Two of the greatest cultural shifts in human history hung on a nail. The second event rests on the preeminence of the first. These two events are the crucifixion of our Lord and Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church in 1517. We celebrate the 500th anniversary of The Reformation this year on the 31st of October 2017. The Reformation resurrected the Bible in a way that changed the world.
We greatly err if we relegate The Reformation to church history rather than world history. It not only launched reformation within the Catholic Church, and its own separate and unstoppable Church movement which revolutionized Christianity thereafter, but it produced reformation of the world itself. It made empires into nations and subjects into citizens. It gave birth to governments, nations, written languages, a plethora of books, public education, modern universities, science, hospitals, numerous businesses, and innovations in every place it spread.
The power of The Reformation lay in its simplicity. It made the Bible the center of its movement. The Western world shifted from Christendom to Kingdom. Truth brought liberty. America is “the great land of liberty” because she was first the great land of truth. America’s foundational political philosophy is essentially applied theology as taught by the Reformers.
Francis Schaeffer wrote in The Great Evangelical Disaster in 1984:
The Reformation with its emphasis upon the Bible, in all that it teaches, as being the revelation of God, provided a freedom in society and yet a form in society as well. Thus, there were freedoms in the Reformation countries (such as the world had never known before) without these freedoms leading to chaos – because both laws and morals were surrounded by a consensus resting upon what the Bible taught. . . We who are Bible-believing Christians no longer represent the prevailing moral outlook of our society, and no longer have the major influence shaping this.
When we lose the theology of The Reformation we lose the benefits along with it. We move from Christian to Post-Christian, and eventually, to paganism. The theology of the Bible is not just for our churches, it is for our nations. Luther and Calvin gave us vocation. The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers meant that all people fulfilled the Lord’s work on the earth. All people needed to be educated in the truth, not just the privileged.
Vishal Mangalwadi wrote in The Book that Made Your World:
Education was a Christian missionary enterprise. It was integral to Christian missions because modern education is a fruit of the Bible. The biblical Reformation, born in European universities, took education out of the cloister and spread it around the globe.
The soaring pulpits we see in historic Protestant churches were a testimony to the shift towards the authority of Scripture. The Protestant Church came under the authority of Scripture, instead of The Church being the authority over Scripture. Scripture applied to leaders and laity alike.
What began as a protest became a process that changed the world. It was never Luther’s intention to start a new separate church movement. He only sought to deal with the issues of the Church of his day in light of Scripture. But once the flame of truth shined brightly he could not put it out. Facing death, he proclaimed “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
Today, we stand, but we have forgotten how we got here. We decry nationhood as if it were the enemy of freedom, rather than its protector. We don’t know life before The Reformation. No living person does. There is no one to give us an It’s a Wonderful Life experience where we see our world without Martin Luther. Martin Luther has left his indelible stamp upon it. What we believe to be common is uncommon. It is a world shaped by biblical revelation that now believes it has always thought this way.
Lest we all forget, let us learn again to stand on the truth of Scripture, not only for our salvation, but for our nation. The bedrock of American government is not found in Greek literature, but in Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. It is not found on Mount Olympus, but on Mount Sinai. Russel Kirk wrote in his book The Roots of American Order that, “In the beginning, America was Protestant: that point has been emphasized by every historian of the United States.”
America owes a huge debt of gratitude to Martin Luther. Without the Reformation, there would be no land of liberty. Celebrating the 500 Year Anniversary of The Protestant Reformation is as important as celebrating Independence Day. Without Reformation Day, there would be no Independence Day.
If we want to see the restoration of America, or any other nation, we must see the true truth of the Bible become central once again. Luther read the Bible and changed the world. Luther taught that, “the Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid.” To disciple our world in Christ is to lay the foundation of Scripture.
That foundation is deep in the bedrock of our nation. Our job is to unearth it once again. The theological work has been done by the Reformers. They gave us that gift, but somewhere the baton dropped. The Bible, as the handbook of truth for the world, became merely the handbook of faith for the Church. It is time to carry the legacy the of the Reformers forward. Let us be the reformers of our day so that we guarantee that our land remains one of liberty.
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