Today, 31st October 2017, we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, informally started when Martin Luther nailed 95 theses (talking points) to the church door in Wittenberg. What began as a call for conversation called God’s people back to scripture and transformed the Church.
The Reformation was a back to the Bible movement within Christianity in the 16th century. Its purpose was to free the gospel (the message of the Bible) and the church (God’s people) from the prison of doctrines and traditions that had accumulated over the centuries and were not found in scripture.
The motto of the Reformation was Post tenebras lux – after the darkness, light (from Job 17:12). This refers to spiritual darkness when God’s word is hidden, and the light of God’s word when it is freely preached. Churches in the city of Geneva, for example, had six different sermons each week.
The spirit of the Reformation is captured in the phrase, ‘Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda’ - the church is reformed, but always reforming. That is, we must continually come back to the authority of God’s word. Although the church is perpetually in need of reform (change based on Scripture), the following key doctrines about the Bible and Salvation were emphasized during the Reformation and remain central for Bible-based, Christ-centred, gospel-believing churches.
- Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone): Because the Holy Spirit inspired scripture, and God does not make mistakes, the Bible is the only Word from God without error. Scripture is the ultimate authority in matters of doctrine, faith, and practice; the Bible alone has the authority to bind the conscience absolutely. In Christian churches and in the lives of believers the Bible is the ultimate authority for what we believe and how we live. It is God's Word that defines and establishes the Church, rather than the church that defines God's Word (II Timothy 3:16).
- Sola Fida (Faith Alone): Justification is only received by faith in Jesus Christ. It is the biblical doctrine that God declares the sinner to be righteous and just before Him on the basis of faith alone. Justification is God's legal declaration of pardon and acceptance on the basis of the righteousness of Christ imputed to those who believe. Justification is the act of God's free grace by which he pardons all of our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight. Justification is received by faith alone and is not based on human merit, righteousness, or good works (Romans 3:22-24, 28, 4:5, Galatians 3:6, 24).
- Sola Gratia (Grace Alone): Salvation is only by grace and not a result of works. Grace is the love and favor of God. Sola Gratia is the biblical doctrine that God extends love and favour to sinners on the basis of the atonement accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus and the merit of Christ's righteousness. People, being sinful, do not earn or deserve the love and favour of God; rather, God chooses to give that which people do not merit. It is God's grace that saves us through faith (Ephesians 2:8) and that justifies us as a gift on the basis of the redemption we have in Christ (Romans 3:24). Grace can be thought of as the context in which we believe the promise of the gospel and are thereby justified (II Timothy 1:9).
- Solo Christo (By Christ alone) – Christ is the only mediator between God and man. In short, Christ stepped in to human history, lived a perfect life (the life we should have lived), took the punishment upon himself and bore the judgment due to sinners, and was raised from the dead. With his own blood he expiated the sins which made people enemies of God and thereby satisfied God’s holy wrath and judgment. We look to Christ alone for salvation, divine favour and gracious love (1Timothy 2:5-6; Colossians 1:13-18).
- Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone) – Only God is worthy of our worship. The primary purpose of people is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. This great and all-encompassing purpose is realized when we submit ourselves to the authority of God’s word. All of life is to be lived under the Lordship of Christ. Every activity of the Christian is to be set apart for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31; 1 Peter 4:11; Revelation 1:6; 2 Peter 3:1; Ephesians 3:21; Revelation 7:12; Romans 11:36).
- Priesthood of the Believer : all true believers are God’s priests and have direct access to the presence of God through the blood of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, only priests as representatives of the people could go into the presence of God. In the New Testament, there is no earthly mediator who goes to God on our behalf or through whom we gain access to God. Jesus Christ is our mediator, our High Priest, through whose shed blood we approach God in confidence and faith. On the basis of the blood of Christ we commune with God, enjoy His presence, are filled with His Spirit, and receive understanding of His Word. (Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:19-22).
Each one of these points merits elaboration and discussion, but this quick overview highlights key points of Bible teaching important for every generation of believers to understand.