What Was Martin Luther’s Breakthrough?

Jim Davis: On October 31 we will celebrate the 504th anniversary of the day Martin Luther made his 95 theses public. But what exactly was Luther’s breakthrough? What realization did he come to that set the Western world on a course that would break the stranglehold of Roman Catholic authorities, produce Bibles in languages people could read, raise literacy rates across Europe, and birth thousands of new Christian denominations? Luther lived in a world dominated by a fear of death—a fear only increased by the Roman Catholic teaching that through our works, we can appease a vengeful God. In his own words, “Under the papacy we were told to toil until the feeling of guilt had left us.” But it never did. No matter how hard Luther worked, he never considered himself worthy of God. He entered into multiple periods of depression in which he began to ask one question that would lead to his breakthrough: Why is the gospel good news? In his forthcoming book, The

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The History of the Reformation

R.C. Sproul: “A cesspool of heresies.” This was the judgment rendered by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V on May 26, 1521, shortly after Luther took a stand at the Diet of Worms. Earlier, in the bull Exsurge Domine, Pope Leo X described Luther as a wild boar loose in the vineyard of Christ and as a stiff-necked, notorious, damned heretic. On May 4, 1521, Luther was “kidnapped” by friends and whisked off to Wartburg castle, where he was kept secretly hidden, disguised as a knight. There Luther immediately undertook the task of translating the Bible into the vernacular. Frequently the Reformation is described as a movement that revolved around two pivotal issues. The socalled “material” cause was the debate over sola fide (“justification by faith alone”). The “formal” cause was the issue of sola Scriptura, that the Bible and the Bible alone has the authority to bind the conscience of the believer. Church tradition was regarded with respect by the Reformers but not as

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“The Word Did It All”: The Necessity of Preaching According to the Protestant Reformers

Shawn Wright: One danger of being familiar with history is just that. It becomes familiar to us. Or so we think. Our familiarity with the facts, the cause-effect relationships, and the narrative may keep us from actually seeing what happened, or why what took place matters for us. The narrative of the Protestant Reformation serves as a case in point. Martin Luther (1483–1546) simply read the Bible, rediscovered the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide), and preached the gospel. And in the process, he and later Reformers like John Calvin (1509–64) turned the world upside down. [1] Right? Not so fast, argues Brad Gregory. Gregory, a highly trained Reformation historian, argues that the Reformation unbound the tightly-knit-together world of the Thomistic synthesis between faith and reason and the Catholic conception of Christendom in which secular and religious cohered closely together. Unknowingly, Luther unleashed a torrent that swelled into the modern world with all its post-Enlightenment problems. In other words, the

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Is the Reformation Over?

R.C. Sproul: There have been several observations rendered on this subject by those I would call “erstwhile evangelicals.” One of them wrote, “Luther was right in the sixteenth century, but the question of justification is not an issue now.” A second self-confessed evangelical made a comment in a press conference I attended that “the sixteenth-century Reformation debate over justification by faith alone was a tempest in a teapot.” Still another noted European theologian has argued in print that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is no longer a significant issue in the church. We are faced with a host of people who are defined as Protestants but who have evidently forgotten altogether what it is they are protesting. Contrary to some of these contemporary assessments of the importance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, we recall a different perspective by the sixteenth-century magisterial Reformers. Luther made his famous comment that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is

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Why Was the Reformation Necessary?

W. Robert Godfrey: The church is always in need of reform. Even in the New Testament, we see Jesus rebuking Peter, and we see Paul correcting the Corinthians. Since Christians are always sinners, the church will always need reform. The question for us, however, is when does the need become an absolute necessity? The great Reformers of the sixteenth century concluded that reform was urgent and necessary in their day. In pursuing reform for the church, they rejected two extremes. On the one hand, they rejected those who insisted that the church was essentially sound and needed no fundamental changes. On the other hand, they rejected those who believed that they could create a perfect church in every detail. The church needed fundamental reform, but it would also always need to be reforming itself. The Reformers reached these conclusions from their study of the Bible. In 1543, the Reformer of Strasbourg, Martin Bucer, asked John Calvin to write a defense of the

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Reformed and Always Reforming

W. Robert Godfrey: The year 2017 was the Martin Luther year. We remembered the Reformation and we celebrated it. But we must also continue the Reformation. The Reformation is not a museum to be visited occasionally on a tour bus. It was and is a vital movement for truth and life in the church of Jesus. How should we maintain and advance the cause of reform? Some believe that the answer to that question can be found in the slogan reformed and always reforming. We continue the Reformation by always reforming. That slogan is indeed useful if we understand it correctly. The problem is that sometimes the slogan is used to justify the opposite of what it originally intended. Those who misuse the slogan end up saying something like this: The Reformation had to change things that were wrong in the church, and we have to continue changing things that are wrong with the church. We have to make Christianity more understandable and

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Justification: The Heart of the Reformation

Michael Reeves: Internal vs. External Transformation The issue at the heart of the Reformation was without a doubt the question of justification. When Luther was growing up, the understanding of justification that he was taught (and which really drove him to despair) was an understanding of justification inherited from Augustine who had thought that Romans 5:5 was the clearest single text to articulate justification. It says that “God has poured his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit he’s given us.” So with that understanding, God pours his love, by the Holy Spirit, into my heart so that in my heart, I am transformed to become more and more loving, more and more holy, more and more justified. It is an internal transformative process and that’s simply not what Romans 5:5 is actually about. But that understanding of justification as the transformative process meant that you could not be sure that you’d been internally transformed enough to be worthy

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Why Was the Reformation Necessary?

