God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.
— 1689 London Baptist Confession, Chapter 3, Paragraph 1
For all of those familiar with the blog, The Reformed Alliance team is celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. To honor the historic moment when Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church in 1517, we are creating a series of posts that speak about how the Reformation has shaped our lives, as well as the lives of everyone around the world. It is hard to deny that the Reformation has influenced every human being, at least to some degree.
Though it is important to remember our place in all that happened in the Reformation and how it influenced Christian theology and practice, we must make sure we don’t forget about God’s place in the Reformation. When people think of the events of the Reformation, they tend to think of the reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, etc. After thinking about it, I realized that if the reformers were alive today, they would steer our attention away from them and unto God. In order to be true to the Reformation, we must remember that God is the one that deserves all glory for what took place 500 years ago.
By human standards, Martin Luther was a man who started the Reformation, as we know it. But if there be any verity to our right standing with God, then we have an obligation to point out that it was God’s sovereign will that the Reformation take place. A week ago, I made a post called Post Tenebras Lux (click here if you want to read). In the post, I mentioned that the Reformation came after a time known as the Dark Ages. Not only was it an age that is remembered to be full of war and disease, but it was also a time in which the Gospel was hidden from man.
However, the good news is that God didn’t allow the Gospel of Jesus Christ to vanish off the face of the earth, no matter how hard the Catholics tried. God was gracious enough to only allow the Gospel to be hidden. The light was not extinguished but merely eclipsed, as the great, modern-day theologian Dr. RC Sproul would put it. Now, it is amazing that God decreed for the Reformation to take place after one of the darkest times in history, but few people reflect on the time in which the Reformation started. If we would, we’d realize it wasn’t a coincidence that God had chosen that specific time.
Around the year 1440, a man by the name of Johannes Gutenberg would create a machine that would change Europe, and ultimately the world. His invention: the printing press. A remarkable invention for the time, it vastly improved the speed in which a book could be printed, and it gave way to the rise of more published books. 1508 was the year in which the printing press would arrive to the city of Wittenberg, Germany, the city in which German monk Martin Luther resided. How is this significant to the Reformation?
When Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the doorway of the Wittenberg Church, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to post it, as it was similar to the Facebook feed of its day. Anyone could post their own thoughts or announcements on the door, but the controversial nature of the theses caused a stir among the people. In order for more people to be involved in the debate, Luther made sure that it was not only printed in Latin but also in the vernacular (common) language. In 1518, Luther’s 95 Theses was published in German, and in only a couple years it was translated into other European languages. There is even a myth that the Pope heard about the 95 Theses by receiving a copy of it from a Cardinal in Rome (that would be funny).
In 1521, Martin Luther was tried in the Diet of Worms. The trial’s transcripts were recorded and published throughout the country, further bringing recognition to the cause of the Reformation and the theology that Martin Luther taught. The most amazing thing that occurred with the printing press came in 1522 when Luther’s German New Testament Bible was published. The Bible was mass produced, with the intention that every person who was able to read could do so with the very Word of God.
Not only were Luther’s works published, such as his Bible and lectures, but so were the works of other Reformers at the time such as Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin in 1541. The Geneva Bible (one of the best translations to date), a translation led by many great reformers, was also completed and published in 1560. Books after books, pamphlets after pamphlets, and Bibles after Bibles were published at a fast rate, and in massive numbers. By the end of the 16th century, the literacy rate had gone up, the number of Reformed Christians grew, and most families in Europe were able to afford a Bible.
That is a lot of information, and I can understand why some people may be bored by this, but this is what my point comes down to: what if the Reformation had only begun a few decades prior? Historians argue that the movement would’ve died out, as many other similar movements died out prior to Martin Luther. However, leading historians will say the same thing, that the printing press is the reason for the success of the Reformation. You can’t deny the validity of that observation. Does this testify to the genius of Martin Luther? I don’t think so. I wholeheartedly believe it testifies to the amazing timing God has in bringing about a necessary change.
Were it not for God’s timing for the Reformation, the truth would not have spread to other people. What began with a German monk, was also carried over to French humanists, Scottish writers, and English scholars. The reformers were of different languages, cultures, and nations. Were it not for the printing press and the time in which the Reformation began, would we have ever heard of people like John Calvin, John Knox, and Theodore Beza? I would argue that we wouldn’t have, and that is why I have to believe that God had decreed for the Reformation to take place at that specific time.
As the beginning quote from the 1689 Baptist Confession stated, God wills for things to happen in order that He would be glorified and that His Son would be magnified. He wants the Gospel to be known and be clear to all people. That is why He will take advantage of what is available at a specific time in order to further proclaim the Gospel. However, as I fear sometimes, Martin Luther once admitted that he was concerned that one day the motto of the Church would be Post Lux, Tenebras (after light, darkness). Towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, it seemed to look like the Gospel would be hidden again.
However, towards the later years of the 20th century, came the invention that changed the world again. It was the most incredible advancement in mass communication since the printing press. The invention: the internet. It is to no surprise then that God has taken advantage of the internet as well. It is the reason why I am convinced that we are going through a modern Reformation. The proof is that many more people know about the true, historic, and biblical Gospel than ever before. The Gospel truth has become more accessible than ever before through the power of the web. Reformed theology is growing amongst the younger generation through sermons on YouTube, theologians are going back to the reformers they researched on Google, and pastors are bringing back hymns and expository preaching they heard examples of through Spotify and Sermonaudio.com.
On my final note, look at the time we live in. We see a culture that has people becoming tired of what the world has to offer and craving for that light to shine in their darkness. We are living in the time when Christian youth still remember the Shocking Youth Message preached by Paul Washer, Reformed and non-Reformed alike, that is still one of the most viewed sermons on YouTube. We are living in the age where Bibles are free, and our sacred text can be studied with the touch of a button on our smartphones. This is the age where the dividing line between light and darkness has become clearer than ever before.
The modern Reformation is here, and God has decreed that it would take place in the same way that it was 500 years ago. May the Gospel be proclaimed among this digital generation, and may we be optimistic about the fact that God will always have impeccable timing for the Gospel message. As it is written in Isaiah 25:9 (GNV), “And in that day shall men say, ‘Lo, this is our God: we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord, we have waited for Him, we will rejoice and be joyful in salvation.'” Semper Reformanda.
Soli Deo Gloria.