Divisive Spirit or Freedom Movement? 4 Reasons Why the Reformation Still Matters
On this day in 1517, an upheaval in the Catholic Church commenced. No one realized at that time that a simple call for debate over doctrine would cause a division so sizeable history would remember 500 years later. How this history is seen depends on which side you are on. For Catholics, this movement is horribly divisive. For those who broke away, this is a freedom movement.
From the onset, the teachers and scholars who disagreed with the Church did not want to break from the Church but reform it. As time went on, they realized reform would not happen—the only way to stay faithful to the Bible was to separate.
Those who look in from the outside of this event claim that truth became divisive. It looked as though those who believed and taught the Bible apart from tradition carried a divisive spirit. But truth is not the cause of division; rather, those who do not adhere to truth and remain unrepentant in their sin are the cause. Truth is constant; we are not. We are always changing, while truth remains the same. Therefore, we must always reform back to truth. That is why the Reformation happened.
The Reformation does not stop with Martin Luther or the other Reformers; it must go on. Here are four reasons why the Reformation still matters today.
1. Sin still remains.
Sin's chief end is anything and everything opposed to God's Word. If we are to remain faithful Christians as the Bible calls us to be (See Titus 1:9; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Colossians 1:23), we must live as close as we can to God's will. Paul uses this forming language in Romans 12:2 when he warns against conforming to the world. Such is our natural disposition. Therefore, Paul calls us to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind." Because sin still remains in our flesh, we must always be reforming ourselves to the Word of God.
2. Justification is still necessary.
As the shape of the Reformation grew clearer, one subject stood out among the rest, namely justification before God. The Catholic tradition held (and still holds) that our works helped us in attaining a right standing before God. It did not, however, have a defined limit to how much our works helped. This discouraged any concrete assurance in the Christian life. More importantly, this was not Scriptural (See Romans 3:19-28; 5:1; Galatians 2:16-17; 3:6-14, 24; Titus 3:7). Justification is still the greatest need of our day because we are still sinners in need of righteousness. Like the Catholic tradition, we are prone to place certain conditions on the gospel, but if Jesus Christ is not our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30), we have no hope of being justified before God. Justification is still by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.
3. We still need hope.
Instead of giving their people assurance through properly teaching the Scripture, the Catholic Church used it to bring in a profit. They sold assurance for rituals, prayers, religious actions, and money. Their tactics kept the people coming back and the money flowing in, all the while leaving them in despair. When the Reformers uncovered the gospel, the immediate and overarching result was an assurance of salvation. As John Bunyan (who arrived a century after the Reformation) personally realized, "My good works did not make my righteousness better." That was the result of the Reformation, and that is why it matters today. Today, we need hope. We need hope that Jesus saves, and that He saves forever (See John 3:16; Hebrews 7:25).
4. The Catholic Church still believes in false doctrines.
The Council of Trent (1545-1563) is regarded as the beginning of what we know today as the Roman Catholic Church. It was convened to respond both to Martin Luther and the entire Reformation. During the council, among other doctrines, they declared that those who believe in justification by faith alone are anathematized (which is a formal curse). To this day, the Roman Catholic Church still believes in everything the Council of Trent said. That means we are still anathematized by the pope and council, and cannot be part of the Church of Rome. As long as we believe we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, we are part of the Reformation.
That is why the Reformation still matters today.