church can celebrate one of the great events in history, the date when the Church of God  was turned from a state of spiritual corruption to reformed to Biblical orthodoxy. The actual date was 31st October, which allows for study of events which led to this event.

This involves learning of how the Reformation came, with a study of three important subjects it highlights, those of faith, grace and the Bible, concluding with the legacy. 

The Protestant Reformation was a revival of religion, and a return to the preaching of the gospel. It is one of the great events in Christian history, which is widely remembered and celebrated across the world.  The Churches in the United States recognise its place in history and celebrates accordingly.  In the United Kingdom, it is not celebrated in a great number of Churches. I would be surprised if many members heard of it, or even knew what it was, but those of us who recognise its importance and significance, will. In Europe understandably,  there may be some reluctance.

In the Middle Ages, the Church was entirely Roman Catholic, led by a Pope in Rome, and held spiritual teaching firmly in hand. At that time, ordinary people were not allowed to have Bibles, which were generally all in Latin or Greek, and only clergy had them. Priests gave forgiveness and blessings.

The Church, holding full authority, became corrupt in a combination of immorality and wickedness.  The ruling class imposed their right on ordinary people, who were not learned, and he rich people took advantage of their ignorance to emphasise authority.                                                     

The Church maintained a firm grip, to hide the reprobate lives of wanton excess, and had an influence over governments; Heresy  grew.

There appeared two men, loyal and courageous who rejected the ways of the Church, and exposed the corruption. John Wycliffe was a professor at Oxford University, a theologian who ultimately translated the Bible into English, and  became appointed to the parish of Lutterworth.

John Huss was a Czech theologian, and figured prominently in the Reformation.  Both men died by burning at the stake.

There came on the scene Martin Luther, who was born in 1453 in Germany, and was studying to become a lawyer.  Whilst walking home with friend one day, there was a severe weather storm with thunder and lightning.  His friend was struck by  the lightning and died, causing Luther to become very frightened, so much he prayed that if delivered safe, he would become a monk, this he did entering an Augustine Monastery in Erfurt in July 1705.  

He studied hard, but became disheartened by feeling he was too unworthy of God, and burdened by guilt he dedicated himself to confessions. He would fast and sleep on stone floors of the Monastery.  His tutor intervened, and suggested he went to University of Wittenberg  and teach the Bible. He did so, and became a Professor in Bible teaching.  

It was whilst doing this, he came to Romans 1 v. 16/17, and he recognized the answer to all his problems. He read that no one should be ashamed of the gospel which was the power of God, saving everyone who believes, and tells that  God makes us righteous, and the gospel accomplishes from start to finish by faith; that a righteous person through faith has life. Luther understood the just are saved by faith through faith, and the Church was giving false teaching. It is God who makes us righteous, we cannot do it ourselves, purely by God’s grace.(John Wesley’s life was influenced by those verses.)

At that time a new Pope Leo X,  wanted to rebuild the basilica of St Peter’s cathedral in Rome, and sent  a missionary named Johann Tetzel around the Churches to raise money.  

The Church was using indulgences, as it was held when a person died they went to a place called purgatory whilst their ultimate fate was decided, but if you paid a sum of money to the Church, your soul would be released and go straight to heaven. It was even extended, so that you could pay an indulgence for someone close, and further extended so you could pay for any sins you may commit in the future.  Tetzel toured around the Country selling the indulgences with a little rhyme, ‘when in the box a coin dings, a soul from heaven flings.’  Luther realized the corruption in the Church’s message. For one could only be saved by just believing in Jesus Christ.

He then posted a list of95 theses on the door of the Witten burg Cathedral, in which the gospel message was explained. Luther’s intention was to start a debate with theologians, which was why it was written in Latin for that sole purpose.

At that time the printing press had been established, and his writing had been translated into German, causing the contents of the theses to spread all across Europe.  

He was called before the Pope and Church leaders, and told he must recant, but said the epic words, ‘my conscience is taken captive by the Word of God, I cannot recant so help me God.  Here I stand I can do no other.’ How wonderful if all clergy could say likewise when we are called to compromise on our preaching.     

The Emperor Charles 5th from Spain, came to be Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. He was not pleased with Luther’s stance, and he was declared as an outlaw and a heretic. Charles wanted to kill Luther, but he needed the co-operation of Germany where Luther lived. A Council was called at Worms, which called on Luther to consider his statements, and when he persisted was ordered to be taken away to be killed. On his journey to the place of execution, he was seized by supporters and taken to Wittenberg Castle where he was given a room.  He translated the whole of the New testament from Greek to German, and it was published.

Luther was supported by John Calvin,  Ulrich ZwingIi, Philip Melanchthon, John Knox who had the same beliefs and fought to have God’s truth recognized and resisted any other teachings.

Luther’s courage and brilliance of mind caused seismic reaction throughout the Church in Europe, and across eventually the world, and still has effects today.  How dearly there is a need for a new Reformation in the Church today, which has capitulated to outside forces, obsessed with causes which are abhorrent to Scripture, yet are readily accepted by the highest echelons of the Church.  How God must weep when he sees how his Church has let him down and betrayed him. This why we cannot expect God to bless the Church when colludes with a decadent society.

Luther died on 10 February 1546 in Eisleben. His name has placed that city as a favourite place to visit by all who cherish the Reformation.

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