By Elizabeth Prata
It is Reformation year 504. Five hundred and four years ago this October 31st, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Electorate of Saxony within the Holy Roman Empire. Luther wrote,
Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
Here are the actual 95 theses if you want to read them:
The 95 theses
History.com sums the Reformation up this way-
Luther spent his early years in relative anonymity as a monk and scholar. But in 1517 Luther penned a document attacking the Catholic Church’s corrupt practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin. His “95 Theses,” which propounded two central beliefs—that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds—was to spark the Protestant Reformation
Is there any event that is not connected in time by a previous event? Isn’t time a constant stream of events, all tumbling one after another, connected by their confinement to the visible riverbanks by the hands of God? Did the Reformation emerge all of a sudden, or were there catalysts and stepping stones laid first? Were there forerunners? I believe so.
As RC Sproul said, that before Luther there was Hus, (or Huss, spellings vary) who was preceded by Wycliffe, who was preceded by Augustin who was preceded by Paul who was preceded by Jesus.
The reason there are forerunners to Martin Luther and the Reformation is that Jesus never leaves Himself without a witness, and He as Master Husbandman tends soils so that there is always a soil ready to receive the Gospel. Even in “The Dark Ages”, the Gospel was doing its work in hearts. Salvations were always occurring.
Burk Parsons wrote of this connection from one era to the next, the vine as I envision it. It is planted by God and watered by Him, with men springing up along the vine as forerunners to His particular plan and path regarding the Reformation.
John Wycliffe was the morning star of the Reformation. He was a protestant and a reformer more than a century before Martin Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation in 1517. Through Wycliffe, God planted the seeds of the Reformation, He watered the seeds through John Hus, and He brought the ﬂower of the Reformation to bloom through Martin Luther. The seed of the ﬂower of the German Augustinian monk Luther’s 95 theses was planted by the English scholar and churchman John Wycliffe.
Josh Buice wrote that The Reformation Resulted in an Explosion of Gospel Missions. He started a preaching series in–
–2017 with an emphasis on the Reformation and how our salvation is directly connected to the work of the Reformers. R. C. Sproul writes, “The Reformation was not merely a Great Awakening; it was the Greatest Awakening to the true Gospel since the Apostolic Age.”
During the days that preceded the Reformation, the Bible had been locked away in a dark dungeon by the Roman Catholic Church. They insisted that the Word of God must be heard by the priests, who would speak it only in Latin. The Roman Catholic Church insisted that the common person was unable to understand the Word of God without the aid of a priest. However, they were unwilling to release control of the Bible, and in order to prevent anyone from getting their hands on the Word of God—they would burn people at the stake as an example to all who resisted their authority.
Under John Calvin’s leadership in Geneva Switzerland, thousands of missionaries were being trained and by 1562, over 2,000 churches had been planted in France. In 1560, the Geneva Bible was published which was greatly used in Europe and was also the Bible that was brought off of the Mayflower by the early Pilgrims of America. Through the Reformation, an explosion of gospel missions took place that shook the world.
|Source Wikimedia Commons|
The Reformation is an extremely important part of church history. One would think with the release of the Bible in the people’s language, the explosion of missions, the work of the Gospel in the hearts of many subsequent to the reformation, that our ecclesiology would progress in an upward trajectory. But satan does not like upward, only downward. He fights back. He fought back since the moment the first Geneva Bibles were released. And the Geneva Bible’s history is interesting in itself! It was the first Bible to be translated directly from the Hebrew. It had extensive notes and cross references, making it the first study Bible. It was translated so that the people could read it. More here.
Sadly, 500 years after the start of The Reformation, there is currently a definite softening toward the Catholic Church by many people who should know better.
Philosopher and poet George Santayana famously said,
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense. Scribner’s, 1905: 284)
We must remain vigilant because we are not unaware of satan’s schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:11). We should learn the past in order to remember the past and to push forward with clear, honest, uncomplicated Gospel evangelization. We shouldn’t ever remain ignorant of what has happened in the past of our church history. This is the 500th year of the Reformation. Here are some resources for you to learn more:
The Heresies of the Catholic Church
Undermining the Headship of Christ (The line between John Hus and Martin Luther is explained here).
A History of the Reformation, article by RC Sproul
Memoirs of a Medieval Woman: this is a biography of Margery Kempe, taken from her dictated autobiography. She was born sometime around 1373 and died after 1438, which makes her a devotee of the Catholic Church at a time when both the rise of the Lollards (Wycliffe followers) was gaining traction and also the incessant Catholic pilgrimages to Jerusalem were occurring. It is also set in the time just prior to the Council of Constance. This Council was held between 1414 and 1418, principally to reunite Christendom from the ‘too many popes’ syndrome (schism) but also to examine the teachings of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus and to reform the RCC as a reaction to the attack on the Church’s authority.
Wikipedia lists her as “an English Christian mystic, known for dictating The Book of Margery Kempe, a work considered by some to be the first autobiography in the English language.” Kempe wrote of it all from a first person perspective. I liked the book for its attention to vivid detail on the practices of the Catholic Church, the realities of the pilgrimage journeys to the middle East, the ecstatic visions and examination of same by any and all church authorities Margery could get to listen (anchorites, priests, bishops, other mystics like Julian of Norwich, lay people…)