Last Tuesday, social media was on fire with posts, articles, and quotes regarding the 500 year anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. There was already so much written and so many posts that I didn’t enter the fray. But all of us have a debt of gratitude to the brave reformers who changed the world in their time.
But Martin Luther nailing his ninety-five theses on Wittenberg’s Castle Church on October 31, 1517, wasn’t really the beginning. The seeds of the Reformation had begun to be sown centuries earlier and were growing by this time. Luther watered them and saw them come to full bloom, but the teachings of John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, Peter Waldo and others were already being proliferated among European peasants, and there was a growing groundswell of underground Christian opposition to many Roman Catholic doctrines among commoners. Movements such as the anabaptists in Europe were among Luther’s strongest supporters in the early years of the Reformation. And contemporaries of Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, William Tyndale, and a little later, John Calvin, helped fan reformation flames and solidify its impact.
I love history and enjoy studying the inner-workings of this very complicated movement. But I’m also disappointed in the reformers themselves. Some of the things they said and did were terrible. Luther said horrible things about Jews and he turned on his strongest early supporters because they believed in Biblical baptism, declaring that they should be drowned. John Calvin approved and oversaw the death sentences of dozens of teachers he disagreed with, not because they did anything wrong, but because they taught differently than he. I know, the times were different and medieval Europe was a bloody landscape. But leaders in the cause of Christ should have led the way in these reforms as well. Instead, they joined in some of their culture’s depravity.
Maybe there’s a good lesson for us here. We are to be grateful for the reformation teaching of the three solas: Sola Scriptura (Only Scripture), Sola Gratia (Only Grace), and Sola Fide (Only Faith). These three solas are still the heart of our belief system as protestants and undergird everything we teach here at The Bridge. But when the history of our time is written, I do not want an asterisk by our church name, in the way I think of Martin Luther’s antisemitism or Calvin’s bloody persecutions. It’s important that we know the truth AND that we practice that truth, living the way Jesus taught us to live in every way. That includes being counter-cultural at times, and loving those who disagree with us and even oppose us. Our lifestyle should not be derived from lost people around us, but from the teachings of Jesus and his early followers.
May we take the reformation handed to us and continue it in attitudes and actions that draw the rest of the world to Christ.