This year is the 500th anniversary of a decisive turning point in the history of the church. In 1517 the Roman Catholic Church had dominated in the West for generations. But during that long period of political power the organization descended into corruption.
The corrupt church had to keep its members in the dark in order to protect itself from accountability. Its teachings and practices had departed dramatically from God’s word. But a man named Martin Luther was brave enough to risk taking a stand for the truth.
Luther’s personal spiritual pilgrimage led him back to the Bible. He realized how far Roman Catholicism had strayed from God’s word. Luther challenged the leaders of the church to reform their practices and align their teaching with Scripture.
The hearts of the church leaders were darkened by the wealth and influence they gained from oppressing God’s people. They refused to amend their ways. Instead, they tried to destroy the messenger.
But the Roman Catholic establishment underestimated the power of God’s word. Martin Luther and others like him began to expose the lies of the Roman Catholic institution. The truth revealed in the pages of Scripture uncovered the deceit of sixteenth-century Catholicism.
Other brave and talented people translated the Bible into the languages of the people so they could know the truth. Roman Catholic leaders tried to keep the Bible out of the people’s hands, capturing and killing those who translated and published the Bible for common folks to read.
The results of all this were catastrophic for the Roman Catholic institution’s grip on power. Their refusal to make needed corrections forced genuine believers to break with Roman Catholicism and form new local churches built on the truth of God’s word. What started as reform became a revolt against entrenched falsehood and the birth of a new movement, Protestant churches.
The history of the Reformation is a reminder that God’s word is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. Church leaders may go astray but God’s written word will always restore God’s people to the narrow path which leads to life.
By trying to cover up and subvert the truth of God’s written word, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church caused a painful and radical correction to the Christian movement. Had they allowed God’s word to make many small adjustments along the way they would have avoided the need for such revolutionary change.
The same dynamics are at work in today’s church. When we allow God’s word to make frequent course corrections to our churches and to our individual lives, we will avoid the need for radical changes that can be difficult and painful.
In this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, let’s renew our commitment to the Bible. Let us be faithful to read, learn, memorize, apply and share God’s word. For “all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God might be capable, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
May God’s Word always be a lamp for our feet and a light for our path,
Brother Richard Foster