Grace For The Journey
Five centuries ago, an unknown Augustinian monk named Martin Luther rocked the world with his Reformation theology and preaching. What started out as an attempt to engage in a debate turned into the greatest awakening in human history since the explosion that occurred at Pentecost. It was the goal of Luther, John Calvin, and the other Reformers to reconnect Christianity to the original message of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel . . . summarized in five Latin phrases, often called “The Five Solas,” which emerged out of the Reformation:
- Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone
- Sola Fide – Faith alone
- Sola Gratia – Grace alone
- Solus Christus – Christ alone
- Soli Deo Gloria – To the glory of God alone
In 1517, the front of the Castle Church’s door served as a large social media outlet in primitive form. Long before the social media platforms of our day with smartphones and apps at our fingertips, Luther, and his colleagues would enter into friendly and passionate discussions by nailing documents containing their ideas on specific matters to the front of the Castle Church’s door.
Little did Luther know that God would have other plans for his Ninety-Five Theses. Rather than a localized debate in the city of Wittenberg, Germany – those statements would spark a world-wide debate that would end in the unleashing of the Protestant movement.
Not long before Luther’s spark, a Roman Catholic named Johannas Guttenberg converted an old wine press into a printing press with moveable type. This invention would revolutionize the world of literature. Little did Guttenberg know, but God would take a Roman Catholic’s invention and use it as a weapon against the Roman Catholic Church. When Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses were printed on the moveable type press and distributed all around Europe it would spark a massive wildfire of controversy.
What began as an inner debate was now moving on toward a collision of two worlds. As Luther saw it . . .
It was the gospel of Christ
In contrast to the false gospel of works
– Clearly seen in the selling of indulgences.
In 1521, Luther was summoned to stand before the imperial Diet in the city of Worms. Although his friends cautioned him against appearing, based on the fact that anti-Reformation protests had been taking place where Luther’s books were being burned in the streets. Luther’s friends feared he would be burned too. Nevertheless, he insisted that they travel to Worms and, in Luther’s mind, even if they must go through the gates of hell, he would appear there to defend the gospel.
When he walked into the room to stand before the royal assembly which included representatives from as far away as Spain, Italy, and various other places throughout Europe – the emperor Charles V was also present.
In front of the room was a table that contained all of Luther’s books. The spokesman of the emperor demanded that Luther not speak until he was called upon. Finally, pointing to a pile of books on the table, he asked, “Are these your books? If so, will you recant?”
After given a day to consider his answer, Luther stated emphatically that he would not retract anything he had written in the books and anything that he had said in his public attacks. As Luther reasoned, the Emperor shouted “NO!” to Luther’s comments, but the poised Reformer continued to speak. He insisted that if he is wrong, he must be refuted with Scripture – and he would be the first to burn his books. Finally, one last time the spokesman of the emperor demanded an answer from the zealous monk, “Will you recant?” It’s at this point that Luther said the following: “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant of anything since it is neither safe nor right to go against the Bible and conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand – may God help me. AMEN.”
Later he would tell a friend, “If I had a thousand heads I would rather have them all lopped off than to abandon my gospel.”
If the Ninety-Five Theses in 1517
Was the spark of the Reformation,
Luther’s stand at Worms
Was the explosion of the Reformation.
As Luther made his stand, we too must continue to stand in our day. Recent findings from a new Pew Research Survey clearly demonstrate that American Protestants are distancing themselves from the fundamental biblical beliefs that undergirded the Reformation. At the very least, American Protestants completely misunderstand what those beliefs actually are.
According to the research taken of professing American Protestants . . .
- 52% believe faith and works are needed to get into heaven
- 52% believe church teaching and traditions are also needed
- Only 46% believe faith alone in Jesus is required for salvation (sola fide)
- Only 46% believe that the Scriptures are sufficient for faith and practice
How far we have fallen in 502 years!
More than half of all professing Christians in America
Stated that faith in Jesus Christ alone
Is not enough for salvation;
They believe that faith in Jesus plus their good works
(Church attendance, acts of mercy and service, giving, etc.)
Are required for eternal life.
And more than half of all professing Christians in America
Believe the Bible plus the teachings and traditions of man or a religion
Are necessary for living a Christian life
That is pleasing and acceptable to God,
Rather than trusting in the clear assertion of 2 Peter 1:3
That the teachings of God’s Word “
Has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.”
And of 2 Timothy 3:17,
“That the man of god may be complete, thoroughly equipped”
for everything he needs in this life and the life to come.
Such an understanding, of course, is entirely unbiblical, running counter to the doctrines Sola Gratia (By Grace alone) and Sola Fide (By faith alone) – which are expressed in Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 11:5-6, Titus 2:5-7 and elsewhere.
