“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV).
The 31st of October is traditionally celebrated as the Reformation Day. On this occasion I felt it is appropriate to write a few words about Martin Luther and the Reformation, for never since the dark Middle Ages, has the events of that period been more significant to the existence of Christianity in Europe, than in our time.
When Martin Luther, supposedly posted his Ninety Five Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg on 31st October 1517, the Christian church in Europe and around the world was in a state of peril. The Christian faith, which had spread widely around the ME and in Europe, was attacked by numerous enemies, within and without. Islam had conquered the ancient centres of Iraq, Persia, Libya, Egypt and Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire, displacing Christianity and was looking westward to occupy Europe, having already gained a foothold in Spain. In the European continent, under the Roman Catholic popes, the corrupted faith bore little resemblance to the church established by Christ and nurtured by the apostles. It had degenerated into a dictatorial political organisation that promoted pagan forms of worship, bullied princes, kept the congregation in ignorance of the Way, and extorted the wealth of the nations. An example of the corrupt teaching of the church was the selling of indulgences to absolve the sinner, and grant him entrance into heaven.
As Martin Luther studied the scripture, he became determined to bring the truth and light of the gospel to the flock of God, who had suffered too long under the tyranny of false shepherds. He posted his theses in direct opposition to the evil practices and exploitation by the Roman popes. The church demanded that he recant. “He prayed, consulted friends, and gave his response the next day: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen”. His confidence in God in best described in the wonderful hymn he penned, A mighty fortress is our God – “And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed, His truth to triumph through us”.
In our supposed democratic age, when few will stand up to the evils of our age, the courage of Martin Luther and other reformers stand out in sharp contrast. They faced so much more than a fine, disciplinary procedures in the workplace, mild social ostracism, or a short prison sentence. Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X. The Emperor declared him an outlaw, ‘banning his literature, and requiring his arrest: “We want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic.” It also made it a crime for anyone in Germany to give Luther food or shelter. It permitted anyone to kill Luther without legal consequence’. The equivalent of an Islamic fatwa was issued against him.
Yet, Luther stood unwavering against the might of a formidable establishment determined to suppress his work or else, deprive him of life. He translated the Bible into German to make it available to the common people. Most importantly he explained the concept of justification by faith in his Smalcald Articles –
“The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24–25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23–25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us … Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31).” Luther’s rediscovery of “Christ and His salvation” was the first of two points that became the foundation for the Reformation. His railing against the sale of indulgences was based on it (Wikipedia).
As the Reformation spread, the minds of people were opened both to the truth of the gospel, and to a better understanding of the universe around them. A natural consequence was the scientific component of the Renaissance movement. Additionally, the wave of Islamic conquest was pushed back as Protestant Europe, achieved excellence in every field of human endeavour, overtaking most other cultures and nations.
Modern Europe, which proudly describes herself as post-Christian, is ready for a new reformation. Short of a fresh wave of repentance and revival, the church – that has remained silent and complacent, as millions of babies are slaughtered in the womb, the institution of marriage corrupted by law, the terminally ill, disabled and even depressed patients encouraged to commit suicide with the assistance of physicians, ready to desecrate their ancient promise to preserve life – will face the judgment of God. In what can only be described as a fit of madness, the rulers of Germany, have now opened the gates to Islam, for Jihadists to come in and take control of Europe.
Martin Luther is now hugely criticised in Europe for his anti-semitism, but we forget that he was a product of his times. He was initially kindly disposed to the Jews, but in his later days, being assailed on every side, and suffering from illness and exhaustion, reacted in a totally unchristian manner to the Israelites, whose opposition, he believed to be motivated by an intent to tear down his life’s work.
May God have mercy on Europe once more, and raise up reformers with the courage of Martin Luther. May He bring to prominence, Christians who like the authors of the Belgic confession are willing to declare that they are ready to obey the government in all lawful things, but that they would “offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire,” rather than deny the truth.
Father, have mercy on Europe and save her once more. Forgive her many sins, and remember her past sacrifices for the gospel. Raise up new reformers who will repair the walls, and lift up Your banner once more in this continent.