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The Scriptures Alone - The Book of Revelation
Week 38, 2016
We have been covering the great falling away from the faith—the slide that took place in the Middle Ages and began when the church married the Roman Empire. After about a thousand years it reached its ultimate depravity around 1400. During this period, many great souls arose to challenge the darkness of their times, and multitudes were tortured and killed for this.
Then the church began to sell “indulgencies” by which one could purchase the grace or mercy of God. The doctrine said that if one paid enough, they would not have to suffer purgatory. They could even pay to have a deceased loved one released from it. They could also pay to have sins remitted, even those they had not committed yet but planned to. This practice provoked a German monk from the obscure village of Wittenberg to take a stand against this great darkness. When he did, he pushed it back. His name was Martin Luther. Luther ignited what is now known as The Reformation for the way that it reformed the church.
Martin Luther nailed his protest of the debauchery of the church to the door of the local cathedral in what is called “The 95 Theses.” Because of his boldness and refusal to compromise his convictions, this obscure monk from an obscure village probably changed the world more than any conqueror. In a short time, Europe was aflame with the fires of revival and reformation, and they continue to burn in some form to this day.
What enabled Martin Luther to do what others had not, even though they shared the same basic message? One factor that was no doubt a big reason was that the printing press had been invented when Luther took his stand. This made the mass production of books possible, cutting the price of a book to a tiny fraction of what it had been and massively increasing the number of those who had a Bible available to them. The first book off the press was the Gutenberg Bible, a German translation of the Scriptures. To this day, the Bible remains the bestselling book in the world, and it continues to bring reform to those seeking God’s truth.
As the Bible was promulgated and read, the contrast between its teachings and the practices of the church were apparent. At first the reformers did not want to leave the institutional church, but just reform it. As the church resisted reformation and expanded the Inquisition, it produced possibly the worst persecution yet. This soon created a divide that was too great, and the breaking away of the Protestant churches and the nations where they were preeminent was unavoidable.
Germany, the country where reformation first took root, became a stronghold of the truth and a haven for those fleeing the deadly Inquisition. Then John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli rose up in Switzerland and John Knox in Scotland. All were brilliant theologians and prophetic preachers. They fanned the flames of reformation and deepened its roots in Scripture.
The “battle cry” of The Reformation was sola scriptura, meaning “the Scriptures alone” as the basis for doctrine. This was a direct assault on the Catholic Church’s doctrine—that the Pope’s word carried greater authority than the Scriptures. The Reformation’s movements refused any doctrine that was not clearly established in the Scriptures. The great struggle between the authority and opinions of men and that of the Bible began that continues to this day.
Where do we stand on this? Many have a doctrine that the written Word of God is preeminent over all other opinions, but they do not know His Word well enough to counter those opinions that still permeate the church. Charles Spurgeon once said that he could find ten men who would die for the Bible for every one who would read it. It does not do us much good to believe that the Word of God is preeminent if we do not know the Word of God in order to live by its truth.
next week 39