What has brought us to this sad station? How did the wheels come off “The Truth Track?” To be sure, there are many factors, including our sinful nature, a stubborn belief in universalism, an increasing desire for things below rather than things above, spiritual sluggishness, and biblical ignorance and conviction.
I am convinced that the men
Who stand in pulpits
All across our country
Bear the greatest weight
Of responsibility for our drift
Away from Reformation truths.
When pastors find it more important
To preach messages that meet people
At the level of “felt needs,”
Rather than true needs,
We have begun our return
To the Dark Ages.
The whole counsel of God is the light that must be directed into this dark and depraved world, not “gospel-lite” messages.
When the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth
Of God’s Word is no longer preached from our pulpits,
We allow the lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil
To infiltrate and infect our congregations.
And thus, it is no surprise to see survey results like these in a “cultural church” context that sees the average professing Christian attending church once or twice a month, abandoning any thought of attending Bible studies which would add another hour at church, and little or no time for family devotions and personal Bible Study.
And what starts as an infection that is barely visible festers and becomes an insidious disease that is emptying out our churches. Why? Because motivational messages, inspirational insights, and secular stories will not hold up when the storm winds begin to blow and the waves of challenge come crashing down on you. And those storms come with great regularity! As I frequently remind our church family, there are only three stages in life on this side of the grave. Either you are . . .
In the midst of a storm,
Heading out of a storm,
Or heading back into a storm!
So, what is the way forward? I would insist that, even after 502 years, . . .
The Protestant church must keep reforming!
We must reclaim the pulpit
For its intended purpose:
Preaching the wisdom
Of the whole counsel of God,
Not the wisdom of the world.
As we think about the need of Luther’s hour, we must look to our present day and consider the need of this present hour.
Today, we have far too much laziness in our American evangelical culture. Too many Christians have capitulated on the idea of pragmatic church growth schemes in order to see their churches increase and become successful.
Today’s church is spiritually weak and superficial.
In many circles, it’s as if the mind
Has no place in worship.
Everything is driven
By feelings, emotions, and
Shallow theological clichés.
Jesus, in an answer to a scribe who asked about the greatest commandment, said the following, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). God desires for His people to think. Luther understood this point as a part of the discipleship commission (Matthew 28:19-20). That’s why, when you travel all throughout Europe, you discover that as the Reformation spread – universities were setup to teach people more than economics and world history. They were used to instruct people with the gospel of Christ.
That same thing is true with our first universities here in America. Harvard was instituted to train ministers of the gospel. Today, such institutions have been overtaken by liberals who deny the gospel of Christ and the teaching of the Word of God. As we consider the fact that God is interested in our minds, we must not approach our worship with a mindless approach to Christianity.
We Need Courageous Preachers
Why was Luther’s preaching so relentless and bold? Luther believed that preaching was a noble and serious task. According to Luther, “The pulpit is the throne for the Word of God.” Luther ascended the pulpit with the Word of God in complete confidence. He pointed to the Scriptures and asserted at one point, “The Holy Spirit is the Author of this book. They are God’s Scriptures and God’s Word.”
Luther was not approaching the weekly preaching of God’s Word
With a slapstick approach, in hopes to grow his following.
Luther had a following and it was based on
His unwillingness to compromise the true gospel.
Today’s evangelical church has a reversed trend.
Many popular preachers have a following,
And lead mega-churches, sadly because
They refuse to preach the gospel boldly.
The need of the hour is for bold preachers to confront the shallow and man-centered theology of our day with the true gospel of King Jesus. No genuine reformation will happen without bold and courageous people who continue to uphold the true gospel of Christ to a lost and dying world.
John Huss understood the cost and he gave his life for the cause. Luther would come 100 years later and put his neck on the line. Tyndale would read Luther’s works and eventually become a believer. He would dedicate his life to the translation of the Bible into English and as a result, he would suffer the flames of the infamous stake. The Reformers were bold, their preaching was courageous, and their sacrifice was based on the true gospel of Christ. They were not puppeteers or comedians. They were preachers, Bible translators, and faithful Christians who obeyed God.
The health and strength of our local churches depends on a serious approach to worship, preaching, and missions. Reformations don’t happen by accident. The need of the hour is for bold preaching to thunder from pulpits around the world by men who have great confidence that God’s Word will always accomplish God’s purpose and will never return void.
When we preach messages designed to tickle ears, meet felt needs, and fill seats, we forsake souls; God will call those who hold the privileged position of preaching His Word to account for their empty messages.
On the eve of the 502th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, it is my prayer that . . .
Every pulpit will become aflame
With the Spirit of God
And proclaim the inspired
Truth of Scripture alone,
Preaching salvation by grace alone,
Through faith alone
In Jesus Christ alone,
And to the glory of God alone.
This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”