It was October 31st, 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany. Martin, a young Christian scholar, grasped a hammer and a long piece of paper covered with his writing. He walked out into the street and straight over to the church door. It was here that community messages were often posted. Martin nailed his 95 points of discussion on the door. He only wanted to lay out his newly discovered views of the Bible to other church leaders in the Medieval Catholic church. He thought he was free to do so, after all, he was an Augustinian monk and a professor of theology.
Martin called himself a “stinking bag of maggots” and “a beggar;” he certainly did not dream of being a leader in a revolution of theological thinking in Germany and across Europe that would ultimately shape the rest of history. But God had determined something far bigger than the monk Martin Luther expected when he penned those 95 Theses.
Without his knowledge someone printed his words on the newly invented Gutenberg Press, distributing it all over Germany. Within a very few days, Martin found that he was the subject of everyone’s thoughts. In cathedrals and castles, in pubs and cottages—virtually everyone in Germany was talking about the views of Luther. The Protestant Reformation had begun!
Just what was the Protestant Reformation all about? What did Luther and other Reformers protest?
The protesters were seeing something new (i.e., new to them) about how a person is accepted by God and included into the plan of redemption. They protested that the church had been teaching the wrong view about the most important issue of life. They discovered that the Bible says we are not accepted on the basis of our religious deeds, or even our good deeds along with our faith, but that we are accepted before a holy God only through faith in Christ.
“Through faith alone in Christ alone” began to be heard all over Europe. The people must transfer their confidence for salvation in the church’s religious traditions to Christ alone. The reformers wanted the people to return to the Bible’s plain teaching on how to be a true Christian. Many of the Reformers would be persecuted because of their views and some even killed. But through it all, tens of thousands of people were converted to Christ and were assured of their gracious inclusion into the family of God through faith alone, in Christ alone, and it was all by God’s grace alone.
We have been feeling the effects of the Protestant Reformation ever since. Many of our churches have their historical roots in the Reformation. Returning to the Bible as the source of understanding about how we are to relate to God has shaped nations. Perhaps no other religious period since the coming of Christ has been so influential as this one.
But many people, and even many churches, have forgotten the great lessons that were once again made so clear on October 31st, 1517.
What difference can this mean to you and I nearly 500 years later? This passage from the Bible is a good place to start. It describes God’s way to understand salvation:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9) .
Through these 500 years since the Protestant Reformation, and throughout time, men and women, youth and children have come to Christ in this simple way—through faith alone in Christ alone. Placing our full confidence in Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection is the only way to a right relationship with God. It is not that good works (i.e., right living) aren’t important—they’re a result of true faith in every believer’s life. But those works cannot redeem us. Salvation is a gift of grace, not a reward for trying to be good. Luther probably said it best, "We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone."
Some Great Quotes from the Writings and Lectures of Martin Luther:
”All who call on God in true faith, earnestly from the heart, will certainly be heard, and will receive what they have asked and desired.”
“Be thou comforted, little dog, thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail.”
"Faith is a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God's grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace." ~ Luther's An Introduction to St. Paul's Letter to the Romans
"We are all ministers of the Gospel. Some of us just happen to be the clergymen."
“God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”
“... Besides, the Word is the principal part of baptism. If in an emergency there’s no water at hand, it doesn’t matter whether water or beer is used.” ~ "Prenatal Baptisms Are Ridiculed," Table Talk No. 394
“You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.”
"We are all beggars. This is true." ~ "The Last Written Words of Luther," Table Talk No. 5468
Some Martin Luther and Reformation Day Resources:
Reformation Day reflections by Timothy George
Martin Luther & Reformation Day resources from Monergism.com
"The Bondage of the Will" by Martin Luther
Luther's Larger Catechism
A Great Lecture on Martin Luther's Life & The Bondage of the Will
Like Martin Luther, you may come by faith alone to Christ even now, all these years later. Happy Reformation Day!