The Reformation was the single most significant event of the past millennium. At the dawn of the sixteenth century the Christian church, while outwardly prospering in terms of wealth and power, was in a state of moral decadence and spiritual ruin. The glorious gospel of free forgiveness through faith in Christ had been twisted into an abusive system of paid ‘indulgences’ benefitting the Pope and his associates. The clergy were ignorant and often led scandalous lives. Ordinary people were enslaved in idolatry and superstition, as the Bible lay closed and locked.
It was into this darkness that God brought the light of the Reformation. Although there were earlier precursors, the dawn was marked by Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Thesis on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, October 30th, 1517. Luther was upheld through unlikely circumstances to defy both papal and imperial opposition and his movement grew steadily. He was in time joined by Ulrich Zwingli (minister in Zürich), John Calvin (minister in Geneva and Strasburg), and John Knox (minister in Edinburgh and Newcastle).
The Reformation was a movement to bring the church’s worship, teaching, governance and practice back into conformity with the will of God revealed in Scripture. The main themes of the Reformation can be summarised in terms of five summary statements using the Latin word ‘alone’—the five solae or ‘solas’:
- sola scriptura. Scripture alone would be the guide, rather than the dictates of the Pope or the traditions of man.
- sola gratia. We are saved not by works but by grace alone…
- sola fide. …through faith alone…
- solus Christus. …in Christ alone.
- soli Deo gloria. All must be done to the glory of God alone.
500 years later, the darkness has now returned. The sources of this new darkness are many and varied but the net effect is the same: the church is in dire need of reformation. It is our hope that by marking this significant anniversary, and considering the historical, biblical, theological and practical issues involved, God’s people would be prompted to pray earnestly and to work diligently towards a fresh work of reformation and revival.