October 31, 1517
© The Very Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, ThD
When Martin Luther began his ministry of the priesthood and teaching (PhD) in the early 1500s, there were only two branches of Christianity: The Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy. When Luther died, there were three branches, the third one being Protestant. When Luther nailed the 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, it was an invitation to other scholars to debate indulgences. The church door was like a bulletin board for announcements, and Luther wrote the Theses in the scholarly language of the day: Latin. He was as surprised as anyone when they were taken down, translated into German, and spread throughout Germany. Now Luther was forced to defend his teaching.
What Was the Reformation?
It was the greatest revival in the history of the Church (and still ongoing). I don’t mean to be unkind, but the Roman Catholic Church had fallen into really bad teachings and practices. They were basically selling forgiveness of sins. Several weeks ago I saw on TV a documentary of Martin Luther where a current Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church admitted that the Church in Luther’s day had indeed fallen into decadence and bad doctrines. Now in our day, the Protestant Church has fallen into various heresies, as has the Roman Catholic Church and just about every other Christian church or organization. Here are some of our protestant problems:
- We present a positive message without judgment.
- We’ve turned the Bible into a popular psychological manual for self-improvement.
- With the right words spoken audibly, we can manufacture our own providence. In fact, the word-faith movement thoroughly disdains the word “providence.”
- Catholics pray to Mary, and Protestants pray to themselves.
- Every passage in the Bible has become a “secret” to have victory, if we only . . .
I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the word-faith movement, The compromised protestant megachurches proclaim a form of indulgences, which is positive confession. If you say words into the air with faith, you’ll bring riches into your life; but of course you must send the word-faith preacher his share. Robert Tilton used to require a thousand dollar vow, and if you made that vow and sent him money, he would send you a cloth to put in your billfold that would bring you money. You could reap a 100 fold harvest. Their followers are being fleeced as much as those poor peasants in Luther’s day. (If you want a copy of my book on the word-faith movement, please CLICK HERE. You can see the thorough Table of Contents when you click the link.)
Need for the Reformation
The Reformation was a return to the Bible and to the old gospel the fathers of the church had preached the first thousand years (or more) in the Church’s history. The Roman Catholic Church had degenerated into various false teachings and practices, not the least of which was the selling of forgiveness of sins in the form of Indulgences.
In the 1300s there was a man called Jon Wycliffe. He was an English scholastic philosopher, theologian, Biblical translator, reformer, and seminary professor at Oxford. He was an influential dissident within the Roman Catholic priesthood during the 14th century. He had followers that went around preaching the pure Gospel who were called the Lollards. Wycliffe also translated the Bible into English from the Latin. He was the evangelical of his day, and died in 1384. About a hundred years after he died, he was declared a heretic, and his bones were dug up and ground.
After Wycliffe came Jon Hus. The Roman Catholic Church martyred him in 1415 after giving their word they would not do it if he would just appear before them to defend his views. He was a Czech priest, philosopher, Master, dean and rector at Charles University in Prague, church reformer, inspirator of Hussitism, a seminal figure in the Bohemian Reformation and a key predecessor to Protestantism. Luther claimed, 100 years later, to be a Hussite.
Enter Martin Luther and Tetzel, the latter who was selling indulgences on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church that granted a release of some temporal punishment due to sin. Martin Luther vehemently challenged indulgencies. The money collected was for the Pope to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Here is what Tetzel would proclaim:
As soon as the gold in the casket rings,
The rescued soul to heaven springs.
Here is another version:
As soon as the coin in the coffer rings,
the soul from purgatory springs.
What is an indulgence? It gets complicated, but suffice it to say that it is something you do (works) that will lessen your time in purgatory, which is not heaven or hell, and not a desirable place to go. But Tetzel was selling indulgences to the poor to use for their deceased loved ones to get out of purgatory early. It was salvation by proxy after death by money. For example, in one Roman Catholic catechism one can get a full indulgence by saying the Rosary before Holy Communion, or a partial indulgence for reading the New Testament 15 minutes a day. It is a mechanical works system where one can get his ticker card punched.
You might find it interesting that just several weeks ago there was a documentary of Martin Luther and the beginning of the Reformation. It was very positive, and there was a Roman Catholic Cardinal on the program who stated that the church at that time had become corrupt and was in need of reforming. I would add that it still needs reforming, along with worldwide Anglicanism and Protestantism, and Orthodoxy. Worldwide Christianity is in pitiful ruins in its beliefs and practices.
