Today is the 499 year anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses against the walls of the Roman Catholic church in Wittenberg, Germany. On October 31, 1517 a revolution began to take place. A God ordained revival started, that in my opinion was the biggest and most important revival in church history! For in this great move of God in the protestant reformation, the most important and foundational truth was restored to God’s people, that is justification by faith. Martin Luther said of justification by faith:
“This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification, is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness. If this article stands, the church stands, if it falls, the church falls.”
This flows right into my first reason that Martin Luther is so important to the church today.
The truth of justification by faith alone and not in combination with other works of merit is absolutely foundational to being made right with God. The apostle Paul said in Romans 4:5, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,”
Without this truth, no one can be saved! In Luther’s day the Roman Catholic church was teaching many false doctrines that directly go against scripture. One of the biggest ones was the question of how can a man be made right with God. The Church of his day would say that in order to receive forgiveness of sins, one could pay for a letter from the pope called an indulgence saying that one’s sins are forgiven!
When Johann Tetzel, who was a Dominican friar, came to Germany selling indulgences, Luther had it. He saw his people being robbed and tricked into thinking that if they would only give money to the church, that by this action God would then forgive their sins.
Luther Said: “To reject the grace of God is a common sin, of which everybody is guilty who sees any righteousness in himself or in his deeds. And the Pope is the sole author of this iniquity. Not content to spoil the Gospel of Christ, he has filled the world with his cursed traditions, e.g., his bulls and indulgences.”
I praise God that through Luther’s study of the word of God, the foundational truth of salvation by faith alone was brought back to the church!
Galatians 2:16 “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”
Although most Reformed believers, evangelicals and protestants alike would differ with Luther on some points of doctrine and practice, the most important truths in the scriptures we can trace back to Luther, and then to the apostles. Without Martin Luther we do not have John Calvin or John Knox or any of their great writings that helped in bringing the church back to more closely resemble the 1st century church. Without Luther we do not have Charles Spurgeon’s sermons and books. We would not have Jonathan Edwards and the great awakening. We do not have Whitfield and Wesley saving souls all over America and England. We do not have the Asuza street revival that brought the gifts of the spirit and God’s healing power back to the church!
Could God raise up another? Sure, God can raise up rocks to worship Him so surely God would raise up someone to bring the church back to Biblical truth. But God chose a Augustinian monk from Germany to risk his life to stand against the evils of the Roman Church and papacy.
I notice that in many charismatic and pentecostal streams of evangelical Christianity, most of us don’t really care about the reformation or Martin Luther. I think the reason is, because we don’t see how that ties into our ministries today and how that will help us accomplish the things God has called us to do. But I strongly believe that we need to understand where we came from to help us navigate where we are going. God has always spoke to us through history in the old testament and He continues to speak to us through the history of the church to keep us in line with His plans and purposes.
Many charismatic people think that Asuza street was the greatest thing to happen since the book of Acts. Although I am thrilled about the good fruit that came out of that revival, I would point out that if we did not have the Protestant Reformation we would not have a body of believers that He could pour out His spirit upon! I believe we should be very thankful to the ministry and life of Martin Luther. Of course as with any man we can take it to far. Of course Luther had his flaws. But yet through Him, many great men of God were raised up went on establish the true church bringing revival to whole nations!
“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” —Martin Luther
When on trial for being a heretic according to the Roman Catholic Church, these were Luther’s words. As it has been for about the whole history of Roman church, the pope is the highest rule and authority the church has. When Luther nailed his 95 theses the door of the church in Wittenberg, he was not just bringing up some side issues, he was attacking the very heart of the church itself, the office of the pope.
This to me is the heart of the protestant reformation. It is the idea of the latin phrase sola scriptura, meaning scripture alone. What is the highest authority and rule in the life of the church and the Christian? SCRIPTURE, ALONE! This is why Martin Luther rejected the authority of the popes and councils. He rejected a system of rule that contradicts and is hypocritical and fallible.
There is a doctrine in the Catholic church called ex-cathadra. When the pope speaks sitting on the chair of Peter, his words are said to be infallible and the very words of God. Therefore there is no arguing or debating with such a word.
Praise God though, that through the reformation and teachings of Luther we can vehemently reject all such blasphemous doctrine. The Word of God is our highest authority! For the Word of God is God’s actual words written by the Holy Spirit through holy men of God’s choosing. Scripture alone is what we must submit everything to, not the authority of the church, of a pastor or of a famous preacher, or of the pope. God’s word rules and reigns.
If you look at the world around us, we see a culture that is very sissified. The devil has infiltrated our culture so much that people don’t even know if they are a man or woman anymore. We have college students so weak and feeble that they make safe spaces so that they don’t have to hear anything that would offend or come against their point of view.
Within the evangelical church we have a philosophy of church growth that says we are to grow the church by making everything accommodating to the sinner. We have Christian bookstores filled with new age type of self help books aimed at building up our self esteem and making Christians feel better about themselves. This politically correct culture of the world has come into the church of God. We usually don’t preach hard messages or practice church discipline, because it’s not what people want to hear and we don’t want to offend. The way some preach it would seem that the greatest sin to be committed would be to offend someone listening.
It is within this context that many false teachers and false teachings run rampant in our churches. One thing Martin Luther’s life and teachings have taught me, is to take a stand for the truth of God’s word. He has taught me to call it like it is and to not feel the need to try and please everyone. Of course there is a balance to be had we must be led by the Lord with these things. But we could learn a lot from Luther about the way he boldly stood against the pope and evil’s of the Roman Church of his day.
When it comes to things as important as whether someone will spend an eternity in Heaven hell, we need to contend for the faith and not give in an inch to a false gospel that adds anything to simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Although there are many other ways that Martin Luther is important to the church today, I hope that these four things will give you a greater appreciation for his life and ministry. If you would like to go further in your study of Luther and the reformation, I would like to suggest to you a few amazing resources that have blessed me tremendously.
The first is a free one you can read online. It is Luther’s commentary on Galatians. If I could rate it out of 10, I would give it a 100. I cannot express how amazing it is to give us an understand of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here is a short read that is a great start to the reformation:
It is called the Unquenchable Flame
Here is another book, longer and more in depth. It’s called Here I Stand.