500 Years of Reformation

Pastor David gives a fascinating overview of what brought about the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago and why it still matters today!


Morning.  My name is David Sorn.  I’m the Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.  Morning to you.  
Traditionally on the Sunday after Christmas, I’ve given my annual “State of Renovation” address, but we’re actually going to do something a bit different today. 
For two reasons: 
1) We’ve talked at length about the “future of our church” throughout 2017…
Including a “state of Renovation” message when we purchased land back in Feb., an entire series on our vision in April, and our Harvest Series on our future building. 
2) Today, the last day of 2017, is my last chance to do a message on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation…. ☺ 
Something I’ve been itching to do for quite some time. 
500 years ago, was the year 1517. 
1517 was, what historians call, the official start of the Protestant Reformation (thanks to this guy on the screen…Martin Luther). 
Up until that point, there was basically just one denomination of churches
With the exception of the Eastern Orthodox Church who had broken off 450 years earlier
I’m going to call this “one Christian Church” the “Catholic Church” from here on out…
…because, when Luther and others broke away in the 1500’s…what remained was “the Catholic Church” and the new churches (think Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, etc.) were the Protestant churches. 
Now for the first 1500 years of Christianity, this one Christian church had its incredible “ups” and terrible “downs” 
Unfortunately, by the time of the middle ages, corruption had run rampant, and many of main tenets of what originally made up Christianity were being lost.  
The Protestant Reformation was a movement that brought Christianity back to its historical and biblical roots. 
And The Reformation is incredibly important. 
And so today…I want to not only look at the movement itself…but also dive into 3 major doctrines of the reformation. 
3 Biblical teachings of the reformation that are KEY for us to understand as modern-day Christians. 

But before we get there…let me give you an idea of what the church looked like in the hundred or so years leading up to 1517.  
Much of the life of faith had been taken away from the people. 
In fact, going to church in the middle ages felt more like living in the Old Testament than the New. 
When you went to church, the priest actually turned his back to the congregation during mass.  
The service was in Latin (which unless you were highly educated, you couldn’t even understand) 
By the way, the Catholic Mass was in Latin all the way until the 1960’s! 
And so, in the 1500’s…most people knew almost nothing about the Bible…but went to church every week! 
And because of this superstition abounded. 
Christians in the middle ages were almost pagan in their superstitions  
Relics were a huge deal. 
If your church had the arm bone or thigh bone or ANY bone of a saint who was martyred…that was an incredibly big deal!  
Might help you get healed. 
Just about every church in Europe had acquired an original splinter of the cross or others had pieces of the dress Mary wore when she gave birth and so on. 
And these would be used as powerful objects along with praying to these saints for power. 
Again, sounds more cultic than Christian…but that was life in the middle ages. 
And that’s life when you don’t even know what the Bible says!
And part of what got the church so off track were the theological doctrines that the Catholic Church slowly developed over time. 
Some of these doctrines the Catholic Church still adheres to today. 
For instance, in the Catholic Church, there are two sources of authority. 
1) The Sacred Scripture and 2) The Sacred Tradition.  That is…The teaching of the Church (primarily the pope and his councils) 
And those 2 things are EQUAL in their authority 
The Catholic Church believes in what’s called Apostolic Succession. 
That’s the idea that Peter was the first pope (not found in the Bible btw)…and the authority of the apostles has therefore been passed down Pope to Pope. 
And thus, the Pope and his Church (like the first apostles when they wrote the Bible) have the authority to continue to further define and clarify God’s Truth for humankind.  
So for example, in 1950 the Pope declared that Mary, at the end of her life, also ascended into heaven (like Jesus)
The Bible says nothing of that sort…but for the Catholic…that is now TRUE…because the teaching of the church/pope carries equal weight to Scripture. 
You can, of course, see where this can get really out of hand. 
And the Middle Ages is the lowest of low points for the Catholic Church. 
Even Catholic Historians blush a little bit when asked about this time period. 
By the end of the middle ages, the Popes had grown increasing corrupt. 
Many had extramarital affairs…ordered crusades…and used the Vatican and treasury for their own purposes and pursuits.
At one point…there were even 3 different men all claiming to be the Pope!
And so put this all together….
It’s the 1500’s…
People are losing their faith in the “church” and the pope
Many people (because they can’t read the Bible) no longer know what Christianity really is. 
And for those who are still trying…they are tangled up in some sort of faith that, from the outside-looking-in, actually looks to be the complete opposite of Christianity. 
Most Christians in the 1500’s were exhausting themselves just trying to be “good enough” to get to heaven someday. 
Go to mass enough, go to confession enough, take the sacraments, pray to the right saints, pray the rosary, don’t commit a mortal sin…
And just maybe…your faith in Christ will be enough to one day get you to heaven. 
But certainly not right away. 
See the belief then, and still today for Catholics, is that very few Christians actually die and go directly to heaven. 
Those who don’t believe go to hell. 
But for Christians, unless you’re a saint or really close to it, Catholics believe that all other Christians first go to Purgatory. 
Purgatory (again…not a Biblical concept…but one invented by Church Tradition)…
Purgatory (for Catholics) is a place where Christians go to pay for their sins that they didn’t finish paying for on earth. 
How long you are in purgatory all depends on how many sins you still need to pay for. 
Could be 10 years, could be a million years. 

