Oct. 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On this historic day in 1517, the theologian Martin Luther posted his famous argu- ments, known as his 95
theses, for debate on the door of the church
in Wittenberg, Germany. The arguments
kicked off the Protestant Reformation, a
world-changing series of changes in
churches and societies around the globe.
Many Christians are celebrating this
anniversary. Should we join in? Should
In recent years some Christian leaders
have asked whether the Reformation is
over (historian Mark Noll even has a book
by that title). They argue the theological
and political issues Luther debated with
the Roman Catholic Church have either
been settled or are now secondary issues.
Others argue the divide between Protestants and Catholics is just as serious
today and say we must continue this
I think the Reformation still matters to
Protestant believers because it gave us
vitally important gifts. At least three of
these are central to the gospel and essentially independent of Protestant and
Catholic church relations.
These gifts are often summarized with
Latin phrases – sola scriptura, sola gratia
and sola fide.
(BY SCRIPTURE ALONE)
The Reformers in the 16th century insisted knowledge of God and obedience
to Christ are possible only through the
Holy Scriptures given by the Holy Spirit.
Although Christians have long debated
how other authorities such as tradition,
personal experience and church teaching
stand relative to Scripture, the Reformation reinforced that all theological claims
can only be made under Scripture’s authority and guidance.
Obviously that doesn’t mean we all
agree on what Scripture teaches. Even the
Reformers disagreed on many points. But
the movement pushed everyone – Roman
Catholics included – to ensure church
teachings are grounded in Scripture.
Today when we debate important matters such as gender identity, medical ethics
or how churches are responding to refugees, we don’t agree on every point. But we
are truly reformed Christians – no matter
our denominational stripe – when we insist
we are being obedient to Jesus only when
we pore over and apply the Scriptures
under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
SOLA GRATIA (BY GRACE ALONE)
If we study the history of God’s people in
the Bible and beyond, we see how easy it
is to start justifying ourselves based on
Galatians uses the words “fall from
grace” to describe this tendency to justify
and congratulate ourselves. We all experience this daily, whether we’re Evangelical,
Charismatic, Catholic, Orthodox or
Martin Luther emphasized the importance of grace so much that some have
wrongly accused him of teaching good
works are worthless.
On the contrary. Luther argued good
deeds (which he called “active righteous-
ness”) mean nothing unless we do them as
an outflow of what he called “passive
righteousness” – an unmerited gift of a
right standing before God in Jesus Christ.
We receive that gift of righteousness
outside ourselves and our own efforts.
Good works, in other words, are only good
when they come through us as received
from God in Christ.
Luther rediscovered our relationship to
God exists only by grace. In fact grace alone
is not just a part of the gospel. It’s the core.
Only by coming to grasp God’s gracious
favour and mercy toward us can we be
spiritually empowered to extend grace to
The Reformation was a critical reminder
of the priority of God’s grace. We still need
that reminder today.
SOLA FIDE (BY FAI TH ALONE)
The 16th-century Reformers understood
both Scripture and grace (embodied in the
person of Jesus Christ) are unmerited gifts.
But they also insisted we need personal
trust in God to appropriate these gifts.
In fact Luther preferred to speak of
faith as trust in God.
Just as Jesus came to fulfil Scripture
through obedience to the Father – what
Scripture calls Christ’s faithfulness – so
we are exhorted to respond to the Father’s
gift of His Son attested to in Scripture.
When the Apostle Paul writes we are
“justified by faith,” he means we are saved
only as we put our full trust in the sole
sufficiency of Christ’s obedience to the
Father on our behalf.
Does the Reformation matter? As long
as the authority of Scripture, the priority
of grace and the necessity of faith matter
– then yes, the Reformation matters. /FT
DOES THE REFORMATION STILL MATTER?
WE MUST NEVER FORGET THE PRIORITY OF GOD’S GRACE BY DAVID GURE TZKI
David Guretzki of Ottawa is the EFC’s executive
vice-president and resident theologian.