During October (as part of the #Write31Days online challenge), we’re unpacking what the Reformation means for our faith community here on our blog. Click here to catch up on the rest of the series.
What sparked the Reformation? That’s a question that gets asked a lot in academic circles! Some folks say that Martin Luther’s decision to nail his theses to the door was the spark that lit the Reformation flame, others say that the Reformation actually started much earlier, with the now-called “pre-reformers” speaking out against what they saw to be problems within the Roman Catholic church.
As far as history is concerned, it doesn’t much matter how the Reformation started. It’s impact continues to be felt around the world, even after 500 years.
Whether or not the Reformation was officially started by Martin Luther or his predecessor John Huss, all who participated in shaping this important historical event were first thoroughly shaped by Scripture. While all were informed by passages from the entire Bible, there are a few we can point to as particularly important.
Romans 1:16-17: For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
This passage inspired Martin Luther in a big way. Pastor R.C. Sproul says that when Martin Luther read 1:17, it sparked a “moment of awakening.” Martin Luther realized that humans are saved through the faith that God alone has the power to give us, not by any works necessary to achieve it.
Luke 22:19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Ulrich Zwingli was influenced by this verse and his interpretation of the passage opposed Martin Luther’s. Zwingli interprets the verse to indicate that Holy Communion is an act that remembers Christ’s body and blood, which were shed during the crucifixion. Martin Luther maintained a position similar to the Roman Catholic position on transubstantiation (which states that the elements of communion become the body and blood of Christ). In Luther’s own words he states that Christ’s body and blood are “truly and substantially present in, with and under the forms.” When Zwingli and Luther couldn’t work out their difference in opinion, the young Protestant church split further. The churches that followed Zwingli’s theology became what is now known as the “Reformed” traditions.
Here’s a video that outlines more of the differences between these two fathers of the Reformation:
2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
This passage influenced John Calvin’s theology of predestination, the idea that God has decided in advance (“predetermined”) which humans will be saved and which will not. The idea remains controversial to this day and provides lots of material for academic study! It’s a complicated subject, but here’s a great short video that explains the concept well:
Ready to learn more? Click here for a great book on how the Bible influenced the Reformation.
Save the date: October 29! We’ll celebrate the Reformation and the confirmation of 7 young people in our community with one service at 10:00 a.m. Our synod bishop will preach, and we’ll follow the service with an Oktoberfest celebration. Come for the service, stay for the German food, beer and wine (for a donation), a hymn sing and lots of fun!
Christa Cordova serves the Beautiful Savior community as ministry apprentice and occasional blogger (June 2017-March 2018). She anticipates completing her master of divinity degree at Fuller Seminary in 2018.