500 years ago on 31 October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg where he was priest, naming 95 heresies of the Roman Church against the Word of God. From this point on the Church in Europe divided into Catholic – and Protestant movements…
Many today deeply regret this. They say ‘Reformation 500’ is an opportunity to finally repent of the divisions in the Church, time to repent of the barbaric killings and the burnings at the stake that occurred in those days, time to forget persecutions, inquisitions, time to re-unite. But first…
…Why and what was the Reformation really about? Avoidable dissension? Avoidable division? No! It was an unavoidable confrontation between the Truth of the Word of God, what the Bible really says – and the terrible lies the Church had been teaching and selling the people under its care, even from the very first century after Christ.
John the Apostle begins His Gospel, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.’ – John 1:1&14. Jesus! He is the Word of God, salvation is found in no other name.
Those who recognised Jesus as the Son of God in the very beginning, recognised Him by what He did – and they saw that what He did was the fulfilment of God’s written Word, the Scriptures. Those who did not recognise Him, could not, because, as Jesus said, “If you had believed Moses, you would believe Me because he wrote about Me.” – John 5:46. Also Luke 24:25-27 & 44.
There is no authority higher than the Word of God. Psalm 138:2 says He has exalted His Word above all things! The Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures (which foretell Christ and which He came to fulfil) have been faithfully handwritten by specially trained Jewish scribes, through countless generations, countless exiles, countless purges and pogroms – from the exile in Babylon before Christ to the worldwide diaspora of today.
Every single scroll of Scripture extant today, wherever in the world it may be found, is identical to the very last letter!!! Only the Yemeni scrolls differ by nine letters, but this without changing the meaning of the text in any way.
No other culture, no other race, no other religion, no other people have such a record of accuracy!!! Today, when they search their Scriptures and their prophets, they know Messiah is coming soon as King! They are expecting Him! Because of their Scriptures!
Our New Testament – the Gospels, Epistles and the Book of Revelation – were written, not in Hebrew, but in Greek, the international language of the Eastern part of the Roman Empire into which Jesus was born, died and rose again.
As the number of non-Jewish converts from the Western part of the Empire who spoke Latin, increased, translations were made from the Greek to help them. But in the Roman Empire there was no such rigorous training of scribes as we see in the Jewish tradition. The Latin texts very quickly corrupted – almost beyond recognition…
…Until in AD 382, Greek and Hebrew scholar Jerome produced a faithful Latin translation from the original texts because, he said, there are “as many different Latin translations as there are manuscripts” and, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ!” But the same careless copying of his good new translation again corrupted the manuscripts.
Worse was to come. With the collapse of the Roman Empire in 376 and 476 AD, Latin fell into disuse as an international language. Most priests couldn’t read Latin anymore, the Latin Mass and Scriptures became like so much hocus-pocus to clergy and people alike.
In any case, clergy in training were first taught classical Roman and Greek philosophy and Church tradition and doctrine. They were introduced to the Bible last of all – to a Bible which was not just corrupted, but in a language most no longer understood…
Yes, even in those Dark Ages, several translations were made into the common languages of different European tribes and nations so ordinary people could understand. But before printing, it took much time to hand-make copies – which, when discovered by Church officials, were swiftly destroyed!
John Wycliffe, a reformer and critic of the ungodly practices of the Roman Church, made the first English language translation of the Bible in 1383. As many manuscripts as could be made were distributed, though the Church threatened anyone possessing a non-Latin Bible with execution!
John Hus, an active reformer and follower of Wycliffe, was himself burned at the stake. They used some of Wycliffe’s own manuscript Bibles as kindling for the fire!
The printing press was invented in around 1448 – and the first book ever printed was the Bible – albeit a corrupted Latin version. But printing was the start of a first, very simple, reformation – no more errors multiplying from handwritten copy to handwritten copy! Now hundreds, even thousands of identical copies could be produced from one approved printer’s text!
In the 1490s, Oxford Professor Thomas Linacre learnt Greek in order to compare the original New Testament text with the current corrupted Latin Bible. He was so shocked, he wrote in his diary, “Either this (the original Greek) is not the Gospel… or we are not Christians!” – The Latin text of the 15th century did not even preserve the simple Gospel message!
Also in the 1490s, another Oxford Professor, John Colet, began the public reading of the New Testament in Greek, translating it into English, in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London!
People were so hungry to hear the Word of God in a language they could understand, that within six months the Cathedral was filled with 20,000 standing packed inside and 20,000 outside! Revival! Colet only avoided execution for this crime because he had powerful friends in high places!
Here I might add that also Martin Luther’s conduct and writings were reprehensible to the Roman Catholic Church, and normally he would have been put on trial as a heretic and burned alive. But Frederick the Wise, alias Frederick III, who just happened to command the largest army in Europe, decided to give protection to this Germanic reformer.
