“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3)
Today we remember the 16th Century Reformation. Most historians believe that the Reformation was the greatest revival that ever came upon the church. In 1517, Christians who were true to their faith came out of the darkness of pagan Rome. God ordained this great spiritual movement at a most needy time when there was great religious upheaval and theological declension in Europe.
How the Reformation started
At the beginning of the 16th Century, Western Europe was predominantly Roman Catholic. Though the Roman church was powerful and rich, its disputes and lax practices were causing discontent among the people. Idolatrous practices (the worship of relics and saints, penance, prayers for the dead etc.) were placed above the truths of the Bible.
One controversial practice was the sole authority of the church to interpret the Bible for the common people. In England, John Wycliffe, an English priest and teacher at Oxford University, believed and taught that “the people had the right to read the Bible and interpret it for themselves. Despite protests by the church, followers of Wycliffe translated the Bible from Latin into English in 1382 and carried copies throughout the countryside. Wycliffe’s ideas spread into Bohemia, where Jan Hus widely preached them in powerful sermons” (http://history-world.org/reformation.htm).
The teachings of Wycliffe and Hus had a profound influence on a German Augustinian monk, Martin Luther who was struggling with the corrupt practices of the Roman church; in particular the sale of indulgences which permitted people to pay their way to heaven.
Though Luther applied himself diligently to obey the church teachings and the pope, there was no peace in his heart. Preparing for his lectures one day, the troubled priest came across the truth: “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1: 17). He found the precious statement again in Habakkuk 2: 4. It was faith – not works, nor indulgences, nor penance, nor the teachings of the church – that could make one righteous before God.
Deeply convicted by this Scriptural truth, Luther drafted his ninety-five theses and nailed it to the Wittenberg church door on 31st October 1517. In his theses, the monk called for a return to God’s Word as the final authority of faith and practice. This clarion call finally broke the yoke of Rome and within a short time, the Reformation swept across the whole of Europe.
The spread of the Reformation
The Reformation was accompanied by strong and uncompromising preaching of the Word of God. During this time, God raised other reformers – men of courage and eloquence – to lead the church out of Rome and return to the historic Christian faith.
In Switzerland, the Reformation began with two men – John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli. In Scotland, John Knox led his country from the bondage of Rome, while in England, reformers like Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, John Hooper and William Tyndale were burnt at the stake for standing true to God’s Word.
Continuing the Reformation
As a result of the Reformation, God’s Word was freely disseminated to the common people. We owe to it our rich and sound Biblical heritage. By God’s grace, the Reformation torch has been passed on to the Bible-Presbyterian Church in Singapore. We owe much to our founding father, the late Rev Timothy Tow who led the 20th Century Reformation in South-east Asia.
We thank God for preserving His Word throughout the ages. As Bible-Presbyterians, we must continue with the battle for the truth. In these perilous times when many shall “depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4: 1), let us not forget that the Reformation was won for us through the blood of the martyrs. Refusing to compromise their beliefs, these valiant reformers sealed the glorious truths of God with their lives. May their unwavering courage and faith encourage us to continue the work of defending “the faith that was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). May the Lord help us to remain faithful and steadfast till He returns for us. Amen.