re-form vt. 1. to make better by removing faults and defects; correct 2. to make better by putting a stop to abuses or malpractices or by introducing better procedures, etc.
re-for-ma-tion n. 2. [R] the 16th century religious movement that aimed at reforming the Roman Catholic Church and resulted in establishing the Protestant churches*
There is little doubt that the visible church of Luther’s time (the Roman Catholic Church) needed reforming. As most man-made institutions go, the church had become more liberal the further it got from teaching the pure Word of God. Man’s declarations became law–traditions became commandments, and as a result the pure gospel message was muddied and choked in the stagnant waters of man’s theological inventions.
The people of Luther’s day had gotten too comfortable with the way things had been running in the church. The clergy were in charge; the congregational members weren’t expected to worry themselves about such things as doctrine.
Luther’s goal was to return the clergy as well as the general population of the church to the pure Word of God–to encourage each individual to a personal relationship with God and His Word.
Luther, however, was not the first nor would or should he be the last of the reformers! In fact, since Adam’s Fall into sin all mankind has needed “reforming” and as long as this world has sinful humans living in it, there will be a need to reform the heart as well as the institutions of man.
Throughout the time of the Old Testament God had continually sent reformers to His people. Whether they came in the form of prophets, priests, judges, or kings, the goal was always the same–to return God’s people to a true worship of the Lord. Kings like Josiah and Hezekiah and a judge like Gideon had the altars of pagan religions literally torn down, thus endeavoring to restore true worship among the people. A prophet like Jeremiah worked in the face of constant trouble, attempting to reform the hearts and lives of his hearers with warning words from the Almighty.
These and many others worked hard to reform the religious institutions of man, striving to make them more in-tune with the Word of God. Their reforms provide examples and encouragement to all generations to follow, including our own!
In addition, prior to Luther’s time, attempts at reform in the church by men such as Peter de Bruys, John Wycliffe, and John Huss led to their suffering and dying for their beliefs rather than compromising their beliefs.
As time marched on, the need for reformation in the church never waned or went away, it simply moved. Just prior to World War II, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood firm against Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party which attempted to hijack the Christian church in Germany and turn it into a Christ-less organization—having no resemblance to Luther’s church other than form. Bonhoeffer wrote, “Confirmands today are like soldiers marching to war, the war of Jesus Christ against the gods of this world. It is a war that demands the commitment of one’s whole life. Is not God, our Lord, worthy of this struggle?” (If true in 1938, how much more so today?!) True to his word, Pastor Bonhoeffer was willing to give his life for his convictions.
In the early days of the 19th century, many Christians, grounded firmly in the Scriptures, came to the United States to establish orthodox, Bible-honoring, God-fearing synods. Yet as time went on, problems developed; if it wasn’t attacks from outside the church, it was complacency and controversy from within it.
Soon the time for Reformers was here again. Our own Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) was born “out of necessity” (as the book title of our most recent written history declares). The book’s author, Pastor David Lau, writes:
“…It was not easy for these pastors and congregations and individual members to take a stand against the prevailing opinions of the majority. In many cases it meant separation from family members and close friends…The present members of the CLC should never forget the difficulties these men (the pastors who left their former fellowships) and others with like convictions faced, the sacrifices they made for the sake of obedience to God’s Word. Nor should we forget the efforts of the men and women in the congregations they served, efforts to support the cause of God’s truth regardless of cost.”
One thing we know for sure from studying Biblical and church history throughout the ages is that there will always be a need for Reformers.
Another thing we can be assured of: Jesus Christ, the Savior/Reformer of sinners, will always provide pious, faithful, and God-fearing men and women willing to risk all to stand on His Word of truth.
May the Holy Spirit keep each one of us in God’s grace that we may be found faithful followers of His holy Word!