By PAUL J. SCHARF, M.Div.
Editor in Chief
Throughout history there has been a fascination with this date of October 31.
The day has been significant to pagans, occultists and Roman Catholics, in particular. But for the past 499 years, it has also held genuine importance for true, Bible-believing Christians.
It was, of course, on Oct. 31, 1517, that Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, publishing them for all to see when they came to church on All Saints’ Day. The message that he proclaimed is best summarized by these two verses which had awakened his soul:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16-17).
Luther’s courageous step was just the beginning—like the lighting of a candle. By re-introducing the Bible, the gospel and simple worship to the masses in Germany, Luther lit a spark that began to grow in intensity and fill the the land. First it was Europe, then—crossing the vast ocean—this New World.
We know this sweeping movement of God as the Protestant Reformation. It broke the hold that the Roman Catholic Church held upon all aspects of life during those centuries known as the Dark Ages.
We have much to be thankful for as we consider the impact that the Reformation has had upon the history of the world. Although as dispensationalists we may not trace our spiritual heritage directly to this event, yet we have been greatly aided and blessed by its fruit. This is seen in our possession of the Holy Scriptures in our own language, in a richer environment of theological investigation that we have gained from the Reformers and their disciples and even in the freedoms that we enjoy in this nation. We do not need to hold to Reformed theology to be thankful for the events that took place on Oct. 31, 1517.
As both the culture and the church seem to slip back into a pre-Reformational darkness, we should each take some time today—even as the world celebrates darkness, fear and death—to evaluate how we are doing 499 years into the this incredible movement that we call the Reformation.
Certainly, much will be done in 2017 to mark the 500th anniversary of this great event. Many seminaries, ministries and Christian groups will build upon it by offering trips to Germany, Switzerland and Rome to tour and study the sites of the Reformation. But we can begin even now to multiply the effect of this milestone in our own lives if we will approach this day soberly, spiritually and Scripturally.
I propose that we might even consider evaluating our Christian commitment and witness against men such as William Tyndale, Myles Coverdale, Thomas Bilney, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer. These courageous leaders of the English Reformation initially met together as part of a group of 50 referred to as the Germans when they frequented the White Horse Inn in Cambridge, England, in the 1520s. They went on through varied experiences to stand boldly for grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone and the glory of God alone. They would also give the world the first English Bible translated directly from Hebrew and Greek. This meant breaking with the Pope and crossing the king when either demanded a type of allegiance that these men could not give with a clear conscience—such as adherence to the doctrine of transubstantiation or agreement that the Mass provides a perpetual sacrifice for sins. Half of the Germans would be martyred for the stand that they took.
Each one of these men lived fascinating lives, and all of us need to become familiar with their stories. If you are not, today would be a great occasion to take some time and learn about them. As we study them for the purpose of examining ourselves, we will be left to ponder questions such as these:
- Do we share these Reformers’ commitment to the authority of Scripture?
- Do we have the courage and boldness that they displayed under pressure?
- Do we share their devotion to the Lord?
- Do we practice full obedience to the truth that we understand?
- Would we stand for Christ in the midst of circumstances such as they faced?
- Are we willing to die for Christ and the gospel?
And die they did. Two of them, in particular, died by burning at the stake on Oct. 16, 1555, during the Counter-Reformation under the reign of Bloody Mary, the daughter of King Henry VIII. Ridley and Latimer were condemned for their unwillingness to recant their rejections of salvation through the Mass. As they burned, Latimer—a renowned preacher who had an extraordinary ministry as a bishop, chaplain and professor—uttered one of the greatest quotations to be found in all of the English language:
Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out.
Had I been alive in England in those days, I hope I would have been one of the Germans. I hope I would have stood for Christ at any cost, in spite of the dangers that involved. But being alive at the current time—when we are witnessing such incredible world events that are setting the stage for the fulfillment of Bible prophecy—is no less exhilarating. And in the future, it may well be no less dangerous. It surely contains greater opportunity. Therefore, we must re-learn the lessons of these Reformers, gaining every last bit of wisdom from them that we can.
Above all else, I believe these men would point us to the words of the Apostle Paul in his final epistle, for their lives surely proved their fidelity to them. I close with these verses, wishing you a blessed Reformation Day:
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables (2 Tim. 4:1-4).
Editor’s Note: For more on this topic, you can listen to a related message by Paul Scharf by clicking here.
Copyright © 2016 Dispensational Publishing House, Inc.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 “Bishops Ridley and Latimer Burned;” <http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1501-1600/bishops-ridley-and-latimer-burned-11629990.html>; Internet; accessed 30 Oct. 2016.
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