And it was out of this belief about Purgatory that Catholics developed a practice called the indulgence. 
An indulgence was a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo (either in this life…or usually in purgatory). 
At first, you could be granted an indulgence by perhaps saying a repeated prayer, or embarking on a spiritual pilgrimage, or doing a specific good work. 
And the Catholic Church supposedly had the power to shorten your punishment due to what’s called “The Treasury of Merit” 
The idea was that Christ and Saints stored up so many extra good works that they don’t need them all. 
So the Pope & the Church can loan them out to you…so you can shorten your time in purgatory. 
For Catholics, indulgences still exist today. 
In fact, in 2013, Pope Francis famously announced that all those who attend World Youth Day in Brazil…or even watch online (and also take the necessary steps) will be granted an indulgence. 
Thus…their time in purgatory will be reduced.  
But go back to 1517 now…and say you’re a Christian in Germany. 
You, like all of the other Christians in your German church, haven’t read the Bible. 
You only know what the “church is teaching you”…so of course you believe in purgatory. 
You’re thinking…you might even have to suffer there for 5,000 years before you get to heaven. 
And you hear of reports that now…you can actually be granted an indulgence to cut short time in purgatory for just for a nice donation to the church in Rome! 
You don’t even need to do anything anymore…just cough up some money!
This is the odd spark that ignited the Reformation in 1517
The Pope at the time, was LEO the 10th…and he was embarking on building St. Peter’s Basilica. 
The famous landmark in Rome…which is also the largest church in the world. 
And guess how it was financed? 
Through the sale of indulgences. 
A Dominican Monk, named Johann Tetzel, was tasked w/ travelling around Germany and telling the commoners that NOW they could take indulgences one step further. 
Previously, indulgences merely shortened their punishment in purgatory for their past sins. 
But Tetzell said that now…indulgences could also save up against their own future sins (essentially allowing you to skip Purgatory)  
OR…if they really cared about Aunt Gertrude…who just recently passed…they could even buy an indulgence and end her suffering in purgatory!
In fact, Tetzel, even had a famous ditty he would sing to the Germans. 
He sang, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” 
Now again, if you’re living in Medieval Germany, and you’ve never read the Bible (because you can’t!), and you’re thinking that you’re going to have to suffer for 5,000 years in purgatory before you go to heaven…
How much would you pay?!?
Well, pretty soon, people in Germany aren’t going to pay anything. 
There was, at the time, a little-known German Monk (named Martin Luther) who had been tasked with teaching the Books of Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews at his local university. 
And in his study of Scripture, he kept reading the Bible and discovering…this isn’t AT ALL what the church is teaching 
And when the indulgence seller Tetzel began approaching Luther’s town, Luther decided it was time to take action. 
And so, on October 31st, 1517, he walked to church in town and nailed his 95 Theses to the door. 
They were 95 objections concerning where the church had gone away from what the Bible really teaches.
Luther originally posted them in Latin…but his students quickly translated them into German.  
And because of the new invention of the Printing Press (which was a huge reason for the spread of the reformation) …Luther’s writings were all over Germany within a matter of weeks! 
Luther then began to write books a furious pace…and people devoured his writings all over Europe. 
He was eventually excommunicated by the Catholic Church…but He was so popular…that the German Princes defended him…and thus he wasn’t killed. 
One of Luther’s next great contributions (which took place in 1522) was to translate the New Testament into German…so people could actually rediscover for themselves what Christianity actually was all about.  
This movement of God…combined with the fact…that many European Royals and Powers were itching anyway to get out from under the power of the corrupt Popes…ignited a Reformation that was a long time coming. 
Luther had hoped initially to just reform the church from within, but when the Catholic Church was unwilling to change…
…new Denominations of Protestant Churches began. 
And now, of course, we have thousands of them. 

