This Tuesday marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s complaints against the Roman Catholic Church. There were 95 of them, copied in Latin, and nailed to the door of Wittenberg Castle church. What many do not know is that the act was quite a common one in 1517—merely a way of making others aware of a scholarly debate.
Luther may have intended to start his journey as a good Catholic, seeking only to question the misuse of certain indulgences (and not the existence of them). Yet, as he studied Scripture a personal reformation of sorts began in his own heart. His high view of God’s Word stood squarely against the Roman Catholics and their dogma.
Today, we take great pleasure in this past posting (and publishing) of the “95 Theses”—knowing that it fueled something far greater, far more reaching than an invitation to an academic disputation. In God’s divine providence, He used it to spark what is now known as the Protestant Reformation.
Recently, I read a book by Carl Trueman entitled Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. I can see why this author is held in such high regard by men that I respect. His observations are deft, as is his ability to express them in written form. The book is an excellent answer to the question “Is the Reformation still relevant today?” Yes, yes, and yes!
Dr. Trueman explores three Christian distinctives: the cross of the Christ, the written and preached Word, and the assurance of one’s salvation.
I am interested in the theological principles underlying the Reformers’ work and understanding how those principles might be allied in practice today, given that God has not changed, our theology has not changed, but certain aspects of our culture and society have changed…
[T]he Reformation represents a move to place God as He has revealed Himself in Christ at the centre of the church’s life and thought. This is extremely important because we must remember first and foremost that, if the Reformation is a significant moment in church history, and if the Reformers are significant theologians for us today, it is only to the extent that they represent faithful attempts to place God in Christ at the centre.
It is beyond dispute that many Reformers were brave men; that they achieved many great things; that they attacked many manifest theological, ecclesiastical and moral abuses; and that some of them died terrible deaths for their beliefs. Yet none of these things, either individually or taken together, means that they have anything to teach us today.
Many non-Christians have been brave; many have achieved wonderful things; many have spoken out against abuses; and many have died heroic and steadfast deaths for their beliefs. But as the old saying goes, a good death does not sanctify a bad cause… it is only to the extent that they brought God and Christ to bear upon the church of their day that the Reformers have any ongoing relevance for us today.
The author states that there are practical consequences—implications for the Christian who takes to heart Reformation theology.
[W]hat we see in society now is the most thorough social outworking and application of sin in human history. This is not to say that our times are any more sinful than those which have gone before; it is simply to argue that where sin is concerned, the statement ‘what you see is what you get’ is perhaps more true than it ever has been.
How this has panned out in wider society is obvious. The vast number of medical dramas, of get-rich-quick quizzes and of self-image programmes on TV give a good idea of what obsesses the public: health, wealth, and happiness. These three have become the three golden calves of the contemporary western world because they speak predominantly of personal fulfillment, reinforcing the notion of human purpose which lies within the self rather than that which lies beyond the self…
As a result, the message of the cross regarding the God who reveals Himself and His grace in and through the suffering and weakness of His Son… stands in flat contradiction and utter condemnation of any gospel of self-fulfillment that might be peddled as if it were real truth.
Trueman originally delivered this material as a series of lectures (which I need to track down), but no matter—the book was an easy read—127 pages. Pick up a copy and commit to thinking through the Reformation’s impact upon the life of the modern evangelical church. Are we faithful to Scripture? To the theology of these Reformers? It will be well-worth your time.
Trueman, Carl R. Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 2000). 18-20, 55-56, 59.