Another Reformation?

Lars Qualben, in his book, “A History of the Christian Church,” gives a brief description of Erfurt, German in the sixteenth century. He writes, “At the age of eighteen, Luther went to the University of Erfurt, the most celebrated institution of learning at the time. This wealthy city of Europe had an abundance of churches with some of the best preachers in the country. As a university student, Luther was a good, pious Catholic. He attended church services faithfully and was especially fond of Sebastian Weinman, a powerful preacher who sharply rebuked the prevailing vices of the day. Luther listened to him and other priests in Erfurt, but later said that he had never heard a truly evangelical sermon from any pulpit in the city.”

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Erfurt had many churches, but little Gospel.

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Qualben continues, “The University of Erfurt had been foremost in Germany in introducing the new learning. The Humanistic influence had created a general desire for a more liberal, intellectual culture and an inspiration for improvement in the affairs of the Church. However, a close and strict alliance between church and the university remained. A severe criticism of prevailing vices and corruptions existed in humanistic circles, but this criticism did not lead anyone to the Gospel and a saving faith in Jesus Christ.”

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In this setting, a young man with a brilliant mind and a strong personality named Martin Luther entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. During the next fourteen years, Luther lived with his Bible and discovered six basic truths that changed his life. They were:

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1. ÊWe are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. It was while preparing his lectures on Romans for his students at the university of Wittenberg that Luther had his Damascus experience. He labored with this question: How can one appease an angry God? But then the day came when the Holy Spirit opened the doors to Luther’s heart, and he read these words: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ÔThe righteous will live by faith.'”

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Luther stood before God as righteous. It was not by his good works, but by trusting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. “By grace you are saved through faith.” This is the primary message of the reformation.

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And to think that the poor people at Erfurt were buying indulgences so that their sins could be taken care of. Such foolishness had to be exposed and stopped.

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2. Every Christian has direct access to God through Jesus Christ. God speaks directly to us through his Word, and we can come to him in prayer. It is what we call a personal relationship with God. We refer to this teaching as the universal priesthood of all believers. It is not necessary to go through bishops and popes. God is available to the believer at all times.

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3. The Bible is the sole authority for faith and life. Tradition has value only as far as it is based in Scripture.

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4. The Bible cannot be understood from human speculation, but must be interpreted by the aid of the Holy Spirit.

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Luther confessed that on the day he received his doctor’s degree he did not understand the way of salvation. It was not until the Holy Spirit had spoken through the Word that he understood God’s way.

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5. The essence of God is love. Religion is not based on law, but on grace. This grace is free and must be accepted and enjoyed by all in faith.

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We seek to do the will of God as we live out of love for him. He freely forgives Ð purely out of grace Ð us when we stumble and fall.

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6. It is the blessed privilege of every Christian to have full certainty of their salvation in Christ. We do not have to live in darkness regarding our eternal destiny. Christ has prepared a place for us in the heavenly mansions.

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Luther looked at Erfurt and saw how the people lived in spiritual bondage. They had to know God’s redemptive love in Jesus Christ. This led him to write the ninety-five theses and nail them to the Castle Church door at Wittenberg. These biblical truths should have been debated, but the Church did not want to be involved in the Reformation and clean house of all her errors that had accumulated through the years.

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Does Erfurt in the sixteenth century have similarities to your town and mine in the twenty-first century?

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Are people ignorant of God’s plan for their salvation? Do many live and die without the assurance of their salvation? Are there those who believe and teach that the Bible must be brought up to date so that we can be more in conformity with our culture? Do we understand that it is only when the Scriptures are opened by the Spirit that this is God’s revelation and our only authority in matters of faith and life?

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If Erfurt has given us a spiritual picture of our day, it is time for another reformation. Were God to raise up a second Martin Luther, could there be another reformation? As I listen to people of all denominations Ð and some outside the Church Ð I wonder what God has in store for us. We have walked away from some basics of the Scriptures. I believe a spiritual hunger exists that needs to be fed, and many people are ready for a spiritual awakening within our land.

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How God will bring about another reformation, no one knows. Maybe this time it will not be one person. God could use many ways to bring his Church back to the biblical teachings. How he will act we do not know, but this we do know: Jesus Christ has said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). He is watching over His Church.