Remember the Protestant Reformation!
By Rev Tan Eng Boo
Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ (Jer. 6:16)
Every year in October, we remember the 16th century Protestant Reformation. This year is the 504th year of the Reformation. This is our Protestant heritage and we should always commemorate it.
I asked a Pastor of a Protestant church some years ago if his church held a Reformation Sunday, and his answer was a straightforward, “No!” There are also church members in the Protestant denominations who have never heard of this event. It is unfortunate that many Protestant churches today do not commemorate this event. May we never end up neglecting or ignoring the Reformation.
I know that the Reformation account has been well-documented in books as well as in numerous articles that one can find via the internet, hence I am not going to repeat the historical account here. However, I would like us to know why we must continue to remember the Reformation every year.
In Judges 2:10, we read,
“And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.”
How can that be? One generation later and they have already forgotten the Lord? This is a frightening example of what could happen if we neglect to be responsible leaders to pass on a vital ecclesiastical legacy.
Why this historical event of the Protestant church must be remembered
1. The reformers were willing martyrs for this cause.
Believers in those days were willing to die for the Word of God. The original meaning of the Greek word martyr is merely “a witness”. Throughout the history of the early Church, one of the main ways that people testified to their faith was through suffering and death at the hands of the Romans. They became martyrs (witnesses) for Christ. Let me highlight one reformer who was martyred: Scottish Lutheran Sir Patrick Hamilton.
In 1520, while engaged in graduate studies in the University of Paris, he was exposed to Lutheran preaching and Luther’s writings. He went back to Scotland where he became a member of the Faculty of Arts at St. Andrews University. He used his academic position to promote his newly found Lutheran views. This resulted in the local archbishop being unhappy. Hamilton fled to the continent to study at the University of Marburg, Germany, and eventually returned to Scotland. He began to publicly preach Lutheran sermons which got him into trouble with the local archbishop.
Hamilton was charged with heresy, arrested, and handed over to the authorities to be burned at the stake on the same day in order to prevent any attempts at rescuing him. The death of Hamilton was not in vain as more people wanted to know the teachings of the Reformation.
The martyrs of the Reformation remind us to be His witnesses. They themselves were willing to be martyrs, “for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:9 KJV). The Word of God must not be restricted. If the reformers were willing to die for a cause—which they knew would bring glory and honour to Jesus Christ—how much more ought the church and her people be witnesses for God’s truth?
“During the short reign of Mary I, over 300 Protestants were burned at the stake. Anglicans particularly remember the Oxford martyrs: all bishops, who were burned at the stake, including Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer (the compiler of the Book of Common Prayer). These three died for sola fide (faith alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), sola scriptura (Scripture alone), and sola gratia (grace alone)” (https://asburyseminary.edu/elink/the-legacy-of-the-reformation/)
We may not become martyrs for Jesus Christ but we are certainly His witnesses for the truth just like the martyrs of that historic event that was passed down to us. We remember the Reformation because of what we can learn. We learn about the treasure of the gospel. “... And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) We learn how easy it can be for the church to lose sight of its value.
2. The motto of the reformation is “The Word of the Lord remains forever” (Luther)
“For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89, KJV). Scriptures alone should be the foundation of the church’s doctrine. Commitment to Sola Scriptura is often referred to as the foremost principle resulting in the Reformation because every area of the Reformation cause, even in its theology, flows from this commitment to the Word of God. Here is what Martin Luther said about the Word of God:
“What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone … How did I, poor stinking bag of maggots that I am, come to the point where people call the children of Christ by my evil name? … I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.” (https://www.csl.edu/2017/03/luther-the-word-did-everything/)
Yes, the Word is everything! The Reformation brought back the Bible to the church. It was a return to biblical Christianity. It wasn’t an easy task for the reformers. They faced fierce opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, yet they fearlessly remained faithful to the Bible.
Their examples should spur us on to treasure the Bible dearly. Today, Christians own so many hard copies of the Bibles and have easy access to it also via the internet and various electronic soft wares, so the danger is to take the Bible for granted and neglect reading or studying it. Israel was told to “… Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” (Jer. 6:16). They were given the oracles of God (Deut. 4:8) and yet they would not walk in it. They were a stiff-necked people.
May we never be like them. Let the word of Christ dwell richly in us (Col. 3:16).
Thank God for the 16th century Reformation. As a result of it,
“The Bible ceased to be a foreign book in a foreign tongue, and became naturalized, and hence far more clear and dear to the common people. Hereafter the Reformation depended no longer on the works of the Reformers, but on the book of God, which everybody could read for himself as his daily guide in spiritual life. This inestimable blessing of an open Bible for all … marks an immense advance in church history, and can never be lost.”
—Philip Schaff (1819-93), theologian and church historian