W. Robert Godfrey: The church is always in need of reform. Even in the New Testament, we see Jesus rebuking Peter, and we see Paul correcting the Corinthians. Since Christians are always sinners, the church will always need reform. The question for us, however, is when does the need become an absolute necessity? The great Reformers of the sixteenth century concluded that reform was urgent and necessary in their day. In pursuing reform for the church, they rejected two extremes. On the one hand, they rejected those who insisted that the church was essentially sound and needed no fundamental changes. On the other hand, they rejected those who believed that they could create a perfect church in every detail. The church needed fundamental reform, but it would also always need to be reforming itself. The Reformers reached these conclusions from their study of the Bible. In 1543, the Reformer of Strasbourg, Martin Bucer, asked John Calvin to write a defense of the

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The History of the Reformation

R.C. Sproul: “A cesspool of heresies.” This was the judgment rendered by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V on May 26, 1521, shortly after Martin Luther took a stand at the Diet of Worms. Earlier, in the bull Exsurge Domine, Pope Leo X described Luther as a wild boar loose in the vineyard of Christ and as a stiff-necked, notorious, damned heretic. On May 4, 1521, Luther was “kidnapped” by friends and whisked off to Wartburg castle, where he was kept secretly hidden, disguised as a knight. There Luther immediately undertook the task of translating the Bible into the vernacular. Frequently the Reformation is described as a movement that revolved around two pivotal issues. The so-called “material” cause was the debate over sola fide(“justification by faith alone”). The “formal” cause was the issue of sola Scriptura, that the Bible and the Bible alone has the authority to bind the conscience of the believer. Church tradition was regarded with respect by the Reformers but not as a

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The Very Heart of the Reformation

R.C.Sproul: At the very heart of the controversy in the sixteenth century was the question of the ground by which God declares anyone righteous in His sight. The psalmist asked, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3). In other words, if we have to stand before God and face His perfect justice and perfect judgment of our performance, none of us would be able to pass review. We all would fall, because as Paul reiterates, all of us have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). So, the pressing question of justification is how can an unjust person ever be justified in the presence of a righteous and holy God? The Roman Catholic view is known as analytical justification. This means that God will declare a person just only when, under His perfect analysis, He finds that he is just, that righteousness is inherent in him. The person cannot have that righteousness

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How the Reformers Rediscovered the Holy Spirit and True Conversion

Sinclair Ferguson: Luther’s story is well known; Calvin’s less so. Luther was wrestling with the concept of the righteousness of God, and had come to hate it; Calvin had an immense thirst for a secure knowledge of God, but had not found it. While not the whole truth, there is something in the notion that Luther was looking for a gracious God while Calvin was seeking for a true and assured knowledge of him. In Luther’s case, the ordinances of late medieval Catholicism could not “give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain.” In Calvin’s case, neither the Church nor the immense intellectual discipline he had displayed in his teens and early twenties, and certainly not all his acquisition of the skills of a post-medieval humanist scholar, could bring him to an assured knowledge of God.   ROMANS 1:16 For all the differences in their backgrounds, educations, dispositions, and personalities, a good case can be made for thinking

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Ask J.I. Packer: What is Your Hope for the Church?

Adapted from “Interview with J.I. Packer,” Modern Reformation July/Aug 1993. I see evangelical strength in America needing desperately to be undergirded by Reformation convictions, otherwise, the numeric growth of evangelicals, which has been such a striking thing in our time, is likely never to become a real power, morally and spiritually, in the community that it ought to be. I mean by Reformation truth, a God-centered way of thinking, an appreciation of his sovereignty, an appreciation of how radical the damage of sin is to the human condition and community, and with that, an appreciation of just how radical and transforming is the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in his saving grace. If you don’t see deep into the problem, you don’t see deep into the solution. My fear is that a lot of evangelicals today are just not seeing deep enough in both the problem and the need. But Reformation theology takes you down to the very depth

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How the Reformation Rediscovered Happiness

Tim Chester: Imagine facing Judgment Day every week. Near to where I grew up, in the Oxfordshire village of South Leigh, is the parish church of St. James the Great. Over the chancel arch is a medieval wall painting depicting the final judgment. To the left, the righteous rose from their graves to be welcomed into paradise. To the right, the damned were roped together to be dragged towards the gaping mouth of a huge red dragon. This is what the churchgoers of South Leigh saw every Sunday. And they would find no relief, even if they turned away. For on the wall of the south aisle, another wall painting depicted St. Michael weighing souls in a balance. More demons hover, ready to carry away those found wanting. Heaven was a possibility for the churchgoers of South Leigh — but so was hell. And the church offered no assurance of salvation. Perhaps you might be righteous enough for God with

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