The Reformation reshaped the religion and politics of Europe centuries ago. But the Reformation carries a vital message—a warning—for the modern Christian.
The year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the official birth of the Reformation. The Protestant Reformation marks its spot on the historical timeline on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s list raised 95 points for theological dispute with the Roman Catholic Church, asserting that many of its doctrines and practices were at variance with Scripture.
Posting such topics for debate on church doors was the social media of the time. And like incendiary topics in today’s social media, Luther’s “post” soon went viral, setting off a long-lasting firestorm of political and theological conflict across Europe. In the world of that time, royalty and religion, princes and popes, were thoroughly entwined, so such a declaration not only rocked the foundation for church authority, it also destabilized the political structure of the day. The ensuing Reformation, replete with its heroes and villains—their identity often depending on which side of the aisle you occupied—was a turbulent time that turned theology as well as European papal and political power on its head. But apart from strictly historical aspects of the movement, what is the take-home message of the Reformation for today’s Christian?
To answer that question, we need to realize that the groundwork for the Reformation was laid long before Luther pounded in the nail heard ‘round the world. (Well, at least all over Europe.) The essential principle underlying Luther’s challenges was the claim that God’s Word—the Bible—should be the ultimate authority in all theological matters. That meant that if a pope, priest, or church policy violated Scripture, it was to be judged wrong and disregarded in favor of whatever God’s Word said. But how were people to know whether those in positions of authority violated God’s Word if they did not have access to the Bible in a language they could understand? That problem had been a sticking point for quite some time.
The essential principle underlying Luther’s challenges was the claim that God’s Word—the Bible—should be the ultimate authority in all theological matters.
While churches in the early days of Christianity circulated copies of Scripture in languages the people spoke, church authority had long since made Latin the official language of the church and resisted the spread of Scripture in the vernacular of ordinary people. Persecution felled many who challenged this over the centuries, wiping from the face of the earth countless people who believed they should be able to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. The Waldensians, a group that formed in the 12th century, is one well-known example. And long before Luther’s 16th century appearance, way back in the 14th century, John Wycliffe had led in the translation and distribution of the Bible in English. Wycliffe is therefore known as the Morning Star of the English Reformation, for he hoisted the authority of Scripture high above that of any prelate, prince, or precept.
Luther fired the volley that marks the Reformation’s start, but he was certainly not the only person of his century declaring, at great personal risk, that God’s Word should be the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Anabaptists, for instance, were at odds with not only Roman Catholic Church positions but also some of Luther’s interpretations of Scripture. As such, they and similar groups suffered persecution from all sides, for in those days the concept of freedom of conscience had not yet been born. The state—and whatever religious position the ruler of a place espoused—dictated the religious requirements of its subjects. And a person’s religious differences back then were deemed a violation of the law, punishable by the most extreme measures. Abuses abounded. Memory of that time should make all of us who are blessed to live in a place where our personal religious choices are respected thankful.
So as freedom-loving citizens of the 21st century, what should we think of the Reformation—of its declaration that the Word of God should be the final authority in all matters of faith and practice? Especially if we are Christians. After all, most people reading this article are not living in a place where they are coerced to espouse a particular belief system. The point of the Reformation is that the Word of God trumps the authority of all who would deny it. Who are those people in our lives today? Well the modern Christian has no shortage of people in authority telling him or her to reinterpret the Word of God to make it conform to the religion of the day—whether that religion is the religion of evolution or faith in the supremacy of politically correct ideas. That problem is not new—the reformers and their forerunners dealt with it—but neither is it gone.
The point of the Reformation is that the Word of God trumps the authority of all who would deny it.
Who are these popular and powerful modern religious authorities? They are the church leaders—found in whatever flavor of church you examine—and other authoritative spokespersons for theistic evolution. Whether they occupy a pulpit, a university lectern, or a website, these are the religious leaders who compromise the Word of God to please the scientific and political positions of the day. And surely the most belittled and disregarded parts of Scripture today are in Genesis. Answers in Genesis was founded on the principle that the answers to life’s greatest questions—including the question of our origins—can be found in the trustworthy pages of the Bible’s opening book, Genesis. Our speakers, our resources, our website, our Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter—all these are directed at getting that word out to the people and the church leaders all over the world. Faith in Christ comes from hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17), so the truth of the Word of God must be upheld if we are to effectively share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the lost and dying in this world. People’s eternal destiny is at stake.
Evolutionary scientists claim to know that the world is much older than the Bible indicates and that man and all things came into existence through random natural materialistic processes. Yet they base their beliefs not on scientific observations but on their God-rejecting, worldview-based assumptions. However, scientific observations, when divested of evolutionary interpretations, affirm what we read in God’s Word. That should come as no surprise when we realize that the Creator God who provided us with his Word is the trustworthy eyewitness to all of our origins and history. Who should we believe—the God who was there or people who were not there?
God has provided us with a true account of our origin in the Bible. He has also provided us with a true account of our sinful nature and of how we got that way in the opening chapters of Genesis. And in those opening chapters of the Bible we find the origin of suffering and death—surely one of life’s most often-asked questions. Moreover, in the Word of God we find the truth that we need to be saved from our sin, and we learn that God himself has graciously provided his own Son, Jesus Christ, as the sacrifice to pay the ultimate price for our sins, to redeem all who repent and place their faith in him for all eternity.
Those who compromise the Word of God often reinterpret it, twist it, and water it down.
Those who compromise the Word of God often reinterpret it, twist it, and water it down. They cut out all the parts that violate today’s popular and highly authoritative religion of evolutionism. We consider evolutionism a sort of religion because it is a zealously promoted belief system about the unobservable past. Many modern people bow to evolutionary thinking and unnecessarily subjugate their own faith to whatever evolutionary scientists say, ultimately allowing evolutionary claims to dictate their beliefs. In so doing, these compromisers—whether they occupy pulpit or pew—jettison the basis for understanding the reason Jesus Christ came to die for our sins. They undermine faith in Jesus Christ as the “last Adam” spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15:45 when they deny the first Adam’s existence and fall into sin. Without Genesis, why do we even need Jesus? For that matter, if we cannot accept what God’s Word says about the origin of life, how can we believe what the Bible tells us about Jesus Christ’s Resurrection from the dead, without which—according to 1 Corinthians 15:19–22, another of those New Testament passages linking the first and last Adams—none of us have any hope of eternal life?
Why is the Reformation relevant today? Above all, the message of the Reformation is that we should read and trust the Word of God. All of it. We must not compromise and adopt the religion of evolution, eroding and destroying the foundation of our faith for the sake of a misplaced faith in naturalism. We should not let either evolutionary claims or political correctness dictate the foundation on which we base our beliefs. Instead, we should let God’s Word shape our worldview, and see there is no conflict with what we find in nature. In fact, a worldview based on Scripture—of a perfect world later marred by sin and a worldwide Flood—makes better sense of what we observe today. We should put our faith in Jesus Christ, as presented in the Bible, and, following him, live accordingly.