News Articles

Why celebrate the Reformation after nearly 500 years?

EDITOR’S NOTE: During the coming months, Baptist Press will periodically publish stories observing the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, Oct. 31, 1517. Today’s articles are from The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention, followed by one from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP) — Had he used a hammer, one could perhaps say that its sound would reverberate across Europe and, eventually, across the globe.

But it’s not fully certain that Martin Luther carried a hammer when, on Oct. 31, 1517, he approached the Castle Church in the small university town of Wittenberg, Germany, where he served as both priest and professor. Luther may have used paste, according to Reformation scholar Andrew Pettegree at the University of St. Andrews, when he posted a set of 95 Theses for public debate on the church door, which served at the time as a community-wide bulletin board.

Earlier that fall, Luther had introduced 97 different — though related — theses to faculty members at the university, and he was met then with some lively discussion from interested scholars and, no doubt, yawns from others.

But not so with his 95 Theses of Oct. 31. Soon, these declarations from Luther’s pen would go to print not only in Latin, the professional language of churchmen and academics, but also in the languages of the common folk — with sometimes revolutionary results.

These pungent theses criticized abuses of church power — especially the pope’s attempt to raise funds for renovating St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome by guaranteeing salvation to all who would simply donate to the building project. “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs,” Johann Tetzel, a famed seller of the pope’s salvific guarantees (called “indulgences”), preached as he made his rounds throughout Germany.

In the 95 Theses, Luther decried such cheapening of God’s grace, which distorted and watered down the message of salvation merely to collect cash. Instead, he insisted that the Christian life should be filled with repentance and that the “true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.”

“Christians,” he wrote in his final two theses, “should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their head, through penalties, death and hell; and thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace.”

Whether Luther fastened his message to the Wittenberg church door in 1517 with nails or glue, his message has stuck with us for centuries.

In fact, Christians across the globe will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that Luther started next year on Oct. 31. But, perhaps for many Christians, the question remains, “Why?” What is this Reformation? Why does it matter for people living in the 21st century? And, most importantly, what did God have to do with it?

Of course, no one can sufficiently answer these questions without delving into the complexities of history, searching out the story of the Reformation for oneself.

As Baptist church historian A.H. Newman wrote more than a century ago, any attempt to describe the workings of God during the Reformation defies simple explanation. “And here we must remember,” Newman writes, “that the cause of God on Earth progresses not in straight lines like a railroad train across yonder prairie, but like yonder tossing ship on yonder surging ocean.”

Likewise, any serious investigation into the lives and doctrines of the Reformers — men like Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, Huldrych Zwingli or John Calvin — should at least cure Baptists of “blind hero-worship.” After all, as Newman writes, these very same Reformers who proclaimed Christian liberty “would not have hesitated to urge our extermination by fire, sword, or water, if we had been their contemporaries” — simply because we deny infant baptism and teach that water baptism should not precede a profession of faith.

Here we must remember that God often works through us in spite of ourselves. Newman reminds us that, “owing to the perversity of men,” God’s cause does not make “clear and constant progress,” although it indeed progresses. “Sometimes it seems to lose ground; but, after all, the apparent loss is transmuted by divine alchemy into means of future gain.” And this should be an encouragement for us, as we maneuver the difficulties of our own age.

Luther himself, who tended to see human efforts not only as vain but also often as a joke, recognized that God alone could advance His cause. For this reason, he once quipped that he had done nothing at all to make the Reformation succeed.

“I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing,” Luther said, as reported by Timothy George in “Theology of the Reformers.” “And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip [Melanchthon] and my [Nicolaus von] Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.”

And, perhaps, this is ultimately why we should celebrate Luther and the rest of the Reformers, for they trusted Scripture to make an impact in their age. Despite numerous obstacles, they endeavored to publish it widely both in print and proclamation. And, without nails or glue, God’s Word has continued to stick with us for centuries, resounding across the globe. Such was the core truth of the 16th-century Reformation, and such should be the crux of all our endeavors: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).


Reformation’s Five Solas
anchor SBTS worship conf.
By Myriah Snyder

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — Drawing from the Five Solas of the Reformation, worship pastor Matt Boswell exhorted attendees at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s third Doxology and Theology conference to stand on and under the Word of God, marvel at the grace of God, cultivate their faith, trust in Christ alone and seek the glory of God alone.

“Our only job and responsibility is to marvel at the grace of God, the sufficiency of God, the wisdom of God,” said Boswell, pastor of ministries and worship at Providence Church in Frisco, Texas.

Explaining the purpose of the biennial conference, Boswell shared how many Reformers, theologians and “preacher heroes” emphasized the importance of music in their ministries. Even Luther himself wrote hymns, while others compiled hymnbooks.

The worship leader’s doxology should be a response to the Gospel and drenched in humility akin to the apostle Paul’s in Romans 11, Boswell said.

In the opening session of the Nov. 3-5 conference, SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. preached from Nehemiah 8:1-8 on the topic “Worship and Scripture Alone.” He referenced once-secular British philosopher Roger Scruton’s observation that “if you really want to know what people believe, listen to them worship.”

“It’s really interesting to find out when we sing, that if a philosopher came to our worship services, in much of what is called evangelicalism, there would be no theology to report,” Mohler said.

The importance of the doctrine of Scripture alone lies in the question, “Is there one source of revelation or are there two?” Mohler posed. He argued that if there is another source of revelation, it is wrongly adding to or correcting what is found in Scripture. This, Mohler said, was one of the key points of the Protestant Reformation.

Mohler said another central question of the Reformation was on the nature of Scripture, whether it is “inspired and without error and authoritative.” Luther and the other Reformers agreed “it was absolutely necessary to speak of the total truthfulness and total authority of Scripture,” Mohler said.

“It is God’s Word. Because of God’s own character which He revealed in the Scripture, if it is God’s Word, it is perfect,” he added.

Mohler also noted John Calvin’s observation that true reform in the church can only happen when it is “reformed by the Word of God.”

“The Reformers came to the understanding that where you find the true church you find right worship, and where you find right worship you find the true church,” Mohler said.

In a session on “Christ Alone,” Atlanta pastor and hip-hop artist Trip Lee said worship must demonstrate the greatness of Jesus. Christ-centered songs akin to “The Solid Rock,” “Nothing but the Blood” and “Before the Throne of God Above” are among the ways worship leaders can accomplish this, he said.

“If we want the people that we have the opportunity to lead in worship to see Jesus as surpassingly greater than things that we build our life around instead, then we might want to magnify and lift up this Jesus as … actually great,” Lee said.

Equating good works to a resumé, Lee told attendees that their “resumé” was not good enough. Preaching from Philippians 3, he challenged them to “lose your resumé, and receive Christ’s resumé.”

“Our only hope is the sacrifice of Jesus. Our only hope is the resurrection of Jesus. All we have is Christ, and that’s plenty,” Lee said.

Scotty Smith, teacher-in-residence at West End Community Church in Nashville, spoke on “Grace Alone.” “Sola Gratia,” he said, means “grace at the start, grace in the middle and grace till the end. Grace without mixture, grace without qualification.”

From Ephesians 2:1-14, Smith drew three conclusions on grace alone: “the gravity of our condition, the grandeur of God’s grace and the greatness of our calling.”

Worship leaders are first and foremost “lead worshipers,” Smith said. “Dear brothers and sisters, the alone greatness, the alone grace of the Gospel that runs through our theology, may it change us.”

The other main sessions covered “Faith Alone” and “Glory to God Alone.” More information about Doxology and Theology’s biennial conference is available online at doxologyandtheology.com.
Myriah Snyder is a newswriter for the Western Recorder (westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.