God used Luther (and his contemporizes like John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli) to do an amazing thing in Christian history. 
And it’s worth us taking time to remember what they did…and what they believed in. 
And so, I want to, from Scripture, take a look at the 3 Key Reformation Doctrines (Biblical Beliefs) that I mentioned earlier
The Reformers fought so hard for this…and it’s so critical that we don’t lose sight of this in the future. 
In fact, I would argue, that many of the denominations that some of these men from 500 years ago started…have already begun to lose sight of these very key doctrines that distinguished them in the first place! 
So this is perhaps more important than you maybe even realize. 
Let’s take a look at the first one
1: Scripture Alone 
A lot of Protestant Christians take this for granted nowadays, but Luther brought Christianity back to remembering that our faith is based on God’s Word and God’s Word only!
The Bible ALONE is our only authoritative truth! 
No pope, no church creed, no denominational teachings  
(2 Timothy 3:16) – NIV 
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
The Bible is the Word of God AND we’re taught to not accept ANY other Gospel or addition to it. 

(Galatians 1:8-9) – NIV 
8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

Or look at the warning from the very last chapter of the Bible 
(Revelation 22:18) – NIV 
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 

This still really matters for today!
Pastors and churches don’t get to decide new views on Christianity. 
Every teaching and belief must be supported by Scripture…and Scripture alone. 
We don’t each get to decide what’s true for us…and go from there.  
Nor do we get to throw out the parts of the Bible that make us uncomfortable or the parts we feel like don’t fit with our culture. 
Look what happened 500 years ago when the church was making up its own rules
Luther and the Reformers did an amazing job of bringing us back rightful boundaries of “Scripture ALONE” 
Let’s take a look at the second key reformation doctrine 
1: Scripture Alone 
2: Faith Alone 
The Reformers often would talk about “faith alone” and ALSO “grace alone” and I’ll combine them for our purposes. 
Just as revitalizing as “Scripture Alone,” was Luther’s insistence that the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith alone.  
He encouraged people to read their new German Bibles for themselves and discover that there was no such thing as indulgences, purgatory, and praying to the saints 
He encouraged them to read for themselves that salvation was not some strange combination of faith in Christ that was then earned through a life of good works…and then the rest of your sin would be purged out in the purgatory.  
No, the opposite!  The opposite! 
Salvation is not a reward, it’s a gift! 
And when people got a hold of this…and read it for themselves for the first time…the reformation spread like wildfire! 
And this Doctrine is about as CORE as you can get to our Christian faith…and we must never ever lose it.  
(Romans 3:28) – NIV 
For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

