A Very Significant Anniversary
Have you ever forgotten an anniversary? If it was a wedding anniversary, you probably got reminded. You may know there are traditions to let us know the kinds of gifts we should give on select anniversaries (like silver on the 25th and gold on the 50th). What does one give for the 500th?
500 years ago (October 31, 1517), a Roman Catholic priest named Martin Luther nailed a list on a church door at Wittenberg, Germany. It was a list of 95 theological issues (95 Theses) that Luther felt needed to be discussed by church leaders because he thought some major teachings and practices of the Church were in error. His action is viewed as a catalyst of the Protestant Reformation (from which Baptists were one of the groups that emerged). Luther was neither the first nor the only "reformer" but his name and actions are commonly recognized. Although Baptists are not, strictly speaking, Protestants (since we sprang from the Reformation movement instead of being involved in its beginning; "we" weren't around officially then), we owe much to what happened.
As they came to be summarized later, there were five key beliefs / doctrines the Reformation clarified and stood upon which separated the Reformers from the Roman Catholic Church's teachings and practices. They are stated as "Sola fide" (faith alone), "Sola gratia" (grace alone), "Solus Christus" (Christ alone), "Sola Scriptura" (Scripture alone), "Soli Deo Gloria" (glory to God alone). It is hard to believe for most of us today (in conservative, Bible-teaching churches) that these could be in any way revolutionary (or even "heretical" as they were considered then). To celebrate this 500th anniversary, let's look at them in a bit more detail over the next few weeks...
I would start with "Sola Scriptura" (Scripture alone) because it is on this that the other things were grounded and built. Again, it is hard to believe today that reading and learning the Bible could have been such a rarity. But consider the lack of education of the laity (the "Average Joe & Josephine") in that day, as well as the fact that "the Bible" in use in the church was in Latin. For English speakers today, who can buy a multitude of different English translations, we have a hard time understanding that the common man and woman throughout the Middle Ages could not get or read a Bible in his or her native language.
So how did they know what to believe? "The Church" told them ... and that is where Luther (and others) took issue. They felt that Church teaching had gone way beyond the teaching of Scripture and in some cases was totally contrary to what the Bible taught; that needed to change. One of the biggest points of contention was Church teaching on salvation (which we will focus on next time); the Church became the authority for granting—or removing (think "excommunication")—salvation. When an institution has that kind of authority it can control what a lot of people do ... or don't do.
One of Luther's great contributions to his people was translating the Bible into German; other Reformers (and their predecessors, like John Wycliffe in the late 1300s) were translating the Bible into their country's languages. When the Bible was able to be read and understood, things changed; orthodox doctrine was clarified. The Reformation sped that along ... and we celebrate it still today!
2 Timothy 3:16-17 "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."
Hebrews 4:12 "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."