On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Church door. Luther’s purpose was to initiate a debate about abuses within the Roman Catholic Church. His protest drew attention to false teachings such as the sale of indulgences and the concept of purgatory. It was a public moment that launched the Protestant Reformation and began a return to biblical truth, particularly the truth that man is justified by faith in the atoning work of Christ Jesus alone. While there were others who were working to reform the Catholic Church, Luther’s act initiated lasting change in the Church, returning the people to the Scriptures as their ultimate authority. This year, we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s declaration.
At our church, we recognize Reformation Sunday as an annual event. As a pastor, I am asked frequently why reflecting on the Reformation is important. That is a good question. The answer is that it reminds us that the contemporary Church is always reforming, both corporately and individually. We need to constantly evaluate our practices and beliefs based upon the authority of the Bible. After careful examination, if we discover inconsistencies, we conform back to the Scriptures. Luther’s reformation began in his own heart. He arrived at his conclusions about justification while carefully studying the Scriptures. His own course correction is a reminder that we need to constantly be people of the Word. We need to learn how to properly study the Bible; therefore, strong theological education is essential. Each of us needs to allow the Holy Spirit to teach us through the Word of God in order to bring about a reformation in our own hearts.
The doctrine of justification by faith alone is still needed today. There continues to be false teaching that entices our brothers and sisters to believe that we can somehow merit our own salvation or that we can participate in our justification by adding to the work of Christ. Some people believe they can connect to God in ways other than faith in Jesus. Celebrating the Reformation reminds us that we need to be on guard to preserve the precious doctrines of faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, according to the Word of God alone, and for the glory of God alone. Perhaps this year your church could use this special anniversary to celebrate Luther’s protest and become acquainted with the great truths of the Reformation. I encourage you and your church leadership to enroll in a theology or church history course at BTS in order to keep the spirit of the Reformation alive.
Dr. Blair Waddell
Professor of Church History