Post Tenebras, Lux. After darkness, light.
The year: 1517. The day: Hallows Eve. The place: Wittenburg, Germany.
The streets were crowded. The markets were busy. The church doors were shut.
The people were preparing for a “holy day” in which they would pray for the dead saints, as well as plead for the souls of their loved ones. Priests were selling indulgences, papers that were guaranteed by the Catholic Church to save loved ones in hell or purgatory. There was a false hope… a false assurance. All the while, the priests hid the fact that the indulgences they sold did nothing, and that it was a sham that was designed to raise money for the Vatican. No one, it seemed, was affected or misled.
However, one man passed through the crowds. In one hand was a document that he didn’t know would change all of Europe over the course of the next decade. In his other hand, was a hammer and a nail. He approaches the All-Saints Church and stands before the door. As he nails the document onto the door, the people look on. Once nailed, he leaves, and the people look upon the document. They see the title: The Disputation on the Power of Indulgences (The 95-Theses). They are amazed as they see the first three points, which were contrary to what the Catholic Church had historically taught:
- When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
- This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
- Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.
Not only did this man post the 95-Theses on the church door, but the man also sent a copy to the Archbishop of Mainz. His work was quickly spread throughout Europe through the printing press, and his fame was growing through his opponents. The man: Martin Luther.
Luther would then, over the years, call for debates, not only on indulgences but also on justification and free will. Finally, it all culminated in the event known as the Diet of Worms, an imperial assembly. Luther stood before the Emperor, Archbishops, and representatives from the Vatican. They were asking Luther to renounce his teachings and end his cries for a change in the Catholic teaching. Luther then said these words:
I am bound by the Scriptures… and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything… Here I stand, I can do no other. So, help me God. Amen.
Martin Luther, along with his fellow students and followers, stood against a giant: Catholicism. The Catholics taught a false gospel. It was a gospel that said we were saved by faith and works. It was a gospel that believed that Christ was our mediator, but so were the priests. It was a gospel that believed that we were saved by grace, but not by grace alone. It was not only a false gospel but also a gospel that didn’t hold to the Scriptures.
Few Catholics taught the true gospel at the time. The popes didn’t teach according to Scripture, as they believed that they were fulfilling the role of apostleship. It is no wonder that the Dark Ages were believed to be a time in which the light of gospel seemed to have faded away. Before the Reformation, the average person was not aware of the true gospel, and very few people could even understand the services (they were all in Latin). This is also not to mention, that very few people could even read in Latin, the only Bible translation that was mass produced in Europe.
However, God decreed that the light would shine in the darkness. He had decreed that a humbled man like Martin Luther would be able to bring about a change that the world didn’t see coming. He would inspire people such as John Calvin, John Knox, and many others to begin the movement we now call the Reformation. Since 1517, the Reformation has brought back the gospel, so that even the farmer in the country would be able to understand the truth of God’s Word.
The reformers, like John Calvin, even realized that the Reformation was born out of an age which seemed to have traded the gospel of Jesus Christ for a false one, and so they came up with a motto that would summarize the entire movement: Post tenebras, lux. It means: out of darkness, light. Could one even imagine what it was like to live in the Dark Ages? It was a time in which people believed that fighting in campaigns during the Crusades would save their souls, when most people believed that purgatory was real, and when people had been convinced that it was not Christ who was their ultimate savior, but themselves. Praise be to God that the night is always darkest just before the dawn.
From my time studying church history up to this point, I don’t know where the church would be if not for the revival that took place during the Reformation. The only way I can truly make my point is to examine Genesis 1:2-4 (ESV) which says, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep… And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.” I truly believe that were it not for the Reformation, then the world would begin its decline like never seen before, but the grace of God wouldn’t allow it. His work was not done in the world, and He had greater things planned to glorify His name.
In John 1, John speaks of the Word. The Word that was with God, and the Word that was God. Jesus is that Word, but John also calls Jesus the light. He would refer to Jesus in this way in John 1:4-5 (ESV) saying, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Do you realize what this means? The devil, many times throughout history, has attempted to stomp out the light of God that was shining through Christ. No matter what Satan tried to do, be it the Garden of Eden, Jesus’ crucifixion, or the Dark Ages… darkness could not overcome the light of Jesus Christ. His grace would not be forgotten, His work would not be finished, and His words would not pass away. Darkness could not overcome that gospel that was recovered during the Reformation.
History aside, consider how any of us were saved. Not only is this a motto for the Reformation, but this should be a motto for how God saved us. In Colossians 1:13 (ESV) it says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son.” One of my favorite verses of the Bible is 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV), which is one of the few verses that summarizes the gospel, and it says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” We came out of darkness, and into His light. Post tenebras, lux.
I was not always a Reformed Christian. I wasn’t even always a Christian. I was a slave to sin, and if one were to see who I was before Christ and who I am now, then they would glorify God that He would save a wretch like me. The grace of God is so good that He calls people out of darkness to Himself. Not only has He brought light to the world through the influence of the Protestant Reformation, but He shed His light to every person who would believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and receive Him. This title phrase is not only the motto of the Reformation, it is one of my personal mottos, and it reminds me of who I was (Ephesians 2:1-3), and who I am now (Ephesians 2:4-10).
I once was a child of wrath and condemned in darkness, but God led me out of darkness to the glowing beacon of the cross, where I found my Savior. The grace of God has taught me to value the Reformation’s significance, and what it began for many people. Likewise, the Reformation has allowed me to reflect on how good God’s timing is on bringing revival to a particular generation, by His own sovereign will. I hope for all people to see the beauty in the gospel and to marvel at what God is doing by bringing light after darkness.
With all of that being said, in honor of Reformation Month (October 2017), and because this is the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, The Reformed Alliance team will be committed to writing on the importance of the historical events that changed the course of Christianity throughout history. Ranging from topics such as Protestantism, fundamentals of Reformed Theology, Calvinism, and the separation from Catholicism… we will write, in great detail, on the significance of the Reformation and how it has shaped our lives. We honor the reformers, the theologians, the pastors, and the figures of the past that called for a return to the true gospel found in the Scriptures.
Most of all, we honor and praise the God who decreed that the Reformation would take place after such a dark time in our history, a time in which the gospel was largely neglected and forgotten. In the same way God decreed that there should be light in Genesis 1:3, He decreed that the Reformation would bring the light of the gospel out of the Dark Ages. Likewise, He had decreed that the light of the gospel would come into my life and bring me out of the darkness I had lived in. How great is our God, who has made the dead come alive and has taken the broken clay and formed vessels of glory!
May we boldly, confidently, and honorably cry out Post Tenebras, Lux and remember how God had brought us out of the shadows of sin and into the radiance of His glory.
Soli Deo Gloria.