Reflecting on the Five Greatest Truths of the Reformation!
As we approach the 506th year since a Catholic monk named Martin Luther initiated what has come to be known as “The Protestant Reformation”, on October 31, 1517, we should be prompted to review five truths that not only reformed the church, but literally transformed the world.
Among the multiplicities of errors promulgated by the Roman Church, none angered Luther more than the sale of indulgences. As a protest against the abuses of the sale of indulgences, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the door of the church in Wittenberg. This was an open challenge to anyone who read the statement to debate him. Several years passed before anyone dared take up the cause.
Martin Luther's actions in 1517 set in motion the events that would transform the church, the history of Europe, lay the foundation for Western civilization, and become the cradle for the American republic.
The Reformation that followed in the wake of his bold actions was a back-to-the-Bible movement that recovered five great New Testament truths:
- No Priest but Christ
This truth refuted the erroneous teaching of the Church of Rome that there were but a handful of individuals denominated priests who were go-betweens or mediators between God and man and all other believers were dependent upon them for access to and acceptance before God.
Never for a moment must we allow the Blessed Virgin, departed Saints, Popes, Cardinals, or Bishops, Priests, Masses, Images, Traditions, Indulgences, Sacraments, Confessionals, Monasteries, Nunneries, Pilgrimages, or Purgatory to stand between our souls and God. The prodigal can come straight to the Father, and the sinner to the Savior. It is because we believe this, experience this, and preach this, that we are not Protestants, but believer priest serving the one and only High Priest –Jesus – in the True Temple built up of all those in Christ.
- No Sacrifice but Calvary
The Roman Church’s erroneous teaching of transubstantiation had resulted in Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice of Himself for sin being buried beneath the Mass.
The Roman Catholic priest, John O'Brien, wrote a book called, "The Faith of Millions, The Credentials of the Catholic Religion." Concerning the Mass, he writes, "When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration...this is the Mass ... he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the victim for the sins of man. It is a power exercised by the priest greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of seraphim and cherubim. Indeed, it is a power greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. While the Blessed Virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from heaven and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal victim."
The work of redemption is a finished work. The sins of those who believe savingly in Christ are atoned for; their sin-debt has been paid in full. No works of supererogation are possible or needed. Supererogation means that certain saints accrued spiritual dividends that they didn't need and now they are stored up in some sort of heavenly bank that can be procured on the basis of indulgences, merits or by the prayers of someone else. There is no such teaching in the Word of God.
There is no sacrifice but Calvary. There is no division of sins into venial and mortal. All sins are mortal. The soul that sins, it shall die. There is no salvation on credit, nor is there an annulment plan that will rid us of the penalty our sins have earned.
- No Authority but the Scriptures
The error refuted by this truth was that tradition, the Church of Rome, and papal authority were on the same level with the inspiration and infallibility of the Word of God. The church of Martin Luther’s day taught that it was the Church that gave birth to the Bible. Therefore, this places the church in the position of being the supreme interpreter and authority over the Word of God. The reformers understood that no man, not even the Pope, when he acts ex cathedra (out of his official chair), is infallible.
The Bible is the sole authority for doctrine and duty and every believer having the Holy Spirit dwelling within them is capable of understanding the Word of God. By the enablement of the Holy Spirit every person born again by the Spirit of God has the necessary tools to interpret the Word of God and does not have to rely upon professionally trained clergyman or the official interpretation of the Church.
For his stand on the authority of scripture alone, Martin Luther was summoned before the theological tribunal known as the Diet of Worms for a second time. He was asked whether he would recant or not. Luther preached to the tribunal and after hearing him the Emperor said, "I didn't ask for a sermon, I want a simple answer yes or no. Will you recant or will you not?" Here are Martin Luther's famous words: "If the Emperor desires a plain answer, I will give it him. It is impossible for me to recant unless I am proved wrong by the testimony of scripture. My conscience is bound to the Word of God. Here I stand. God help me, I cannot do otherwise."
- No Confession but at the Throne of Grace
The error that the Reformation refuted by the above truth was known as auricular confession, or confession in the ear of a priest. In Luther’s day the concept of confession being made by the individual believer at the throne of grace in Heaven without the mediatorial work of the local priest was non-existent. The Church of Rome taught that the only confession available and effectual as far as the professing Christian was concerned required going to the confessional booth and confessing your sins into the ear of the parish priest. It was suggested that this be done at least once a year. The only way you could be sure that your sins were in the process of being forgiven was to go to confession and articulate your sins in the ear of a priest and he would give you an assignment mandating some type of penance for the forgiveness of your sins.
The truth that transforms is stated in Hebrews 4:14, 16, "Seeing then that we have a Great High Priest Who has passed through the Heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. Let us, therefore, come boldly with confidence to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
Where then is confession to be made? Not to some individual in a confessional booth, but only to the High Priest, Jesus. Now, it's true that if you have sinned against another believer, it may require you to go to that person and ask them to forgive you. It may require that you divulge what you have done to another person in certain circumstances, or even before the local church of which you are a member. But God be praised that we have a High Priest whose ear is open toward our confessions and petitions. His openness to our confession is not based upon our merits, but upon God’s grace and His grace alone. When I confess my sins to the Lord in private it is confidential. He forgives me and I can live forgiven, knowing that He is not a blabbermouth and knowing that nobody else is going to know.
- No Justification but by Faith
The erroneous teaching of the Church of Rome as stated and as currently stands is summed up by the Council of Trent: Canon 9 of the Council of Trent, "If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to the obtaining [of] the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema."
Human merit, good works, martyrdom for Christ, etc. can never contribute to the sinners justification. The scriptures declare that we are justified freely by His grace. Grace is God's favor in the face of and despite our demerits. The ground of our justification is the representative, righteous, redemptive, propitiatory, substitutionary, blood shedding of the Lord Jesus Christ on the behalf of sinners.
Justification by faith alone was Martin Luther's great spiritual and theological breakthrough. It did not come easily. He had tried everything from sleeping on hard floors and fasting to climbing a staircase in Rome while kneeling in prayer. Monasteries, disciplines, confessions, masses, absolutions, good works-all proved fruitless. Peace with God eluded him. The thought of the righteousness of God pursued him. He hated the very word "righteousness," which he believed provided a divine mandate to condemn him.
Light finally dawned for Luther as he meditated on Romans 1:17, "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith." He saw for the first time that the righteousness Paul had in mind was not a punitive justice which condemns sinners but a perfect righteousness which God freely grants to sinners on the basis of Christ's merits, and which sinners receive by faith. Luther saw that the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone was the heart of the gospel and became for him "an open door into paradise.... a gate to heaven."
If the Church is to make disciples of all nations; if America is to regain her lost liberties, the people of God must declare in the power of the Holy Spirit, the five emancipating truths that alone can transform individuals, churches, and nations:
No Priest but Christ
No Sacrifice but Calvary
No Authority but the Scriptures
No Confession but at the Throne of Grace
No Justification but by Faith!
God help us to recover and realign our lives and labors with these transforming biblical truths!
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