PART III IN S ER IE S
THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION
By James H. Christian, Th.D.
r KHAPS THE most fascinating topic in church history to a Protestant is the reformation. From that time dates our heritage. At that point the spirit of the New Testament and the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ were recaptured after centuries of obscurity. At that time the glorious truth of justification by faith alone became once again the main message of the church of Jesus Christ. The factors bearing upon, and helping to produce, the reformation were various. As the very term refor mation implies, some of these were spiritual and reli gious. The doctrine of justification by faith alone had become confused with an accompanying requirement of works. The papacy was insensible to its need for reform and was too concerned with its building pro grams to car» for its chief responsibility, the souls of the people. Within the church itself there was unrest among the people as they began to read the Bible for themselves, because they began to question some of the church’s long-standing doctrines and institutions. Added to this was a growing anti-clerical sentiment dating back to Wycliffe and Hus. Politically, national states were rising which re sented the control which the papacy sought to exert over them and desired freedom to develop their own system of government and form of life. Within these new states was a rising middle class. Desiring to fash ion a better way of life for themselves, these people often found the church standing directly in their way because of its ideology or business interests. MART IN LUTHER As is usually the case, the factors producing the re formation would not have been sufficient if it had not been for a man to issue the clarion call and take ad vantage of the situation. On the other hand, the re verse is also true. The man might have been there; but if the factors had not been present to aid him, he might have perished in the attempt to introduce reform as had Savonarola and Hus. At the time of the Prot estant Reformation, God brought everything together in proper balance, the factors and the man - Martin Luther. Martin Luther did not intend to start a new church; he was interested in the reformation of the Roman Catholic Church. He was thrust into the reformer’s role by two significant events. The first was, of course, by far the more important and dominated all the rest of his life: it was the realization of justification by faith. As a young monk, he had sought salvation in the only way he knew, through the privation and punish- MARCH, 1967
ment of his body that he might merit Christ. His dis covery of the Gospel plan of salvation revolutionized his life and controlled his future. The second event was the sale of indulgences by John Tetzel. The latter made the forgiveness of sins and the liberation of souls from purgatory automatic with the purchase of an indulgence. To air his grievance against indulgences and the doctrines which made them possible, Luther set forth his opinions in the famous Ninety-five Theses which he nailed to the castle-church doors in Wittenberg, on October 31, 1517. They were a protest against the abuse of indulgences and a challenge to the whole system of salvation granted through the church. Naturally, the Theses met with immediate opposi tion. Books were written against Luther, sermons were preached about him, and able theologians reasoned with him privately and publicly in an endeavor to show him his errors and to quiet him. However, the more the church sought to hush him, the more emphatic Luther became. Fortunately for him, as well as for Protestant ism, Luther was aided in his struggle by the powerful nobleman, the Elector Frederick. An illustration of Frederick’s help appeared following the Diet of Worms where Luther had declared after repeated attacks: “ Here I stand. God help me! Amen.” As Luther was journeying homeward, he was kidnapped and disap peared for two years. Afraid at that time to help Luther openly, Frederick had made arrangements to abduct the reformer. In the safety of Wartburg Castle where he was hidden, Luther produced his literary masterpiece, the New Testament in the German lan guage. This publication, soon joined by his translation of the Old Testament, aided immeasurably in the spread of the reformation and was also instrumental in mold ing the German language. Lutheranism was firmly established and protected by the Peace of Augsburg, on September 25, 1555. By its provisions, Catholics and Lutherans were given equal rights in the empire. The religion of each territory was determined in perpetuity by its prince. Laymen who were dissatisfied with the religion of their terri tory could move to another without hindrance or loss. THE ZW INGL IAN REFORMATION Contemporaneous with the German was the Zwing- lian reformation in Switzerland. This was primarily the work of Huldreich Zwingli. Like Luther, Zwingli in the beginning did not object violently to the practices of the church. However, he became a schismatic in 1522 when he preached that the prohibition of meat during 23
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