Today, we as a church celebrate Reformation Day, a watershed in the history of the Protestant Church. But what is this Reformation Day about and why is it celebrated? What is the implication for us as Christians today?
My earliest introduction to the Reformation was through the film, Luther, during my teenage years. Although I admittedly did not know much about the Reformation then, I remembered being hugely inspired by the film and the story that it was based upon. As the title suggests, this historical drama is centred around Martin Luther, a German theologian and former Augustinian monk, whose fervent study of Scripture led him to question the errant practices of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly in their practice of the sale of indulgences. In his desire to ensure the faithful interpretation and application of Scripture, Luther famously posted the 95 theses, which became the catalyst for the Protestant reformation in the 16th century.
Through the Reformation, Luther taught believers to have a proper understanding of the gospel, centered on the doctrines of justification and salvation. Along with the other great leaders of the Reformation like John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli, the key doctrines of their teachings were later neatly summarized into the five ‘solas’ which form the cornerstone of the reformation – Sola Gratia (grace alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone), and Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). The truth is this, that our salvation is by God’s grace alone, as we are justified on the basis of Christ alone, through faith alone that we have received, all for the ultimate glory of God alone. And this gospel is taught to us through the infallible and authoritative word of God that is found in Scripture alone.
What does this mean for believers like us, who have placed our faith in Jesus? It means that we are no longer eternally burdened by the weight of our sins or the reality that we can never fully measure up to the laws of God. All we need to do is to fully rely on Christ and His imputed righteousness, so that we can stand justified before God (Rom 3:21-26). By His grace alone, we who were once spiritually dead and under the wrath of God have been made alive and reconciled with Him (Eph 2:5)! Does this gospel bring you joy and relief as it did for Luther when he was enlightened with this truth from God’s word? Luther concluded - “Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” Oh, may we never cease to celebrate God’s love and mercy towards sinners such as us!
As we celebrate the Reformation, I would like to share two applications for us to consider, which I found to have been exemplified in the life of Luther.
Firstly, our goal as believers should be to pursue Christ and the truth of Scripture. Like Luther who did not blindly follow the errant teachings and practices laid before him by the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, we ought to also carefully examine what we hear and read about against the truth of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16–17) no matter how renowned a speaker or author may be. Therefore, this calls us to diligently study and know the word of God, even as we approach it with reverence and submit to it as the highest authority.
Secondly, as we stay rooted in God’s word and abide in it, may we also learn to have the courage and conviction to stand firm in Christ, even in the midst of strong opposition. In 1521, Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms to respond to the charges of heresy and to recant the works that he had written. There, he stood his ground, and refused to recant or submit to the authority of the popes and councils who had so often contradicted themselves - unless he was convinced of error by Scripture alone. He famously ended his statement with the words “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.”
While we may not face the same charges as Luther today, we are engaged in the same spiritual battle that believers all through the ages have fought and is still fighting. In Ephesians 6:11-13, Paul instructs believers to put on the whole spiritual armor of God, for the fight is not against flesh and blood, but with the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Like many who have gone before us and are still standing alongside us in the faith, may we also strive to stand firm together in one spirit and one mind for the sake of the gospel (Phil 1:27).
- Dn Tan Jiayi