It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.
It was a Tuesday. It was the day before the townspeople in Wittenberg Germany would be coming to All Saints Church for the celebration of the All Saints Mass. Once a year, Christians around the world joined together in worship along with the faithful cloud of witnesses, the saints who had gone before. All Saints Day was an important day on the church calendar in Germany in 1517.
So, on the day before people would be coming to a special worship service at church, the local pastor, an Augustinian monk, Father Martin Luther posted a document on the door of the church for all to read. Luther was troubled by corruption in the church, and the notice he posted on the church doors addressed his concerns.
95 of them. There were 95 different issues he was concerned about.
Think of his notice as a medieval blog post. And thanks to an emerging new technology in Luther’s day – the printing press – his post went viral.
That seemingly minor event on October 31, 1517 was the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation.
It was never Martin Luther’s desire or intent to divide the Roman Catholic Church. His desire was to reform a church that had drifted from what the Bible teaches.
While Luther had 95 Theses, the 95 would ultimately coalesce into five major areas where he believed reform was needed. Over centuries, leaders in the Roman Catholic Church had drifted in what the church taught its people about the primacy and authority of scripture, the ground and basis for our salvation, and the motivation for a life of service to Christ. As the call for renewal in the church spread, five reformation “slogans” emerged. We know them today as the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation.
Beginning this week, I’ll be sharing some thoughts on each of these five slogans.
In God’s providence, our ongoing study in Romans has us looking carefully each week at the gospel truth that was at the heart of Luther’s call for reformation. You’ll remember that God used Romans 1:16-17 to awaken Luther to the good news that the just shall live by faith.
I know many pastors are taking the month of October this year to preach through the five Solas. We’ll continue our Romans study, but I’ll use the newsletter as a way to reflect on the important themes of the Reformation that remain relevant for us as followers of Jesus in 2017 – five hundred years after that October day in Wittenberg when Dr. Luther nailed his protests on the church door.
The first of the Solas to be addressed is the reformation cry of Sola Scriptura.
It’s hard to imagine, but it Luther’s day, the typical churchgoer did not have a copy of the scriptures in his home. And if he did, only the most educated man would have been able to read it. The scriptures were only available in Latin.
In the decades before Luther was born, there had been men like Jan Hus and John Wycliffe who thought that every believer should have access to God’s word in his or her own language. But the Roman church did not agree. They were concerned that men and women who were not properly trained in how to handle the scriptures would abuse and distort them. And they were concerned that translation into a common tongue could lead to translation errors. In one sense, the Roman church resisted translating the scriptures for the common man because they had a high view of the need to protect the purity of God’s word.
But problems arose in the Roman church because of their restrictive practices. If people had questions about the Bible in Luther’s day, they were told to ask the Priest. This led to the idea that the Priests, and ultimately the Pope, were the infallible interpreters of scripture. Only their interpretation of scripture was to be considered authoritative. The people were not to question their leaders. And how could they! They didn’t have a Bible of their own to raise questions!
But the Priests were not infallible. And neither was the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. They were fallen men.
This is why Hus and Wycliffe and others had gone against the church and had translated scripture from Latin to common language. They wanted people to be able to be able to hear and consider and read and pray and study on their own, and not to depend upon sometimes corrupt priests and popes to tell them what the Bible says. Both men were labeled as heretics by the church, and Hus was burned at the stake.
Luther agreed with Hus and Wycliffe that everyone should have access to God’s word in his or her language. He also went against the church on this, and translated the New Testament into German in 11 days!
The concerns of the Roman Church about the potential misuse of scripture were not unfounded. In our day, men and women have abused and distorted the scriptures. And in the absence of a single person called by God as the final arbiter of what scripture teaches, Protestantism has splintered into a few thousand different denominations, with each group claiming that their understanding of the Bible is the correct view.
