(Photo ‘Luther’s 95 Theses’ courtesy of user Keren Tan and Flickr).
October 31st is a special day. While much of the culture finds it to be an excuse to act silly and absurd with little consequences, others remember it to be the day that Marin Luther nailed his 95 these to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Many claim this event of 1517 to be the single spark of what is now known as the Reformation.
I must confess I disagree slightly with that assessment only because it is certain that much had transpired before that day. Certainly God has been working in/through men in order to prepare people for this monumental era. I would suggest even that there is an indeterminate amount of preparation that took place beforehand. Without a doubt though, Martin Luther would play the lead role in a story that still has an unwritten ending.
In celebration of the Reformation of old, many will issue a call for a Reformation of the new. They lament the modern deviation from core conviction. Yet it would seem that the Reformation never ended. The schisms that existed in Luther’s era continue to be central facets of discrepancy between the teachings of Scripture and the interpretation of men, whether professing Christian or not. Yet what began 500 years ago has lost the power and authority it once had. So we are left to question, what elements were present that that no longer exist today to cause the Reformation influence to wane?
As the lead player, the life of Martin Luther serves as a worthy model for examination. From him and the events that make up the profile of his life, we see three major aspects that must be present when seeking a cultural revolution for Christianity.
A) The Importance of God’s Sovereignty:
Viewed through the lens of the world, Luther’s life was like any other person’s. In a strange twist of choices and coincidences he was able to create a legacy that has now spanned nearly 500 years. However, viewed through the lens of Scripture, we see that Luther’s life was like any other person’s in that it was sovereignly orchestrated to coincide with his sovereignty over his grater plan. Luther began his journey in law school, only to commit to be a monk if Saint Anna would save him in the midst of a severe thunderstorm. A man of his word, Luther entered a monastery where he was instructed in the Word of God. A slight shift in course and the world would not have felt the impact of Martin Luther or the Reformation. Some suggest this was mere chance, while we learn from Scripture that God is in control of all things.
The Old Testament provides a long discourse that points consistently and constantly to God’s sovereignty. His constant care over Israel combined with a constant coordination over events served a grander purpose in order to accomplish His will. We can see, especially now with history behind us, how God worked in Luther’s life for a grander purpose to preserve the truth of His word. No work, no undertaking can take place without God’s direct input and working of the plan.
B) The Importance of God’s Word:
Second, through Luther and the Reformation we see the need for God’s Word. Luther began his defense . . . or maybe his offense after he began undertaking a personal study of the Scriptures. He did not wait for someone to tell him what the Bible said nor did he accept another’s person’s word about it to be the authority. Instead, in light of what he was seeing (such as the selling of indulgences) Luther began to search the Scriptures himself. He studied them (Ezra 7:10), he meditated upon them (Psalm 1:1-2), and he was prepared to give a defense (1 Peter 3:15).
The Word of God is powerful (Hebrews 4:12). By His word the world was created in Genesis. By His word nations will be slain in Revelation. No grand work can take place if it is not first rooted in the truth of God’s Word. All motivates must be firmly rooted in this.
C) The Importance of God’s Work:
The power of God’s word is clearly demonstrated through the transformation of Martin Luther’s life. It was by his study in the Word that Martin Luther began to understand and see the truth. While I already mentioned God’s work in the events of the Reformation, it is here that we see God’s work in the life an individual: Martin Luther. Luther spent time in the Word and it was only when he understood it and had been transformed by the truth contained within that he brought that teaching to others. It very much followed the example we see from Ezra in which he studied the Word, applied it to his own life, and then sought to teach it to others (Ezra 7:10).
The reality is this: Martin Luther was instrumental to the overarching events and impact of the Reformation, however, it was God’s work to be done through not just Luther, but a number of different people. For any reformation of lives to take place today, it must still be God’s work. It cannot be an overnight transformation, but instead it is through the lives of individuals by God’s power through the revelation of His truth.