In the early 1500s there was a priest with a troubled conscience. Tomorrow, October 31st, 1517, 500 years ago, Martin Luther, who had an earned Ph.D. in biblical studies, at the age of 34, nailed up the Ninety-Five Theses on a church door in Wittenberg. He wanted to debate other church scholars regarding certain teachings and practices, especially Indulgences. Thus began the greatest revival in the history of the Church, which has lasted now for about 500 years. Other revivals have been sparked, such the ones of the Wesleys, Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, here in this country in the 1700s, and many others in the last 100 years throughout the world. And let us not forget the godly women the Lord had raised up, such as Luther’s wife, Katherine, Edwards wife, and so on.
Do We Still Need the Reformation?
The first Reformation changed the Western world—Germany, continental Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, and so on. The world will never be the same now that God raised up Luther to preach the free gospel with such power and fearlessness. Likewise, with many other great men, Luther’s right-hand man, Melanthon (Germany), Calvin and Beza (France), Zwingli and Bullinger (Switzerland), John Knox (Scotland, Presbyterian), and certainly not least, those in England: Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Bucer, etc. Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer–all clergy in the Church of England–the Roman Catholic Church martyred.
The reformers faced not only theological heresy, but also they were persecuted by the civil authorities, the same as we are today. Our whole Western culture hates (and I mean hates with a devilish fiendness) anything Christian. There is a huge spiritual warfare going on in the West in general and also in our culture in particular. The gospel is being called hate speech, sexual perversion is freedom of expression, murdering babies is a woman’s choice, and so on. Moreover, ministerial success is measured in how big your parking lot is, though there is nothing wrong with having a large church in itself, but the tendency is to compromise the gospel so you won’t lose members.
We need a whole generation of D. James Kennedys to arise and march on our modern Jerichos. Many preachers today wimp out by saying that we must not be involved in political matters! Right, so we let the culture perish.
There are two ways to destroy the gospel: by addition and by subtraction. Most of the Christian cults subtract things, like the deity of Christ, the Holy Trinity, His bodily resurrection, and so on. But during the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church added many things, thus it was necessary to correct the errors by pointing out that each of the solas were not just necessary, but enough.
What were some of the big issues in the Reformation that are still needed today? I’ve written some articles in this blog about the “ONLYs”, the solas. The ONLYs emphasize the sufficiency of what they present, not just the necessity.
- The Bible is not only necessary, but it is also enough (only).
- The grace of God is necessary for us to come to Christ, but it also enough (only).
- We are saved through faith, and that not of ourselves, so that faith is not only necessary for our salvation, it is also enough (only).
- Christ is not only necessary for our salvation, but He is enough. Only He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). We don’t add Mary to Him.
- God’s glory alone must receive the emphasis, not us also.
The Bible is all the revelation we need, not the additions of the Roman Catholic Church in their traditions. The Bible is enough. The grace of God is all we need to gain salvation, not the merits of Mary and others. His grace is sufficient. We are saved through faith and not by our merits, which in turn means faith is enough. The person of Christ is the only mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), the only way to the Father (John 14:6). This further means that His once for all death was and is enough. We don’t need the sacrifices of Mary or others. Finally, our salvation is to God’s glory alone because only He has saved us, lest anyone should boast in his own merits.
But there has been tremendous progress made in the last few decades, or at least in my lifetime. (I’m now 72.) Roman Catholics and Protestants do not want to kill one another. Within my lifetime, even in the past several decades, evangelicals and Catholics have come together to a great extent. In Amarillo, the local Roman Catholic bishop and I marched together at the front of the line each year for pro-life. Other ministers were there incognito, out of uniform, so the media did not know who they were. I’ve worked with Roman Catholics in various pro-life endeavors, side by side, praying wonderful prayers while for our sake leaving out the Hail Mary.
I read Pope Benedict’s XVI excellent work titled Jesus.
I sure I’m not a prophet, but I’ve been saying for several decades that Christians all over the world must come together if we’re to survive the onslaught of Islam, Atheism, Liberalism, hostile politicians, etc. Satan is making an all-out push against us. But does that mean I’m going to Rome any time soon? There ain’t no way, for there are still substantive areas of disagreement: transubstantiation, purgatory, prayers to humans, works to gain heaven, papal infallibility, Mary as co-redeemer and co-mediator, Son of God as only one mediator out of many. Yet they hold the same three creeds we do, Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian. My plea is not for conversion to that system, but for tolerance on both sides, but without compromising the solas.
So, is the Reformation still needed? I would say Yes, but it is not just around the solas. Without giving up the progress we’ve made in 500 years as of today, we must change the culture by preaching the gospel, changing our culture as Luther and others did by engaging the culture. We must proclaim the crown rights of King Jesus, because
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying,
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you;
and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen (Matt. 28:18-20 NKJ)