WHY SHOULD BAPTISTS CELEBRATE THE REFORMATION?

[Below, is a revised version of a newsletter article I wrote last year around this same time. It is still relevant and appropriate as we remember and celebrate 500 years of the Reformation this week.]
 
Why should we as Christians, who identify ourselves as Baptist, celebrate the Reformation? We probably should first answer the question: What is the Reformation? When we talk about the Reformation we are referring specifically to the Protestant Reformation, which was a watershed movement within Church history that took place in 16th century Europe. In order to understand the significance of the Reformation, it is helpful to understand some early Church history.
 
In the early days after the Apostles, the Church, for the most part, existed as one Catholic, or Universal, Church made up of numerous local churches scattered throughout the world as far has the Gospel had went forth. No, the term ‘Catholic’ here does not refer to any particular set of beliefs or any particular denomination, as we understand it today, but rather the term simply means “universal.” Around 1054 A.D., a great division took place in this Universal church called the Great Schism or the East-West Schism. The division created what has come to be known as the Eastern or Greek Orthodox Church in the East and the Roman Catholic Church in the West. These two sides, even to this day, do not communion together.  
 
Our lineage as Protestants and as Baptists lies with the remaining history of the Roman Catholic Church in the West. Even before the days of the Great Schism, the Catholic Church was becoming very corrupt and unbiblical in doctrine and practice. Papal authority and church tradition had come to take precedence over the authority of Scripture and the teaching of the Apostles. The Church and State were largely intertwined. The Church’s teaching about salvation, evidenced by the selling of indulgences (forgiveness), had become merit based, rather than based upon justification by faith alone, which is the very heart of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
 
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk in Germany (not to be confused with another great man by that same shared name) nailed his 95 theses upon the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was carrying out a common practice of the day to call for some discussion about needed changes, or reform, in the Church in regard to the Church’s teaching about forgiveness called penance, abuse of Papal authority, and the selling of indulgences. The problem was that these changes that Luther was calling for were very radical and threatened the power of not only the Pope in Rome and the purse strings he controlled but other Church and State leaders, as well.  
 
Luther’s act sparked what has come to be known as the Protestant Reformation. It was a movement that began with the intent of reforming the Church from within, in order to make the Church be and teach what Scripture demanded. In 1521, Luther, however, was excommunicated from the Catholic Church, and the movement ultimately resulted in another great split between what has come to be known as Protestants away from the Roman Catholic Church of the West. Protestants take their name from the fact that they “protested” against the false teaching and practices of Rome and thus became labeled as Protestants. Today there are many denominations that are considered Protestant. We as Baptist consider ourselves Protestant because we stand in the lineage of Luther to “protest” against such false teaching and practice as the Roman Catholic Church officially continues in to this day, along with many others
 
The main teaching of the Church that Martin Luther helped at least the Protestants regain was the teaching of justification by faith alone.  This teaching is the Gospel that a person can only be saved and have forgiveness by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone. This teaching is reflected in what has come to be known as the Five Solas of the Reformation. Sola is Latin for ‘alone’ and the Five Solas are simply five Latin phrases that capture the regained true teaching of the Gospel that came about during the Reformation. Here are the five: (1) Sola Gratia—By Grace Alone (2) Sola Fide—Through Faith Alone (3) Solus Christus—In Christ Alone (4) Sola Scriptura—According to Scripture Alone (5) Soli Deo Gloria—For God’s Glory Alone.
 
Unfortunately, many Protestant churches and, yes even, Baptist churches today have begun to ignore these important teachings rooted and grounded, not in the teaching of any man or group of men, but rather in God’s Word, the Bible. Today, many would say that churches in the West are in need of another great Reformation movement. Indeed, if it were not for Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door on that October 31st nearly 500 years ago, we quite possibly would all still be under the deceptive teaching of a works-based salvation that saves no one.  
 
Why should we as Baptists celebrate the Reformation? We should celebrate the Reformation because we celebrate the one true Gospel of Jesus Christ that the Reformation helped to recapture for the true Church.  We celebrate the Reformation, because we proclaim salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, for God’s Glory alone! So, every October 31st we should take time to remember and celebrate how God has demonstrated His great grace to us by bringing us out of the false teaching of a works-based salvation as we pray for millions that still put their hope in their own works to save them rather than in the person and saving work of Jesus Christ.
 
Solus Christus,

Pastor Samuel Vance

       

Leave a Reply