Growing up in a B-P church, events commemorating the reformation were an annual “formality”. As regular as clockwork in the October of each year, we would commemorate the reformers; Martin Luther and his 95 theses, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli. I remember vividly that the reformation would take place close to October because our Sunday School lessons would often be punctuated by exasperated reminders that we were not to go around carving pumpkins or dressing up like vampires.
I must confess that most of the doctrines of the reformation flew above my head as a child. I shook my head obediently when taught about indulgences and nodded my head at Martin Luther pinning up his 95 theses in opposition to the corrupt practices of the church. But if you had asked my younger self if the reformation was as important as events such as Christmas and Easter? I would have disagreed!
It was only when I befriended more friends from other denominations in university that I began to examine what the reformation meant and realised how ironic it was that it had become such a formality to me. Let me share an anecdote.
In my first couple of months in university, I remember a Catholic professor asking me if I were a Christian. I affirmed it and added that I was a Protestant. His brusque response was, “what’s there to protest about?” I was rather miffed at that point and bit my tongue to keep from responding – “many things!”
There are many key differences between the Roman Catholic faith and the Christian faith, the most crucial one being that Christians believe that salvation is by grace alone [Ephesians 2:8-9]. To be clear, I do not mean to say that any conclusions about the salvation of an entire denomination of faith can or should be made – there may be, by God’s grace, some Roman Catholics who are saved, by placing their trust entirely on the atoning work of Christ. But the work of reformers has clearly exposed that Roman Catholic practices and beliefs, especially on the addition of works to the criteria for salvation, deviate from the teachings of the Bible. A blind eye cannot be turned to such a significant difference, even in the name of desiring harmony.
It must be said also that while the historical reformation was primarily a response to the teachings of the Roman Catholic church, what was more remarkable was the spiritual revival that took place. What is striking about the reformation is that it was less about the outward reformation of practices but about a reformation of the heart.
Even though I call myself a “Protestant Christian”, I understand I too can easily fall prey to finding my salvation in a label or doctrine.
A heart that desires the sole glory of God, who understands salvation (as spelt out in Scripture alone) is by grace alone, faith alone, and through Christ alone, would naturally live a life that reflects that spiritual reality.
So, this October, while I listen noddingly to another recount of Martin Luther, my prayer is that my own faith would be strengthened and that I might gain a deeper experiential understanding of what it means that I am saved by grace alone, and that I am to live for Christ alone.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:Psalm 139:23-24
And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”