In 2013 Berean a Fall Conference series that examined Church History by looking at influential people. We made that decision for several reasons; but one of the most important was to demonstrate is that God uses people to establish and maintain the biblical truth and forward His will in time and space.
October 31, 2016 marked 499 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the Door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church. That means next year will be considered the 500th birthday of the Protestant Reformation.
The two biggest reasons you are sitting where you are this morning is that 2000 years ago Christ did what He did; then 500 years ago Protestants did what they did. The two are not equally important; but both were incredibly significant. 2000 years ago Christ established and secured salvation for the people of God. 500 years ago Protestants re-established how we are to understand it, believe it, and talk about it.
Just to give you one example, in a few minutes we will have the Lord’s Table. You will not hear Pastor say that Jesus is dying again for our salvation. We do not think that God gave grace to the church, that the church consecrated bread and drink, and that when the Elders give it to us they are giving God’s saving grace. That won’t happen.
One reason you won’t hear that is because that isn’t what the Bible teaches. Another reason you won’t hear that is because Protestants revived a biblical understanding of the Lord’s Table that had been buried in false dogma and tradition.
Three years after nailing his Ninety-Five Theses Luther was called to defend himself before the Diet of Worms in Germany. The spiritual controversy had intensified and thousands crowded the city to watch the monk defend himself before the full weight of the Catholic Church. Luther himself came determined to defend the gospel as he understood it from scripture.
The following day, Luther stood before religious and political leaders. The Emperor’s court lawyer pointed to a table of Luther’s books and asked if he would affirm his writings or would he to recant of all he had stated. Everyone knew full well what he had written would get him excommunicated from the Church and perhaps executed.
Luther asked for additional day to think about his answer before speaking publicly. That request was granted. The next day, when he returned he was asked again to recant of everything he had written. He responded with the following way:
“I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me. Amen.”
Luther later said of that moment, “If I had a thousand heads, I would rather have them all lopped off than abandon my gospel.” Being intentionally for the gospel was so much more than being against Catholicism. The Reformation was a stance for the Gospel saving people for the Glory of God when there was a competing false gospel that trampled God’s grace and glory.
Therefore as we look back on the 500th birthday of the Reformation, it is not just tipping our hat to our forefathers, nor is it celebrating a victory over Catholicism. We are restating and recommitting ourselves to the gospel. Biblical truth is always challenged by cultural values outside the church and false gospels within the church. Are our consciences captive to the word of God? Will we be able to stand with clarity of purpose in our moment?