On October 31, 1517, a man named Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” upon the doors of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. It could not be known how significant this document would shortly become, nor how pivotal this former Augustinian monk would be to the lives of Christians for centuries to come.
Yes, it’s been 490 years since the Protestant Reformation was begun with a document on a door. A document calling into question 95 beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church of the day. A document demanding a return to biblical orthodoxy and ministerial propriety. A document calling men and women to submit to the authority not of the Pope, but of the written word of the living God.
That written word had long since vanished from popular accessibility, available only to officials within the Catholic Church and to university professors from the same structure. Whatever they said was accepted as truth. Whatever interpretations, and abuses, made by church officials were blindly followed. Common people were beside themselves paying all they had to the church to buy their loved ones out of Purgatory, pleading with the pope for “letters of pardon,” fearing eternal condemnation for any number of offenses deemed by the Church to be unforgivable. Christians without access to the truth were thus abused and oppressed for centuries.
This is one reason that Luther’s document was so important. The reaction of the Church against it – having Luther excommunicated, and ultimately seeking his life – sent Luther into hiding at Wartburg Castle, where he began translating the Latin Bible into common German vernacular. Luther’s German version of the Bible, following in the footsteps of great translators like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale, carried on the work of spreading the word of God to common people. If you have a Bible on your shelf, or somewhere in your home, you owe a great debt of gratitude to Martin Luther.
Of course, ultimately the Reformation was not the work of Martin Luther, or any man. Luther, and the other leaders of the movement (e.g. – John Hus, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin), were simply tools in the hands of God to challenge the authority of the day and to boldly proclaim the solitary authority of the Bible.
So the question comes to us today – are we available to be used by God? I doubt Martin Luther expected to turn Western civilization upside down when he nailed his arguments to that church door. What might God do through you if you were to yield wholly to his word and confront the wisdom of the age?
Happy Reformation Day.
(To read lots of other great posts about the Reformation, visit www.challies.com.)