- Lloyd Janzen
As we look back at the church's past, there are many landmarks for us to observe. The sixteenth-century Reformation that attempted to reform the Catholic Church is one of those landmarks, and it is a landmark that brought the church back to the truth. In most cases, the Reformers either gave up their livelihoods, possessions, or even their lives and family to restore the essential teachings of the gospel to the church. So how did the Reformation, started by an Augustinian monk who was the Professor of the Bible at the University of Wittenberg in Germany, restore the gospel to the church?
One of the most significant changes was the translation of God's Word into the common, everyday language of the people. Leading up to that time, the Catholic Church kept the people in darkness by only allowing the Bible to be translated from the original languages into Latin. It did not take long for the false traditions of penance, praying to dead saints and Mary, and the selling of indulgences, to be taught as the truth by the leaders of the Catholic Church. But as God raised up men to translate His Word into the language of the people, they were able to read and study the Scriptures in their own language. Suddenly their eyes were opened to the saving truth of the gospel, never to be blinded again by the false works-based gospel taught by Rome. The Reformation recovered the sole authority of Scripture not only in the church but in the life of each Christian.
Rome also taught that the truth is found in Scripture and Church councils, Church traditions and the pope. But in stark contrast, the Reformers said that the saving truth is found in God's Holy Word alone.
As the authority of God's Word was recovered, it ushered in another significant development: the return of true biblical preaching. Previously, those who led the church were more concerned with what the pope and their traditions said than what God said. But, as more and more people could read, study, and understand the Bible for themselves, God raised up men to preach the unvarnished truth found in His Word. The church service was no longer simply a homily given by a priest before the mass was celebrated, nor was the focus on the traditions and works-based salvation. Instead, an exposition of the Scriptures—its meaning and application—was brought to the minds and hearts of those listening. The Reformers restored God's truth to the life of the church as they boldly proclaimed the Scriptures that Rome had so long hidden.
These truths the Reformers taught from the Bible were summarized into five phrases which give us the basics of the gospel. They taught that salvation is according to Scripture alone, meaning that Scripture alone is the supreme authority and that it clearly teaches us all that is necessary for salvation and a life of faith.
Secondly, they taught that salvation is in Christ alone. As our Savior and Mediator, Christ has accomplished the work necessary for our salvation. And we who are saved trust not in our own goodness but Christ's perfect obedience which is reckoned to our account to secure our right standing before God.
Thirdly, they taught that salvation is by grace alone. As sinners, we cannot contribute to our salvation. If we could, it would be a wage for what we have done, no longer the unearned, unmerited grace of God granting to us what we do not deserve. Our salvation is the sovereign, unmerited favor and choice of God to save sinners.
Fourth, the Reformers taught that salvation is through faith alone. Only when we believe and trust in Christ’s righteousness and not our own can we be brought into a right standing before God. Faith in Jesus Christ, God's Son is the only way anyone will be justified before God the Father.
Fifthly, the Reformers proclaimed salvation is to and for the glory of God alone. God alone is due all glory for our salvation, as He appointed it, accomplished it, and will complete it all for His own glory.
These truths from Scripture shook the very core of the Catholic Church's teachings and exposed the false man-centred beliefs and customs. Today, over 500 years later, these are the biblical truths, recovered in the Reformation, which will hold the Church firmly anchored on the sure foundation on which she was founded and is being built: Jesus Christ. May God arrest your heart and grant you an unwavering commitment to His Word and the proclamation of the truths found in His unchanging, inspired, and infallible Word as He did to those in the sixteenth-century Reformation.