You don’t need a sociology degree to see movements calcify into institutions, then the institutions decay and crumble. This raises a question, since we have passed the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing 95 theses to the church door. How is the Reformation still a global movement?
And it is still a movement. Worldwide, there are 900 million Protestants and 90 million Lutherans. There are 24 million Lutherans in Africa.
I’m convinced there is a catalyst sustaining the movement’s momentum. My thoughts are inspired by a quote of Luther himself:
“Though I lived as a religious leader without reproach, I felt, with the most disturbed conscience imaginable, that I was a sinner before God. I did not love, indeed I hated, the righteous God who punishes sinners.”
I believe in transparency as a leader, but not that much transparency. Heroes of the faith don’t go around admitting they “hated” God. The quote points to just how deeply Luther was conflicted with God.
Luther was keenly aware of his sinfulness and God’s judgement upon his sins. According to the Roman Catholic Church, Christians had to earn the merits of Jesus’ forgiveness. Christians were never certain they ever could work off all their sins.
This Roman Catholic teaching struck a deep chord in Luther. It is part of human nature to long for the affirmation of our fathers. This extends to our Heavenly Father as well. According to the Church, Luther could never be certain he would receive the acceptance of the Heavenly Father.
The Reformation’s staying power is often attributed to the three “Solas” that form the framework of the Reformation: “Scripture alone,” “Grace alone” and “Faith alone.” I am not convinced these three were enough to sustain a movement for half a millennium. Instead, I think the three “Solas”are the foundation that supports the catalyst.
When Luther was hopeless, God opened the Scriptures to show he was saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ. Luther came to understand Jesus restored him to a right relationship with God. In this relationship Luther was unconditionally accepted by the Father.
Unconditional acceptance by the Father was overwhelming to Luther and his fellow Reformers. This acceptance by God the Father satiated a need deep within them. It was if the Father were saying, “I love you.” Once God convinced the Reformers He accepted them, no power on earth could stop them from sharing their experience.
The movement continues to today because human nature hasn’t changed. We all have, to one extent or another, poisoned our personal relationships. We all shove our shame in darkened corners. We have litanies of how we have fallen short of the glory of God. And we, too, want the affirmation of our Heavenly Father.
We also have found we can’t save ourselves from our sin and sinfulness. It doesn’t matter godly we try to live, what psychological techniques we employ or self-help process we follow. We can’t gain the favor of the Father.
Like Luther, we know hopelessness. In the midst of hopelessness, we were baptized. We heard the Gospel. We were given the gift of faith by God.
Being saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus is still the spark. It’s how we experience God the Father’s forgiveness and acceptance. We can’t help but share about the impact God has on our lives. Because of this catalyst, the Reformation movement continues today.
Share your thoughts about the Reformation movement in the comments or shoot me an email.
(This post, with a few edits, has been published for the Reformation anniversary since 2016)