This year marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Martin Luther ignited the Reformation when he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, calling the church to repentance and to return to the gospel. The flame that Luther ignited in Wittenberg spread like wildfire throughout Europe and around the world. Just as the Apostles turned the world upside down with the gospel, Luther set the world ablaze with the gospel. But ultimately, it was neither the Apostles nor Luther who did it; it was the Word of God and the Spirit of God that did it all.
Just as the Apostles turned the world upside down with the gospel, Luther set the world ablaze with the gospel.
Like the Apostles, the church fathers, the forerunners of the Reformation, and all faithful heralds of the gospel throughout history, Luther was a servant and steward of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In a sermon Luther preached in 1522 reflecting on his role in the Reformation, Luther said concerning the Word of God: “In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no one by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept (cf. Mark 4:26–29) . . . the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything. Had I desired to foment trouble, I could have brought great bloodshed upon Germany; indeed, I could have started such a game that even the emperor would not have been safe. But what would it have been? Mere fool’s play. I did nothing; I let the Word do its work.”
Ultimately, the Word of God was the hero of the Reformation, not Luther. The power was not in Martin Luther or John Calvin or any of the Reformers—the power was the gospel unto salvation for everyone who believes. The fuel and the fire of the Reformation was the Holy Spirit who brought revival and reformation not only in doctrine, but in worship, in the church, in the home, and in the hearts of all those He brought to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ—all for the glory of God to the end that the nations might know, love, and proclaim the name of our triune God coram Deo, before His face forever.
Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is cotranslator and coeditor of A Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin.