The Time of the Reformation

October 28, 2010

The last Sunday of every October is the day we commemorate a turning point in history. In the year 1517, on October 31st, which was a Sunday, a Roman Catholic priest, after years of study, walked up to the doors of a seemingly insignificant little church in Wittenburg, Germany and nailed a document to the door that would turn the world upside down and change the course of history. The document contained ninety-five theses, in which he set forth where the teaching of scripture differed from the teaching of the Roman Church. He never intended to cause division within the church that he loved, nor did he intend to start his own denomination. Rather, he desired that those in the positions of authority within the Church would recognize and heed to the authority of scripture. He had no idea what the impact of his actions that day would be on his life, his Church, or the world.

Every cause has an effect and every effect has a cause and nothing ‘just happens,’ especially something of this magnitude. There are always causes that bring it to that particular moment of time and history. So it is true of the Reformation period in history that many consider to have begun with the nailing of the ninety-five theses by Martin Luther to the door of the church at Wittenburg, there is much that preceded it.

The book of Acts records the history of the Christian Church in the first century. During that time, under the ministry of the Apostle Paul, in a period of only two years and three months, all Asia had the opportunity to hear the Word of God. This feat has never been duplicated since that time, even with all the technological media available to us today.

Acts 19:8-10
And he (Paul) went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

The knowledge of God grew and prevailed in the first century (Acts 19:20). Yet, in spite of the great outreach of God’s Word under Paul’s ministry, in spite of the unprecedented revelation that God gave to Paul and that Paul made known regarding the Church of the Body of Christ – called the Great Mystery; in spite of the power of God in evidence that the believers experienced in their lives as they applied this knowledge; in spite of all of this (as is recorded in the book of Acts) the Church walked away from the Word of God that Paul made known.

2 Timothy 1:15
This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me;

To reform something means to re-form it, to form it again. There would have been no need for a reformation, a re-forming, if things had not changed from their original form. The Church had changed. It had gotten away from its original, Godly, form. The first change from it’s original form, the first step on the road down to ruin during the first century was that the church turned away from Paul (II Timothy 1:15). They began to reject what Paul had declared and made known – the Great Mystery – the knowledge contained in the seven Church, or Pauline Epistles concerning Jew and Gentile both making up the Church of God, the One Body of Christ with Christ as the Head of that Body. The second step on the road down to ruin was that the Church began to err regarding the Hope of Christ’s return and the rising and resurrections (II Timothy 2:18). The third step downward was that they began to withstand and resist the truth of God’s Word (II Timothy 3:8). The final step was it turned away its ears from the truth and turned unto fables, or myths (II Timothy 4:4). Even before the death of Paul the original form of the Church was lost. Paul died sometime around 64 A.D. Within thirty to forty years after his death, writings began to emerge from within the Church that were far removed from anything resembling true, original, God inspired Christian doctrine. The Church was already in need of a reformation even before the end of the first century.

Eleven centuries later, around the year 1180, there was in the region of Southern France, Northern Italy and Spain a group of people known as the Cathari. The word “Cathari” means “pure ones.” The Cathari had formed together to endeavor to return to the purity of the scriptures. They stood in opposition to the wealth, power and influence of the Roman Church. They were one of the first groups to propose the idea that common people had as much right to teach the Word of God as did priests, which idea was revolting to the Roman Church. From the Cathari descended a group of people known as the Waldensians, who continued to stand upon the Word of God and stand against the Roman Church, promoting the idea that every man had a right to a knowledge of the scriptures, and a right to teach and preach the Word of God. In 1229 the Roman Church decreed that it was forbidden for anyone except a priest to read the scriptures or do any preaching or teaching. At the same time they denounced any translation of the Bible other than their own. Around 1360 John Wycliffe dared to translate the scriptures from Latin into English. In 1415 the Roman Church exhumed his body, tried him for heresy, and burned his already dead body at the stake. In 1373 John Huss was born. He loved the Word of God and became a devoted follower of John Wycliffe. On July 6th, 1415 he was burned alive at the stake as a heretic. In 1450 Gutenburg invented the printing press. In 1471 the New Testament was first printed and distributed in Italian. In 1477 it was printed in French, in 1478 in Spanish, and in 1488 a Bohemian New Testament was published.

All of these events set the stage for the next great event that occurred, Martin Luther’s nailing of his ninety five theses to the door of the church at Wittenburg on Sunday, October 31st, 1517. Following Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli preached the Word of God in Switzerland. John Calvin, after being forced to leave France, also came to Switzerland where he became a major figure in the Protestant movement. Calvin’s writings are still considered required reading for students of theology. In France during this time, were a group of Protestants who were known as Huguenots. They became known as Huguenots because in the area of Toures, the king, who had died, whose name was Hugo, was believed to go out at night as a spirit. Due to the persecution going on at that time, Christians would go out at night to witness and preach the Word of God. The Christians, because of their behavior, coupled with the legend of King Hugo, became known as Huguenots. John Knox brought the Word of God to Scotland. His ministry developed into what is known today as the Presbyterian Church. In England, King Henry VIII began to reject the authority of the Roman Church as well. William Tyndale became a champion of the Reformation in England. In 1520 he translated and published the entire Bible in English. He was thanked for his efforts by the Roman Church by being burned at the stake.

All of these men were wonderful, God fearing men who loved God and did the best they could to reform the Church and return to the purity of the Word of God with the resources that were available to them, but the resources were limited during that time in history and many were influenced by Roman theology. Some of these men, like Martin Luther, were deeply devoted to the Roman Church, even though they desired to see it reform. All of them stood in the face of tremendous opposition and persecution. Some gave their lives for what they believed. All of these men, and many others through the centuries since, are responsible for the awesome privilege we have today of not just having the printed Bible but having the tools to research the scriptures, and gain an understanding God’s Word, of being able to gather together to study the Word of God, freely, without the threat of death hanging over our heads – at least not yet.

The work of these men continues today. The Church today, both Protestant and Roman, continues in need of a reformation. Doctrines introduced into Christianity during the dark days of its rejection of the truth of God’s Word need to continue to be uncovered and cleansed from its thinking. There is still work to be done. The Church needs to conduct itself nobly and learn to recognize the doctrines in its system of beliefs that do not line-up with the teaching of scripture and not be afraid to reject them, and change, and return to true, God inspired doctrine. The Church must examine its doctrines and practices in light of the divine authority of God’s Word to see “whether those things are so” (Acts 17:11). Those doctrines that that line-up with scripture, they ought to continue to hold on to. However, those doctrines that they promulgate that do not line up with the Word of God must be disposed of, no matter how dear to their heart they may be.

Perhaps the greatest requirement of a student of the scriptures is their willingness to unlearn. Christians must be willing to unlearn and give up and change any belief that does not line-up with scripture. Approaching the Word of God in this manner, while being at times unpopular, and not being without challenges, is rewarding.

© 2010 The Bible Study Group, Inc.

For questions, fellowships, or to support the work of the Bible Study Group, contact – fellowship@biblestudygroup.org, or write us at The Bible Study Group, 11605 Meridian Market View, Unit 124-125, Peyton, CO 80831. You can also join fellowship online every Sunday morning at 10:30 by going to htpp://www.dimdim.com and joining the meeting room – “thebiblestudygroup.” God bless you!

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