Monday, October 26, 2015

Pillars of the Protestant Reformation

On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis (reasons against selling  indulgences)  to  the north door of the Castle Church in Whittenburg, Germany. While the world celebrates ghosts, goblins, and ghouls, we can take time to remember reformers like Peter Waldo, Jan Huss, Martin Bucer, William Tyndale, Philip Melanchthon, Hieronymus Zanchius, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, Guillaume Farel, John Calvin, William Perkins, Michael Satteeler, Matthius Illyricus, Theodore Beza, Heinrich Bullinger,  John Knox, Urich Zwingli, Peter Vermigli, and Johann Oecolampadius  who bravely called for the Church to return to the pure and undefiled New Testament gospel of Christ. 

While the five “solas” are the classic explanation of what the reformers taught, these three “Pillars of the Protestant Reformation” also capture the heart of the movement.

I. Bible Only Christianity

A. Summary:

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Bible and the traditions of the Church, as expressed in the decrees of popes and councils, etc. are authoritative.  The reformers believed that the Scriptures, not church traditions, were the final authority for faith and practice.  Martin Luther proclaimed that “...unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture manifest reasoning I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s Word ...”

B. Scripture says...

2 Peter 1.20-21

19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed,  which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 1

8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

C. William Tyndale  1494-1536

Tyndale was a theologian and scholar who translated the Bible into an early form of Modern English. He was the first person to take advantage of Gutenberg’s movable-type press for the purpose of printing the scriptures in the English language.

Early Controversy Surrounding Tyndale

Around 1520, William Tyndale became a tutor in the family of Sir John Walsh, at Little Sodbury in Gloucestershire. He became attached to the doctrines of the Reformation, devoted himself to the study of the Scriptures, and was open about his beliefs in the house of Walsh.

A clergyman hopelessly entrenched in Roman Catholic dogma once taunted Tyndale with the statement, “We are better to be without God’s laws than the Pope’s”. Tyndale was infuriated by such Roman Catholic heresies, and he replied, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you!

William Tyndale First Prints The Scripture in English

Unable to translate and print the Scriptures in England, he set out for the continent (about May, 1524), and appears to have visited Hamburg and Wittenberg. The place where he translated the New Testament, is thought to have been Wittenberg,  William Tyndale’s Biblical translations included the Pentateuch, the Books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, First Chronicles.

The Betrayal and Death of William Tyndale

Tyndale was betrayed by a friend, Philips, the agent either of Henry or of English ecclesiastics, or possibly of both. Tyndale was arrested and imprisoned in the castle of Vilvoorden for over 500 days of horrible conditions. He was tried for heresy and treason in a ridiculously unfair trial, and convicted. Tyndale was then strangled and burnt at the stake in the prison yard, Oct. 6, 1536. His last words were, "Lord, open the king of England's eyes." This prayer was answered three years later, in the publication of King Henry VIII’s 1539 English “Great Bible”.

II. Salvation by grace through faith alone.

A. Summary:

The Roman Church had placed the merit of good works alongside faith as a requirement to obtain salvation.  The reformers taught the Biblical doctrine that salvation comes by the free and undeserved grace of Christ.  Good works are the product and evidence of justification, not a requirement for justification. 

B. Scripture says...

Romans 1:17 
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."

Galatians 3:11 
But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith."

Ephesians 2.8-10
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

C. Martin Luther  1483 – 1546

“Even if you attend church twice every Sunday without fail, give most of your income to the poor, read your Bible and pray every day, and live a rigorously moral life, this will not earn you acceptance with God and entrance into heaven. That only comes as a free gift from God, apart from all of your religious dedication.”

Lightning strikes
Martin Luther was headed for a career as a lawyer. On  July 2, 1505, he was caught in a violent thunderstorm. Lightning struck close to him. Thrown to the ground and fearing for his life, he prayed to St. Anne that, if she would save him, he would become a monk.

Monkery not enough
Through his laborious studies of the Scriptures, Luther came to see that the guilt that consumed him could not be lifted by more religion, and the God he dreaded so much was not the God that Christ has revealed. Shooting forth from the book of Romans (1:17), another thunderbolt crossed his path: "Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that 'the just shall live by his faith.' Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which, through grace and sheer mercy, God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.

Indulgences light the fuse
Luther was also a pastor at the city church in Wittenberg and began to preach his newfound faith to his congregation. But at the same time a representative of Pope Leo X, a monk named John Tetzel, was selling indulgences to raise money to finance the building of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. Indulgences were letters of pardon which guaranteed forgiveness of sins.

Luther saw this as a perversion of the Gospel. He wrote up 95 theses in Latin and posted them on the door of the castle church inviting scholars to debate the issue of indulgences.  But the printing press had recently been invented and Luther's theses were printed up. Within weeks copies were in demand and stimulating debate across Europe.

A few samples from Luther's 95 theses
37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.
52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.
86. Again, "Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?"

III. The Priesthood of all believers

A. Summary: 

The reformers argued that there was not precedent in the early church for the priest as a mediator between the lay people and Christ.  Each believer could confess his sins to and receive forgiveness from Christ without the aid of a priest.  Each believer had the right and duty to read the Scriptures and trust the Holy Spirit to lead them into the truth.  

 B. Scripture says...

1 Peter 2:5-9
5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, "Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame." 7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, "The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone," 8 and "A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense." They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. 9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

Hebrews 4:14-16
14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

C. JOHN WYCLIFFE (1320-1384)
The plague led Wycliffe to search the Scriptures and find salvation in Christ. As a professor at Oxford University, Wycliffe represented England in a controversy with the Pope.

Wycliffe then attacked the corruptions, superstitions and abuses of the friars and monks. He also declared the monasteries unbiblical and exposed their supposed powers to forgive sins as fraudulent. "Who can forgive sins?" Wycliffe taught: "God alone!"

Wycliffe mobilized lay preachers (Lollards) to travel throughout the land to read, preach and sing the Scriptures in English.

Summoned to appear before a council Wycliffe rebuked the bishops for being "priests of Baal," selling blasphemy and idolatry in the mass and indulgences.