Remembering the Reformation
Reformation month, observed in October, allows for a time of reflection on the blessings of the accessibility, availability, and authority of Scripture.For many, October kicks off the parade of monthly holidays that lead into the end of each year. This month, we also celebrate the access, availability, and authority of God’s Word on Reformation Sunday.
Specifically commemorated on the last Sunday in October, Reformation Sunday is a day set aside to remember the work of the Protestant Reformation. This includes the Reformation’s call to treat Scripture as our authority in faith and practice, and to make Scripture accessible and available to all people in their own language.
“Scripture has always belonged to the Church, but the question was who got to interpret it,” says Allen Tennison, Theological Counsel for the National Office of the Assemblies of God.
Ruthie Oberg from the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center shared the importance of this often-overlooked day and its importance to the Protestant branch of Christianity.
In the Medieval West, and for western Christianity, Scripture was only available in Latin which was no longer the first language of the common people. The people became increasingly dependent on church authorities to understand God’s word.
Oberg explains that in the 1370s, an Oxford university teacher by the name of John Wycliffe started a project to translate the Bible into English, the language of the common people of England, his home country.
Threatened by the loss of ecclesiastical and political power, church leaders and government officials began persecuting those who were learning and teaching Scripture in English.
However, almost a century later in 1456, Johann Gutenberg printed the first book in Europe on a moveable-type printing press: the Bible. As popularity of the printing press grew, copies of the Bible became more available but language barriers continued to make accessibility a challenge.
At the same time, certain church practices such as indulgences, guarantees for the remission of sins that could be bought or sold as penance, challenged the teaching of Scripture on salvation and grace.
“Over 500 years ago,” she says in a special chapel service held at the General Council of the Assemblies of God, “a monk in Germany made a list of 95 arguments that would change the world’s culture, split the Roman Catholic church, and spark a reformation.”
Fed up with the conflict between what he was reading in Scripture and the practices of the church, “Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic church to a discussion on the subjects of penance, the pope’s authority, and abuses in selling indulgences,” says Oberg.
This challenge was written down in a document containing 95 theses and nailed to the door of his church with what she calls “the hammer heard around the world.”
“The authority of Scripture had become intertwined with tradition,” Tennison says, “and the genius of the Reformation was the recognition of the authority of Scripture apart from the authority of tradition.”
With Luther’s courage and the obedience of several other heroes of the faith, the protestant branch of Christianity was birthed. Luther would go on to translate the Bible into German, and many other Reformers would translate Scripture into the first languages of their communities.
Today we commonly recognize the theological emphases of the Reformation by five “Solas (latin for “alone”):” “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture alone), “Sola Gratia” (grace alone),” “Sola Fide” (faith alone), “Solus Christus” (Christ alone), and “Solis Deo Gloria” (glory of God alone).
The Protestant Reformation built a foundation for Western Christianity and attested to the authority of Scripture, sufficiency of God’s grace, justification by faith, salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection, and the glory of God as the point of all things.
‘“Sola Scriptura” did not mean that there was no longer a place for tradition,” according to Tennison, “as every branch of Protestantism would develop their own tradition. But the Protestant insistence on Scripture as the authority over tradition meant that scripture would remain the standard by which we could continue to question our traditions.”
Oberg states that it is important to remember the Protestant Reformation because to ignore it is to risk raising a generation that is ignorant to the miraculous journey through which God has led His church, His children, and the Bible.
Through Jesus, the gap between God and humanity has been bridged. God has always desired for His children to have access to Him and His revelation. God has continued to raise up people throughout church history to ensure that this access is understood and available.
“There is a popular protestant saying that a church that is reformed is always reforming. This means that in a church built on the right theological foundations, individual members still need to be reformed in their hearts and minds. It can also mean that a church that has reformed with the right beliefs and practices still submits their tradition of faith and practice to the authority of Scripture as that tradition develops over time. In other words, you are always reforming,” remarks Tennison.
As we remember the men and women who sacrificially obeyed God’s promptings, let us thank Him for His faithfulness to us, His children, and His desire to reveal Himself directly to us through His Spirit and the authority of His word.