The reformation slogan Sola Scriptura was a call to the church to recognize and affirm that scripture alone is the final authority as the revelation of God to His people. When we want to know what is true, what we should believe about God, about salvation, about ethics, about eternity, about any matter to which the scriptures speak, we should look to what the scriptures say, not to what our pastors say or what the bloggers say or what our parents taught us, as our source of truth. Pastors and bloggers and parents can be helpful guides. But they are not the final word on any matter.
But what do we do about all the disagreements? How can we know what is true when good and godly people both look at the same text and they can’t agree on what it teaches or what it means?
To answer that question would take more than I have space for here. I’d encourage those who want to go deeper on this subject to get a copy of Kevin DeYoung’s book Taking God At His Word.
But I’ll give you a few thoughts about how we get to a right understanding of what the Bible teaches on any subject, from infant baptism to gay marriage.
1. Read your Bible humbly and prayerfully. Ask God for the gift of understanding. Read with a teachable heart. And read with a commitment to be a doer of God’s word and not a hearer only.
2. Read your Bible carefully. Follow some basic rules for correct interpretation (hermeneutics). Here’s a helpful article from Pastor Sam Storms that can guide you as you attempt to understand and interpret scripture.
3. Read your Bible corporately. By that I mean that we should depend on the Holy Spirit working through the collective wisdom of the church through the centuries to help guide our understanding of scripture. Pay careful attention to how the great men and women of the faith have interpreted scripture over time. No one leader is infallible, and the decision of an ancient church counsel about scripture is not authoritative. But before I would hold a position that is contrary to what the church has taught and believed on a matter for centuries, I would have to be certain that my view was correct.
This last point is the dilemma that Luther himself faced as church leaders in his day called a council and demanded that he recant his views. They gave him a day to pray about his decision.
Luther came before the council the following day. And with fear and trembling, knowing he might face a sentence of death as a heretic, just as Jan Hus had faced, he famously said “Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
As men and women who follow in Luther’s footsteps, may we be as committed to the authority and sufficiency of Sola Scriptura as was Luther himself.
Big things are happening with little people at Redeemer.
Last Thursday night we had 20 kids from almost 2 to 11 years old. The kids had a great time looking at Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God from Matthew 16:13-20.
So just what happens when the kids get together?
Each week, they start with eating. Then they move to the sanctuary for some fun songs, and an object lesson to get the kids thinking. After that, they read the Scripture text for the night and have a lesson from that. They also have a memory verse each week.
This week, the kids had to find a key under their chair. Each key had a different descriptions of Jesus on it. All but two of the keys were wrong or incomplete in their understanding of Jesus. There were keys that said Jesus was a nice person, Jesus was John the Baptist, Jesus was a prophet, and so on. But only the keys that said Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God or the Messiah, Savior and Lord were the “right” keys.
The kids talked about why having the right confession was important for each person and why it can be hard but worth it to share such great news about Jesus. After a small group time based on age groups, the kids played together and received a take home sheet for parents to discuss with their kids and help them with their memory verse.
The next Kids Small Group is Thursday, October 5 from 5:45-8:15. We hope we’ll see even more kids and friends next time. Feel free to email Matt Gurney with questions at email@example.com.
The deadline has arrived. The women’s retreat is next weekend, October 6-8. If you’re interested in going but haven’t signed up yet, email Laura White (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Jen Gurney (email@example.com) and let them know you’re interested. Cost is $100. Don’t let the cost keep you from coming! We have some scholarship funds available.
I know you have this on the RCC Fall Calendar that you have hanging on your refrigerator door. But I wanted to make sure you have Sunday, October 29 circled. We’ll be having our fall family picnic at our church property on David ‘O Dodd. Sunday afternoon at 4:00. More details soon.
Some of you were asking about John Major’s new book. I mentioned it on Sunday. It’s written to help young teens understand their God given identity. Click here to order or to find out more. True Identity by John C. Majors
Are you adopted?
If you are a Christian, the answer is yes.
And that’s great news.
We’ll explore it together this Sunday.
See you in church!
Soli Deo Gloria!