by Johnathan Arnold
During this time, the mariner’s compass empowered exploration, gunpowder changed the battle scene, and — most importantly — the invention of the printing press revolutionized communication technology. Despite these very bright days for the secular world, the religious world was growing ever darker.
The Darkness of the Religious World
Anyone who questioned the authority of the Church was excommunicated or burned at the stake. The excommunicated were denied the sacraments and thus, in the minds of the people, cut off from grace and sentenced to hell. With little separation between church and state, the Catholic Church was able to manipulate much of the political scene as well.
The light of the gospel was almost entirely stamped out.
Before being allowed into heaven, saved people were thought to suffer for their sins in the purifying fires of purgatory. When Pope Leo X ran out of money in the papal treasury, he began selling forgiveness in the form of indulgences, official papers said to free a loved one from purgatory. John Tetzel, a well-known seller of indulgences, used theatrics to convince even the poorest people to pour their savings into an indulgence letter.
The Star Before the Sunrise
In the mid-1300s, John Wycliffe advocated for reformation principles and translated the Bible into English. He is known as the “Morning Star of the Reformation” for casting the first light. John Huss later followed Wycliffe’s teachings at the cost of his life. Others, like Peter Waldo and Girolamo Savonarola, served as an inspiration to later reformers.
Nearly a century after Wycliffe’s death, a boy named Martin was born to a poor, superstitious Catholic family. His father, a miner, urged him to become a lawyer to make a better living. During a frightening storm, Martin, afraid of God and sensitive in conscience, vowed to enter the priesthood instead. He set out on a path to find peace and righteousness. Despite rigorous discipline and self-inflicted suffering, he found neither.
Martin Luther began to understand that salvation did not come by works.
Setting The World Ablaze
When Luther heard about the sale of indulgences by John Tetzel in 1517, he wrote 95 Theses questioning their power and efficacy. To encourage debate, Professor Luther — a doctor in Bible — posted them on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The door functioned as a bulletin board. Luther never imagined his theses would be mass printed by Gutenberg’s press and kindle reformation fires all over Europe.
By 1521, his teachings on indulgences, salvation, and the church caught the attention of Catholic authorities. He was summoned to appear before The Holy Roman Emperor at an assembly in Worms, Germany, and urged to recent his teachings. He refused to violate his conscience or the Word of God and boldly declared, “Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”
Luther stood with courage and conviction, and God responded with a massive spiritual awakening. Luther set the world ablaze.
Shining the Glorious Gospel Light
Protestantism was not a new faith, but a return to Biblical Christianity.
The Reformation is a story of the unstoppable power of the glorious gospel light bursting forth in the hearts and lives of faithful men—a light that was buried by tradition, Latin, and a form of godliness without power. We are recipients of that light, and we are charged with guarding the gospel light in our dark world. “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
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Gonzales, Justo. The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day. San Francisco: Harper, 2010.
“Protestant Reformation.” Theopedia.
“Reformation.” Encyclopedia Britannica.
Sproul, R. C. “History, Truth, Faith – Pillars of Christian Orthodoxy: 2011 Ligonier Academy Conference.” Ligonier Ministries.