Guest Blog by Paul F. Arnhold:
LUTHERAN REFORMATION – RESTORATION OF TRUTH
It was October 31 1517, “All Hallows’ Eve” the day before All Saints’ Day, when Dr. Martin Luther nailed the infamous 95 theses on the castle church doors in Wittenberg Germany, named “All Saints Church”
The 95 Theses (statements) were written in Latin, inviting members of the university community to debate the issue of the church’s practice of selling indulgences. It was actually a common practice to post statements of intent for debate in this fashion.
Elector Frederick the Wise collected and displayed a great number of relics. To raise money for the building of St. Peter’s Church in Rome, the Pope allowed the sale of indulgences all over Germany. Luther objected to what he called, worthless pieces of paper which promised people release from the punishment of their sins in purgatory in exchange for a payment of money.
Luther’s intent was never to start a new church but to resurrect the original teachings of the church. Therefore the term reform would be better understood using its adjective form, meaning to restore.
For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church had been plagued by false doctrines, superstition, ignorance, and corruption. Since most ordinary Christians were illiterate and had little knowledge of the Bible, they relied on their clergy for religious instruction and guidance. Tragically however, monks, priests, bishops, and the popes in Rome taught unbiblical doctrines like purgatory, praying for the dead, and salvation through good works. People tried to justify themselves by the law as Luther once did, by what they did; yet left wondering, if they had ever done enough to appease God’s righteous anger and escape his punishment.
The truth of the gospel — the good news that God is loving and merciful, that He offers each and every one of us forgiveness and salvation not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has already done for us on the cross — was largely forgotten by both clergy and laity. The Holy Spirit used an Augustinian monk and university professor to restore the gospel to its rightful place as the cornerstone doctrine of Christianity.
In 1521 Emperor Charles summoned Luther to come to a meeting of the German princes called the diet of worms. He told Luther that he did not want to hear a debate on the Biblical truths, but only an admission from Luther that his teachings were wrong.
After pray fully thinking over his answer for a day, Luther said, “Unless you can prove from the Bible that I have made wrong statements, I cannot and will not take anything back. The Word of God binds my conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God Help me. Amen”
Because of Luther’s refusal, the emperor declared him a heretic and “outlaw” whom anyone could kill after 20 days. Elector Frederick however saved Luther by having him kidnapped and taken to a secluded castle called Wartburg. He stayed there about a year and while there translated the New Testament into the common German language so that laity could read the Bible for themselves. (Published in 1522 and with the help of others, the entire bible by 1534)
Over time, Martin Luther and his colleagues came to understand that if we sinners had to earn salvation by our own merits and good works, we would be lost and completely without hope. But through the working of the Holy Spirit, the reformers rediscovered the gospel — the wonderful news that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose to redeem and justify. “ Now the just shall live by faith”
It’s been nearly 500 years since the reformation, so why is it still relevant today, after all, hasn’t much changed over the years? There is one thing that does not and cannot change, the truth of God’s Word. Here we still stand!
The Council of Trent, an important Catholic council called to reject the teachings of the Reformation, went so far as to curse the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. It declared:
“If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than trust in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is by trust alone by which we are justified, let him be damned [anathema] (Canon XII).”
This and many similar statements are still official Catholic teachings.
The new Catholic catechism and other contemporary documents still teach that salvation is by a combination of faith and works.
As Christians, we are concerned for those around us who do not adhere to God’s Word in all its saving truth. Our compassion is for souls that are being led away from the truth, which is the only thing that saves. God’s own Word makes it so clear and simple. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” God’s elect hold tenaciously to that Word, as they live their lives free in the truth and the light of the Gospel.
Sola gratia – Grace alone
Sola fide – Faith alone
Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone
“Salvation unto us has come By God’s free grace and favor; Good works cannot avert our doom, They help and save us never. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, Who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer.” CW 390 stanza 1 – Martin Luther.
© 2014 Paul F. Arnhold
Paul F. Arnhold, DTM, lives in Saginaw Michigan.