(Ephesians 2:8-9) – NIV 
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
The teaching of Christianity is that Jesus’ offer of salvation is a GIFT…one you can choose to open or not. 
There is no other way. 
There is no way you can earn your way there. 
You get there through FAITH ALONE…and nothing else. 
And your faith is completely sufficient because it is placed in Him 
(1 John 5:13) – NIV 
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
You are completely saved by your faith. 
You don’t need to go to confession to lesson your future punishment
There is no purgatory where you must pay off the rest of your sins. 
Either Jesus paid for your sins…or he didn’t!
You are saved by faith alone through grace alone through Christ alone! 
THAT is what God helped Luther rediscover when he studied the Bible 500 years ago. 
Let’s take a look at the third key reformation doctrine 
And the by the way, remember, Luther and the reformers aren’t inventing new doctrines…but bringing the church back to its 1st century roots. 
1: Scripture Alone 
2: Faith Alone 
3: The Priesthood of all Believers
This doctrine comes out of a phrase Peter writes in 1 Peter
(1 Peter 2:5) – NEW LIVING TRANSLATION!!!!!
And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.
But what does that mean?  The “priesthood of all believers?”
In the Old Testament…(we’ve seen this in Exodus even) often Moses or the priests were the only ones who could get close to God. 
As priests…they served as intermediaries for the people. 
And the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages (and even still today) often operated in the same sort of way. 
To confess your sins and be forgiven…you went to the priest (who is an intermediary between you and God). 
To receive any of the 7 sacraments…you needed the priest  
Want to know what God thinks on a certain matter…the priests and the church will tell you
But Protestants believe that ALL Christians are like priests. 
In that, ALL Christians have a special and intimate relationship with God…and we don’t need an intermediary besides Jesus 
(1 Timothy 2:5) – NIV 
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,
This is why…when Jesus died on the cross…that the veil that curtained off the holy of holies in the temple was torn. 
It used to be that only the high priest could go in there. 
Now, all Christians can have direct access to God. 
Now, this may sound a bit theological, but it’s implications are actually intensely practical…and brought immediate and wipe-sweeping changes to the church of the Reformation.  
In fact, if you were in a German Church that participated in the Reformation, your church looked vastly different in 1527 compared to 1517
Luther immediately got rid of 5 of the 7 sacraments of the Catholic Church (no more confession, last rites) 
Your priest was now a pastor….and he wore plain clothes instead of elaborate vestments
He probably got married and had kids…All of this because…celibacy and fancy robes for pastors isn’t a Biblical mandate…and we go by Scripture alone. 
You no longer were just watching the priest utter chants in a language you couldn’t understand. 
The pastor was explaining the Bible to you…in your OWN LANGUAGE!
The Reformers also brought congregational singing and worship back into Christianity!
Reformers also let Christians drink of the wine in communion for the first time in centuries!
You stopped praying to the saints and to Mary…because again…you don’t need another intermediary. 
It’s the priesthood of all believers. 
We all can go right to God. 
The experience of “the church service” changed drastically when Luther helped  Christians rediscover the Bible. 
And today…500 years later…we have the Reformers (like Luther) to thank for that. 

If you like history…this is all fascinating. 
If you don’t, you may wonder, why does this even matter??  
Well, why is history important in the first place?  
Because, as the saying goes, it repeats itself. 
And if we do not learn from it, we are prone to repeat our mistakes. 
And the goal here isn’t to go back to Luther…but back to what Luther was pointing us to.  
Back to Scripture…back to Christ. 
For the last 2,000 years, and for the centuries to come…
The church has always needed…and always will need…leaders who will lead us back to our roots. 
Back to Scripture Alone…Faith Alone.   
And this is still necessary today… 
Our world is constantly obsessing over new ideas, and with each year that goes by, we become leerier of ancient ideas (like those of the Bible) 
But let us remember our history from 500 years ago… 
When people shape Christianity in their own image…to their own liking…nothing good comes out of it.  
But when people have grounded themselves in Scripture Alone…faith alone…Grace alone…Christ alone…
The world has been changed. 
Let me pray

Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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