Annually, when October 31 rolls around, Lutherans who are mindful of their religious heritage give thought to the reformation movement which took place in Germany during the 1500’s. Their remembrance of this significant event is that of a thankful appreciation for the Lord causing the glorious light of the gospel message to once again shine forth in all its splendor.
That gospel message is clearly revealed in Holy Scripture, such as in Romans 3:24,28: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus… Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” Quite simply put, we sinful humans have been forgiven of all our sins and eternally saved ALONE by reason of God’s unmerited love, through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ ALONE, and received ALONE by trusting in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
In spite of the wonderful clarity of Holy Scripture, during the years leading up to the Reformation period the gospel message was largely obscured in the external church by false teachings. Instead of looking ALONE to the Bible for divine instruction, the church also looked outside of Scripture to human traditions, and to the pronouncements and decrees of church councils and popes.
As a result of this, flawed human reasoning developed all manner of work-righteous teachings which rely upon man’s feeble efforts to merit forgiveness and salvation, as if Jesus’ redemptive work was not all-sufficient. Such teachings are soul destroying, for Jesus declared that anyone who does not believe–that is, believe in Him alone for salvation– will be condemned eternally (Mk.16:16).
But since God is not desirous that any should perish, but that all should come to a heartfelt knowledge of His gospel truths and be saved, the Lord God raised up men like Dr. Martin Luther to bring about a reformation in the church. The term ‘reformation’ has been defined as restoring to original form that which was lost.
While authentic Lutherans have good cause to commemorate the reformation of the 16th century since they continue to be spiritual beneficiaries of it, yet it is not the only religious reformation that has taken place in the external church.
In the Old Testament period of the Judges, a major reformation in Israel took place under the able leadership of Samuel (I Sam. 7). Also in the days of the kings, the Lord raised up King Josiah to restore in Israel the religious teachings, practices, and ways of God which had been lost (2 Ki. 22:23; 2 Chr. 34:35). We might also include in this list the reformation that the apostle Paul sought to carry out among the churches in Galatia through the writing of his epistle to them.
What is it that brought about the need for these reformations? In the Old Testament examples we find that the people of God had shelved the Holy Scriptures to gather dust and made friends with the world to the extent that they adopted their idolatrous worship and their wicked manner of living. In the New Testament example, we see that Christians were soon led astray by false prophets who cunningly introduced a religion of work-righteousness.
Why call to remembrance other reformations besides the one that gave birth to the Lutheran Church? The answer is this, that we might learn from them and guard against the many different pitfalls and traps which can cause us to lose the precious teachings which alone can save eternally. The spiritual blessings of past reformations have not always been long retained because people failed to be vigilant and were neglectful in making regular and faithful use of the Word of God in their personal lives and in their church life.
In regard to this last thought, one of the great blessings that came out of the Lutheran Reformation is that of Martin Luther putting the Scriptures into the hands of the laypeople. Making use of his language gifts, Luther translated the Bible into the common language of the people so that they could read it for themselves. He also wrote a catechism of Christian doctrine which he intended to be used in the following way: “As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to those of his household.”
God be praised and thanked for the many spiritual blessings that He has lovingly bestowed upon the church through past reformations. May He grant us the grace to learn the important lessons from them and to be ever vigilant so that we do not lose that which was restored.
–Pastor Mark Gullerud