Reformation 500 Conference: Why the Reformation Still Matters


  • Why bother with the Reformation?
  • What was the Reformation?
  • Why it is still relevant?

Introduction: Why bother with the Reformation?

We are approaching the 500 year anniversary of Martin Luther nailing up the 95 theses, which have been named as the catalyst that started the Reformation. You may be asking the question, why does this matter, why should I give up my time to think about something old that happened 500 years ago? If you are a Baptist, an Anglican, a Methodist, Brethren, a Congregationalist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Independent, amongst many others in the Protestant stream, you exist because of the Reformation. The Reformation has been called the greatest revival and movement of the Spirit in the church since the book of Acts. Apart from the events of the life of Christ and the apostles there has been no other event that has so radically shaped the church.

Here are just a few effects that you enjoy today because of the Reformation. Do you have a bible in your mother tongue? It was the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church to keep the bible out of the hands of the people because it could lead to everyone coming up with their own heresies, but the Reformers insisted that the believer aided by the Spirit could read and understand large parts of the bible. Do you sing songs in your worship services? In many medieval scenarios there were choirs who sang but not the people. Do you partake of both the bread and the cup when you take communion? This was hard fought over in the Reformation. Is there a pulpit and not an altar front and centre in your church? Do you have the public reading of scripture and a church service centring on God addressing His people through the word by expository preaching? Did you grow up or raise your family having family devotions? Do you believe in justification by faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone, in freedom of the conscience, the priesthood of every believer, and hold that our bibles only have 66 books? This is all from the Reformation. From exalting celibacy the Reformation restored the biblical view on marriage and the family. From exalting the monastic life as a high calling, the Reformation recaptured the biblical teaching that every person’s daily tasks were a means of glorifying God, and gave rise what has been called the ‘Protestant work ethic.’ If you don’t believe in purgatory, the divine right of kings to tell the church how to worship, that the mass is another sacrificing of Jesus Christ and can be worshipped, if you don’t pray to and through Mary, the saints and the angels, if you don’t go to confession or do acts of penance, if you don’t pray to icons or images, this is all because of the Reformation. These and many more benefits have come down to us as a result of the Reformation.

The Reformation matters like knowing who your parents and grandparents are matters. One of the obstacles we will meet with today as we seek to think about the Reformation is what C. S. Lewis called ‘chronological snobbery.’ What he meant by this was that attitude where we look back on everything and everyone in the past as irrelevant and stupider than we are. It is a self-deceit that comes from others accomplishments mistaken for our own and the looking down our noses at others as we stand on their shoulders. As a generation we are the most likely to despise the past. We live in an age where the iPhone 1, which is only 10 years old is already an antiquated useless relic. The Reformation matters because history matters, and the Reformation was one of the most significant moments in Christian history. God has often spoken to His people through the past giving them holy days to memorialise those great events where He intervened, e.g. the Passover which remembers the deliverance from Egypt, or the Lord’s Supper. One church historian compares studying church history to being a tourist visiting another country. As a visitor you see and appreciate things that the locals do not see or appreciate. And as you compare what you are looking at with where you are from you begin to notice things about home that you had never seen before. Church history is important because it is a recognition of the transgenerational nature of the church and seeking to derive the ministry of the Spirit through our fellow body members of other generations. I would argue that the reformation must still matter for us today because of the timeless truths that were rediscovered and are relevant for every age. I would argue that the truths are under attack in our own day and we are in dire need of rediscovering these truths for our time as well.