In 1517, the year in which Luther nailed his 95 accusations against the false practices of the Roman Church, 7 people were burned at the stake in England, simply for the sin of teaching their children to pray the Lord’s Prayer in English!
But returning again to the very early centuries… As soon as Roman converts began to outnumber the original Jewish converts, many pagan practices and beliefs contrary to the Word of God were brought into the young Church – and many remain there to this day!
Ranking amongst the most wicked was the raising of money for the benefit of the Church by selling ‘Indulgences’ for the forgiveness of sin! You could purchase forgiveness for yourself; you could even shorten the time your dead relatives spent in ‘Purgatory’ – a fictitious place between heaven and hell for the punishment and purging of sin – entirely contrary to the teaching of Scripture, which is the free forgiveness of sin by simple faith in the shed blood of Christ on the Cross.
But how would you know if you couldn’t understand Latin and you had no access to any accurate Bible?
The sale of Indulgences was reaching its very peak in 1517 (the year we are celebrating as ‘Reformation 500’), because Rome had just begun to build the extravagant new Basilica of St Peter, a tourist attraction to this day.
Begun in 1506, it was completed in 1626, taking 120 years! If anything similar were to be built now, someone has reckoned it would cost in the region of 300 million US dollars! The Church was already in a financial crisis and the money had to be raised somehow! Luther protested.
There has always been a price to pay for the reformation of the Church. A price paid in full by many martyrs of the True Faith. The Protestant Reformation can never regret having paid that price to bring the Truth of the whole Word of God to ordinary people.
So what has that Reformation to do with us now? That was long ago. Let’s put it behind us! Let’s all be one, one with the whole Church, one with the whole world. There is no problem now! Or is there?!!
Today in the Church there are powerful lobbies which require reformation. There are those who profess to believe in the Truth of the Word of God, but in fact follow men who teach selected aspects of the Word of God which are out of balance with the whole counsel of God’s Word… Even things which are not in the Bible!
Lester Sumrall, who ministered all over Eastern Europe with David under communism in the 1980s, used to say, “For every false teaching in Western Europe, there are ten in America!” Christians are always asking, “Have you read this new Christian book on this or that?” No! But have YOU checked it out against the Bible?!
Then there are those who don’t believe in the Truth of God’s Word at all, yet call themselves Christian… German theologians of the last century spearheaded the belief that the Word of God as recorded in the Scriptures is not in fact true, but a myth, just a way of saying things…
Mix this with secular liberalism, relativism, tolerance and universalism, stir it all into the Church, call it post-modernism, and present the teachings of the Word of God in a manner that is socially relevant and acceptable to normal humanist thinking… WE DESPERATELY NEED A REFORMATION!
Pope Francis, in his own video address to the Catholic faithful in January 2016, looked forward to the unity of all world religions, saying there are many ways to God, but only one message, ‘love’. If anyone believes this, WE MOST DESPERATELY NEED ANOTHER REFORMATION – A RETURN TO THE TRUTH OF GOD’S WORD!
And does the Word of God agree with the following? – Many say Christians, Jews and Moslems are all children of Abraham, all people of the Book. But the Koran is a fantastical remix of the Old and New Testaments!
In the Koran, Ishmael, not Isaac, is the child promised by God to Abraham. – But Jesus is through Isaac!!! In the Koran, Mary the mother of Jesus, is the sister of Moses!!! And Jesus is not the Son of God, but a lesser prophet than Mohammed!!!
The Koran says ‘God has no need of a son’ – and that Jesus did not die on the cross since God saw that He was too good to die, and had another die in His place!!! IF THE CHURCH CAN AGREE WITH THE KORAN, WE NEED ANOTHER REFORMATION!
At the very height of the Charismatic Revival/Renewal, David Pawson was preaching. He began, “Has anyone read a good book recently?” Almost everyone! “Did you read it right through?” Almost everyone. “Anyone read the Bible recently?” Almost everyone. “Have you EVER read it THROUGH?” Not one!
Unity amongst Christians – we all want that. Especially in this year when we remember the Reformation that divided the Church 500 years ago. But unity on what basis? The unity Jesus prayed for at the Last Supper can only be based on the Truth of the Word of God, no other way. He Himself is the Word of God, the Way, the Truth and the Life – John 1:1&14.
He said, “If a man love Me, He will keep My Words, and My Father will love him and We will come unto him and make Our abode with him.” Unity only comes this way. Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth to remind us of everything He, Jesus, the Word of God, has said. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, will only give life to the Word of Truth in us! John 14:17 & 20.
WE HAVE TO HAVE ANOTHER REFORMATION – A COMING BACK TO THE WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD – AS SHOWN IN THE BIBLE – BECAUSE THE REFORMATION OF 1517 HAS NOT CLEANSED THE CHURCH.
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Image Credit: Derek Leman