I'm in the middle of reading Eric Metaxas' new biography of Martin Luther. Like all of Metaxas' books, it is a great read. I highly recommend it. Reading it during the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation reminded me to be grateful to Martin Luther. Here are three things that I think are key.
1. Sola Fides
Martin Luther was a very devout monk who, during his early years, struggled with the burden of guilt over his sinfulness. In fact, his superior and confessor, Staupitz, became worn out with his interminable confession of the most picayune sins. Evidently Luther could never get to a place where he felt forgiven.
Luther had an incredible breakthrough of rediscovery that salvation is through the grace of God, that is, through the free gift of forgiveness that we must receive solely through faith, and not through works. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8-10).
What is the best Christmas gift you ever received? For me it was a bicycle from my parents. Did I have to pay them for it afterwards? No, because it was a GIFT. Salvation is also a gift. And the way we receive it is through faith in Jesus Christ, and what He has already done for me.
2. Sola Scriptura
The church of the 1500's was not the church of the Apostles. A huge organization of rules and rituals and traditions and hierarchy and budget had grown up around the original teaching of the apostles. The authority for faith and practice had moved its center from the teaching of the apostles revealed in the Bible to the church hierarchy itself. In Luther's time, people no longer knew the Bible, but instead, studied Aristotle and Aquinas.
But Martin Luther read the Bible as the Word of God and realized the authority it contained. Whereas the papacy had become a corrupt political seat, the Bible remained a constant--the Word of God from which all authority for faith and practice emanated. "For all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (1 Tim. 3:16-17).
This led to a process of "deconstructing" church practice in light of a fresh reading of the Bible. Thus, the reformation did not just happen 500 years ago, it is a process of reforming that must continually be happening. We must constantly look at our faith and practice while shining the light of the Bible on it with fresh insights.
3. The Priesthood of All Believers
Finally, Martin Luther realized that the New Testament did not set apart certain people to mediate a relationship with God. Instead, every individual was responsible and empowered to go directly to God. The difference between a Pastor and a Plumber is simply a matter of calling, not holiness. Both professions are holy if they are fulfilling the calling of God.
"I will pour out my Spirit on all people...sons and daughters...young men...old men...servants, both men and women" (Acts 2:16-18). "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms" (1 Pet. 4:10).
Of course, this introduced a radical democratization of not just the church, but all of society. Each one of us is responsible for our choices. We can't blame it on someone else. We must study and wrestle with the issues and make informed choices. But the great thing is that God's grace is always there to lift us up if we just place our trust in Him.
Happy 500th Anniversary.