Do We Need A New Reformation?
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and professor of New Testament at the University of Wittenberg, Germany, famously nailed his ninety five theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Luther’s intent was to challenge the leading pastors and theologians in his area to a debate. He never intended to create a schism in the church. But whether he intended to or not, Luther’s act ignited the Protestant Reformation. Luther was eager to debate the points of contention he was raising because the church in the middle ages had become entangled with the vines of superstition, ignorance, and spiritual lethargy—the same sort of things we see all around us today.
It is important to note that Luther lived during the age of the Renaissance (a French word meaning rebirth). During this era a return to the original sources was widely being called for, so it made sense that Christian scholars would return not only to the great classics of Western civilization and to the early church fathers, but to the Biblical text itself. So, the Reformation became the greatest back-to-the-Bible movement in the history of the church since the death of the apostles. But the Reformers didn’t go back to the Bible simply as an end in itself. Rather, they went back to the Bible to recover the essential truths in the Bible that the church had either forgotten or flat out rejected—Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and to God alone be glory.
Notice how the modifier “alone” appears in each of these slogans. It’s not that the medieval church didn’t believe in Scripture, in Christ, in grace, in faith, and in God’s glory. The church had never denied these articles of faith. But it was that word “alone” that brought Rome and the Reformers into conflict. Scripture is the only ultimate authority in faith and practice. Christ is the only mediator between God and sinners. Faith is the only instrument of our justification, and God is the only one in this whole business who deserves any credit or praise from beginning to finish. These slogans formed the core of the Reformation. The medieval church was in dire need of reform.
But the church today is in greater need of reform than the church of the 16th century. And so we need a new reformation.
The battle cry “Scripture alone” is rarely heard even in conservative Protestant churches today as pop psychology, marketing and management principles, pragmatism, consumerism, sociological data, political crusades, along with tradition tend to have the greatest authority and weight in the churches.
“Christ alone” is challenged by the voices of those who are following our culture of religious pluralism, insisting that Jesus is the best, but not the only way to the Father. In fact, two-thirds of the Evangelical Christians in America said that we all pray to the same God whether we’re Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, or Christians—two-thirds.
And as for the slogan “To God alone be glory,” there’s no question but that religion today is far more human-centered than God-centered. We see it in worship; we see it in every facet in evangelism. Even the churches are focused on how God can make us happy and fulfilled.
Five hundred years ago the Reformers looked at the condition of the church and pursued renewal and revival. We’re at that same place today. We need renewal and revival every bit as much as the medieval church did. We need a new reformation!