The Herald Weekly Vol XVI : 43

Reformation Sunday

Martin Luther, a monk, a priest and professor of Theology, is better known as the Church Reformer although he is also known for his influence in Education and Literature. He was the one who translated the Bible into the German language.

Luther was born on November 10, in Eisleben, Turingia. He attended Latin schools in Mansfeld, Magdeburg and Eisenach, and was awarded the degree of Bachelor and Master of Arts by the University of Erfurt. In 1505, he started law studies, but quit because of a message which he claimed to have received: on a stormy day he pleaded for help with Saint Anne, promising her to become a monk. Since then he retired into the Monastery of the Augustinian Order in Erfurt. He became a priest in 1507. Encouraged by his superiors, he proceeded in his studies and obtained the degree of Doctor of Theology, in 1512. By decision of the Order’s Vicar, Hans von Staupitz, he was made a professor of Theology (Lectura in Biblia) at the Wittenberg University. In his research, he discovered in the Epistle to the Romans what would be the theme of his future: salvation by faith alone. And, as a professor, he could freely propagate his ideas.


Reformation Sunday commemorates the day when Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation, nailed his 95 theses to the door of a Catholic church in Wittenberg in 1517. Luther took exception to the selling of indulgences common in the Catholic Church, when his interpretation of scripture is that we are saved by the grace of God. Lutheranism advocates a doctrine of justification “by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone” which went against the Roman view of “faith formed by love”, or “faith and works”.


Stanza 1 of “A Mighty Fortress”
A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doeth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

This hymn, commonly sung on Reformation Sunday, was written in the late 1520s, a time of Luther’s most difficult trials, and following a great plague. This familiar hymn also resonates the political situation of the time.

The Islamic Ottoman Turks had threatened Europe for some 75 years. Constantinople fell in 1453 and by the time Columbus arrived in America (1492), they had consolidated their power up to the Danube River, threatening Vienna. In 1520 they captured Belgrade. With a force of 80,000, they captured Hungary and killed some 15,000, beheading the captured prisoners on the Plain of Mohacs. In September of that year, the Islamic army moved towards Vienna with the intention of capturing Europe and making it Moslem territory. Then a miracle occurred; the Viennese held and the Sultan retreated. (This is the root of the modern war in Bosnia, Yugoslavia, and the entire Balkan region).

At this time, Psalm 46 came to Luther’s mind. It was probably written during the days of King Hezekiah of Judah when the Assyrians were making their thrusts westward. In 732 BC, Damascus fell. Ten years later, Ashdod fell, and in 701 BC, Jerusalem was besieged by the Assyrian King, Sennacherib [See 2 Kings 18.3 – 19.37, Micah 1.10-15, Isaiah 10.28-32]. By his records, he had already destroyed 46 of Judah’s fortified cities and deported their population. Modern excavations at Lachish, which Sennacherib stormed, reveal a huge pit with the remains of some 1,500 bodies along with pig bones and other debris—presumably the garbage of the Assyrian Army. Then a miracle occurred. During the night, “the angel of the Lord went forth, and slew 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians.” [2 Kings 19:35].

One of Luther’s greatest accomplishments occurred when he wrote hymns in the common language (and popular musical tunes) of the common people of the day. Prior to this, church music was regarded exclusively as the property of the clergy and sung only in Latin. The Council of Constance [1414-17] dictated: “If laymen are forbidden to preach and interpret the Scriptures, much more are they forbidden to sing publicly in the churches.” Luther wrote at least 37 hymns, restoring congregational singing in worship. “A Mighty Fortress” is undoubtedly regarded as Luther’s most familiar with its forceful statement of faith. God is the soul’s fortress, Christ the soul’s champion, the devil the enemy whose assaults on the soul are futile, arousing resounding praise from the believer.


“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (Rom 1:16-17)

Martin Luther, reflecting on what this text meant in his life, offered this testimony: “When by the Spirit of God, I understood these words—”The just shall live by faith”—then I felt born again like a new man. I entered through the open doors into the very paradise of God.”

When Martin Luther understood this scripture text, it turned his life upside down. He was no longer willing to remain a simple monk at the monastery in Erfurt. Once the blazing truth of justification by faith set a fire burning in his soul, he set himself to igniting a fire that eventually spread throughout Europe and eventually to the ends of the earth.


It is in this Bible text that Paul the Apostle of Christ challenges us not to be ashamed of what we believe in. There are 3 main things that we need to remember concerning this text:

1) The gospel of Christ has the power to save

Nothing else can save us from our sins and the condemnation in hell; not science, nor education, religion, moral reformation, fame and fortune. Only the gospel of Christ can save us. Through Christ’s death on the Cross of Calvary, God forgives our sins, gives us new life in Him, and promises us eternal life with Him in heaven. No other philosophies or religions claim the power on earth to do that.

2) The gospel of Christ has the power to save those who believe

Paul says, “…the gospel of Christ…is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth…” The word “believeth” implies a willingness to put your trust in God. This means that those who hear the gospel message of Christ’s salvation must respond in believing in Christ. It is not enough to just hear the gospel. It requires a personal commitment to Christ.

Imagine if you are diagnosed with cancer, and the doctor tells you that the only way to save your life is surgery to remove the tumour. You would definitely take his word for it, and trust that he will perform the surgery to give you hope of life without cancer. It would not be adequate to say that, “It’s okay. I hear your advice. One day I will come back to you.” Surely you will put your trust in your doctor and quickly arrange for the surgery.

Similarly, the gospel of Christ is the only way sinners can have ‘surgery’ in order to have salvation from our sinful ways. It is not enough just to hear the gospel, and not believe.

3) The gospel of Christ has the power to save regardless of social distinction

Paul says, “…the gospel of Christ…is the power of God unto salvation…to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Christ’s gospel was not meant only for the Jews, the chosen people of God, who nevertheless rejected Him and crucified Him on the cross. It is also for the “Greeks” which represented the Gentiles, all non-Jews. Throughout history, mankind attempted to reserve privileges for the rich and powerful. Hierarchies were made legitimate by certain religions to keep the good life for those of high social status. But, it is the gospel of Christ that gives hope to ALL those who would believe in Him. Regardless of age, skin colour, race, religious or moral inclinations, educational, social or financial status, the gospel of Christ is God’s gift of salvation to all those who would call upon the name of Jesus Christ.

This Reformation Sunday, may we be thankful for Paul’s message of salvation in Rom 1:16-17. Thank God also for the way He touched the life of Martin Luther, and enabled him to bring the true meaning of this Bible text to the German people, and then to the rest of the world. Let us also ensure that we have personally acknowledged Christ as our Saviour, and have committed ourselves to a changed life with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Bob Phee
Article taken from Herald Weekly, 31 October 2010.

Some of the Reformer Heroes

John Wycliffe (1330-1384) has been called “The Morning Star of the Reformation.” The morning star is not actually a star, but the planet Venus, which appears before the sun rises and while darkness still dominates the horizon. The morning star is unmistakably visible.

One of Wycliffe’s followers, John Hus (1369-1415), actively promoted Wycliffe’s ideas: that people should be permitted to read the Bible in their own language, and they should oppose the tyranny of the Roman church that threatened anyone possessing a non-Latin Bible with execution. Hus was burned at the stake in 1415.

John Knox is considered to be the greatest Reformer in the history of Scotland. The exact place and date of his birth is not known with certainty, but it is generally accepted to be Giffordgate, 16 miles east of Edinburgh, in 1513 to 1514. Knox dies at Edinburgh on November 24, 1572.

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