Tuesday, October 31
Today is a day to remember. Five centuries ago today Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg University Church. We tend to think this as a radical and unexpected event. In a sense it was, but perhaps more radical than unexpected. The movement for reform was already underway. As early as 1000 A.D. the papacy was beginning to crumble. Most of the western world was staunchly Roman Catholic, but there were groups here and there that were determined to return to Bible truth. One of them was the Waldenses in France. They became a significant force for reform in about 1000 A.D. and thrived for more than a century, finally becoming so numerous that the Roman Catholic Church began a violent persecution that wiped out thousands of these faithful Christians. They continued to thrive despite the persecution—or maybe because of it. At about the same time the Albigenses suffered the same treatment at the hands of the Church. By the 14th century the RCC was well aware of practices and doctrines that violated the Scripture. The power of the Church was being challenged. Pope Innocent III initiated a reform, but was probably more interested in maintaining ecclesiastical power than by any altruistic concerns. In 1213 he called a huge number of clerics to Rome to make changes that would “purify the Church.” This Lateran IV Council finally convened in 1215. Delegates included 71 archbishops, 412 lesser bishops, 900 abbots and priors, and several representatives of monarchs. They produced 70 decrees or “canons” covering Church doctrine and practices. The net result of the Council was to confirm Roman Catholic doctrine; there was virtually no significant reform. But the reform movement outside the Church continued. During the 14th and 15th centuries a number of men took bold stands for a return to Biblical truth. Among these heroes of the faith are John Wycliffe, priest, Oxford professor, and Bible translator (14th century England); Jan Hus, priest and university proctor, (14th century Czech); and Girolamo Savonarola, Italian 15th century Dominican friar. Wycliffe died of a stroke; his body was later dug up and burned. Jan Hus died at the stake. Savonarola was hanged and his body then burned. This period of five centuries—1000-1500—was obviously orchestrated by God. If you have any doubt about that consider this: Johann Gutenberg came out with the printing press in 1448, just 69 years before Martin Luther posted those 95 theses. By 1517 the Bible was in the hands of a multitude of the “common people” and Martin Luther’s bold move became inevitable. The Protestant Reformation was a five or six century event that sought to reverse a 15 century decline. We owe a huge debt to Martin Luther and all those other men who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the truth and to God who motivated them and empowered them. Our world is bad and getting worse, but it would be much worse if not for those faithful men.