— By LOU TISCIONE
What you don’t know can hurt you. There are times when ignorance will lead you to ruin.
The most damaging ignorance concerns one’s soul. Jesus said, “Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” And, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” And, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 10:28, 39; 16:26)
All of these words are strong and clear. Ignorance of God and of what He said can hurt you. Only knowing God and the one He sent, Jesus Christ, will save your soul. We know that what God has said is true. God said that men are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Yet there was a time that men sought to usurp God’s authority. These men were in the church rather than outside of her. They were false teachers and false leaders of God’s people. They sought to manipulate the people of God to find their hope in them rather than God.
But God in His sovereign providence raised up godly men to call the church to submit to God’s word. One of these men was an Augustinian priest. His name was Martin Luther. History records his action of rebuking the church as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
We have just celebrated his action. The date was Oct. 31, 1517. Martin Luther nailed 95 theses (complaints) on the Wittenberg church door against the magisterium of the church. His action was a result of another monk who was doing “fund raising” in Germany. This monk’s name was Tetzel. This unscrupulous man was put in charge of the sale of indulgences in Germany. He was “heard announcing that the indulgence that they sold made the sinner cleaner than when coming out of baptism and cleaner than Adam before the Fall and that the cross of the seller of indulgences has as much power as the cross of Christ.” One of Tetzel’s more evil pronouncements was, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” (The previous quotes were taken from “The Story of Christianity” by Justo L. Gonzalez, Vol. 2.)
Martin Luther started a movement. He and all the Reformers knew that the church needed to be in an ongoing reformation. They taught that the church had to be diligent to reform herself to be in accordance with the word of God. They declared that the root cause of Rome’s problem was her view of authority. The Pre-reformation church placed herself above God’s word. The church’s magisterium, her leaders placed themselves as the authority over God’s people.
The root cause of the Protestant Reformation, also referred to as the “Formal Cause” was Sola Scriptura. This Latin phrase, translated as Scripture Alone, means that God’s word, the Bible, has ultimate authority. We who are believers live under the word of God.
The pre-reformation church used its illegitimate authority to manipulate the people with guilt. Looking to Jesus’ words we know that God alone saves. He is the one to fear. Jesus is the one for whom we live.
Fundamental to the formal cause of the Reformation was what is called the material cause. The material cause was the teaching of the Scriptures that justification (God’s sovereign act of free grace) is through faith alone. Justification through faith alone or Sola Fides is the truth revealed by God that eliminates the idea that men can merit God’s favor.
The Reformation was one of the most significant events in history. Yet, the evangelical church seems to have forgotten it. The practices that we see in many churches stand against the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. Methods and programs are suggested as necessary for a “so-called” growing church.
When asked about the Protestant Reformation, most in the church respond with a blank stare. Many have been taught that the Reformation was simply an event in history.
We in the church must stand on the shoulders of the Reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, Thomas Cranmer and others. We know, as they taught, that the church must always be reforming herself to insure that she is living under the word of God in submission to the headship of Jesus Christ.
Lou Tiscione is pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA).