Today (October 31st, 2016) marks the 499th year of the turning point in Church history. On October 31st, 1517, the monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses at the door of Wittenberg, essentially inviting the intellectual powers of that day to challenge him to a theological debate. An angry Martin Luther, having studied the Bible through and through, was utterly convinced that salvation cannot be tied to the sale of indulgences. At that time, indulgences were ways in which the Roman Church tried to bribe people into giving money to the Church in exchange for spiritual promises. He was particularly furious at the schemes of Johann Tetzel, who represented Rome in marketing the sale of indulgences. In fact, Tetzel even created a chime:
“When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs.”
Though this had no biblical grounds, the common folks who had not read the bible for themselves were at their mercy. Under the authority of the Pope, people simply went along. Before bringing out the mallet, Luther had been studying and examining the Scriptures in their original language. Filled with conviction about God’s Word being wholly sufficient and authoritative, Luther would go on to construct the five pillars of the Reformation:
- Sola Scriptura – by Scripture alone;
that the Bible alone is the sole and final authority for all matters of Christian faith
- Sola Fide – by Faith alone;
that salvation is by faith alone, not works lest any man should boast.
- Sola Gratia – by Grace alone;
that we receive the gift of salvation purely by the grace of God.
- Solus Christus – Christ alone;
There is no other mediator other than Christ, for us to be reconciled with God.
- Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God alone.
Our calling is to live and to uphold the glory of God alone.
This October 31st, 1517 event has such great significance for the Church of today. Not only has it spurred a vibrant offshoot called the Protestant movement, it has revived the Roman Catholic Church to take the Bible more seriously than before. It led to several inner reformations for the Roman Church such as:
- The Council of Trent (1545-1563)
- Vatican II (1959)
When the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) gathered in January 1959, they reiterated the significant place of the Bible. In the Dei Verbum (DV), or commonly known as the “Word of God,” the Roman Church declares the divine revelation of God in both the Old and the New Testament, and venerates the Word of God as divine Scriptures in the same way Jesus Christ has been venerated. This push toward a deeper love for the Scriptures is attributed in part to the great Oct 31st event.
It started a domino effect where one bold act of defiance triggered a whole list of reformed movements such as:
- Lutheran Reformation in Germany
- Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) and Reformation in Switzerland
- Michael Sattler (1495-1527), Menno Simons (1496-1561) and the Anabaptists
- John Calvin (1509-1564) in Geneva and the Five Points of Calvinism
- King Henry VII (1534) and Anglicanism in England
- John Knox (1513-1572) and Presbyterianism
I thank God for the way Martin Luther was led to spearhead the dramatic event. Here are some of his famous quotes which should provide much food for thought.
His greatest hymn is none other than “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”
Thank you Martin Luther!