What would you do if someone arrived in town who started selling official documents from church authorities that claimed the purchase thereof could liberate your dead relatives from the fiery torments of hell? History records this was the situation in Europe in the 1500’s. Medieval Christendom was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church & characterized by greed, corruption, & unbiblical practices. The Bible & church services were also only in Latin, a language which few people could understand & fewer could read. Men like John Wycliffe & William Tyndale believed the Bible should be in the language of the people so they could read it & enjoy the treasures of God’s Word themselves. These men & others like Hus were condemned by the church & many were burned at the stake.
An Augustinian monk named Martin Luther was disgusted by the abuses of the sale of indulgences & on October 31st, 1517 posted his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenburg, Germany detailing his protests against unbiblical practices of the church. Luther had come to understand while studying the book of Romans that sinners become right with God on the basis of their faith in Christ not their religious works (Rom.1:17). Attending masses, observing rites, venerating relics, & purchasing of indulgences have no spiritual merit in the sight of a holy God.
Throughout Europe, men like Calvin, Zwingli, & Knox were raised up who along with Luther sounded five battle cries known as the “5 Solas of the Reformation.” They taught that the Bible is the authority not church councils, tradition, & popes (“Sola Scriptura”: Latin-“by Scripture alone”). Christ is the Head of the Church & deliverance from the penalty of sins in hell is only available through His substitutionary sacrifice (“Sola Christus”: Latin-“by Christ alone”). This gift is freely available to everyone by God’s grace apart from religious works (“Sola Gratia”: Latin-“by grace alone”) & is received through faith alone in Christ (“Sola Fide”: Latin-“by faith alone”). Salvation is for the glory of God alone as He is the Holy Creator & Gracious Redeemer of mankind (“Soli Deo Gloria”: Latin-“for the glory of God alone”).
Despite excommunication, banishment, & execution the Reformers’ influence spread like an “unquenchable flame” throughout Europe. The Bible was translated into the language of the people, churches were founded that sought to be faithful to the teachings of the Bible, multitudes were saved, & Western Christian Civilization was eventually established in the New World.
May we never forget that God’s grace is freely available to everyone on the basis of the shed blood of Christ & received through faith alone. It is the prayer of many that the Lord would raise up a new generation of leaders who will courageously stand upon the authority of the Word of God & be used of Him to ignite a spiritual passion for reformation & revival in this era of history for His honor & glory alone.
“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5 NKJV).
*Originally titled, “Faith Plus Nothing Equals Salvation” and published in the Adams-Friendship Times-Reporter in November 2013.