2017 is a momentous year for the church. It is the 500th anniversary of that momentous act of defiance by Martin Luther, when in 1517 he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. Today Luther is a pivotal figure in history.
At the time, as a humble Roman Catholic Augustinian monk and priest, he had only intended to initiate a debate…..common practice in 16th century Germany. However, this one act changed the world.
In those days, almost everyone in Europe belonged to the Catholic Church.
At that time the Church was politically powerful, but morally and spiritually corrupt. It had wandered far from Biblical truth putting increasing trust on man-made traditions. Luther had hoped to find salvation for himself by being a perfect priest. He was faithful in carrying out all the rituals required of him, but always had a sense of unworthiness feeling that he could never please God.
Luther often discussed his troubled thoughts with colleagues at the monastery, but found no peace in the solutions offered by Church teaching. With a remit for teaching and preaching, Luther spent a lot of time studying the Bible. Through this process, he finally came upon the answer to his doubts when he read in Romans Chapter 1 verse 17, ‘The just shall live by faith’.
Luther immediately understood that he could be justified (declared not guilty and righteous in the sight of God) by faith through the grace of God. In other words by putting his trust in Jesus Christ as His Saviour he would be righteous and sinless. There was no need to slavishly follow rituals or work for his salvation. Martin Luther found the truth in the Bible, and that truth revealed there immediately set him free!
Luther’s call for reform of the Church spread like wildfire quickly throughout Europe. Other heroes of the faith such as John Calvin and John Knox added to the work of Luther and eventually new churches following the Bible based ideas of these reformers were established. What are known today as the ‘Five Solas of the Reformation,’ are the basis of belief for millions of Bible believing Christians . These are:
Sola Scriptura: Scripture alone is the basis for all church doctrine, belief, and practice.
Sola Gratia: Salvation is by grace alone. It is the unmerited gift of God based solely on His goodness.
Sola Fide: Salvation is through faith alone. Faith is a gift from God. We are saved only by placing faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Salvation cannot be earned by good works.
Solus Christus: Salvation is found in Christ alone. The Bible in the book of Acts emphasises, ‘there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’
Soli Deo Gloria: This means that God saves individuals for His for glory alone. Christians should therefore live their lives to glorify God alone.
Christians world-wide owe a massive debt to Martin Luther. Apart from his work as a reformer, he was passionate about the Bible. Luther wanted all people to be able to read the scriptures in their own language. In his day, the Bible and all worship was in the ecclesiastical language of Latin, which ordinary people without education could not understand.
Today almost everyone has access to the Bible in their own language. Sadly many Christians don’t read the Bible regularly or thoroughly and therefore lack the basic toolkit for spiritual discernment.
In this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, lets pray for and actively work towards a renewal of interest in the contents of the Bible. After all, it contains the truth, and when read persistently with understanding, it will set anyone free.