WHILE JESUS WALKED ON the earth in preparation for His death and resurrection to redeem mankind, he brought a reformation. His teachings brought Israel back to the Word of God. He exposed errors taught by the religious leaders of Israel.
From Genesis to Malachi, the scarlet cord of redemption pointed toward our Lord’s vicarious death for the penalty of our sin. During Jesus’ time in Israel, religious tradition had plagued the covenant people, causing them to move their faith from the promise of redemption given by God toward burdensome works fashioned by tradition. The interpretation of the law by religious leaders through tradition left the laymen without spiritual freedom or liberty. The yoke of man’s laws gained supremacy over God’s righteous laws.
CONDITIONS FOR REFORMATION
The reformation that took place in the 15th century beheld similar conditions as was evidenced at the time of Christ with Israel. The seeds of dissatisfaction held by reformers, who initially sought to change the religious system from within the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), were later met by protestors who chose to leave the RCC and declare their spiritual independence from the pope. The questions of the hour ranged from, “How is a person saved?” to “Where does religious authority lie?” Martin Luther’s reply to these questions defined his opposition to the institutionalized Roman Catholic system of works. He would herald, “Not by works but by faith alone.” He declared that spiritual authority is not in the Roman Catholic institution but in the Word of God found in the Bible. Luther’s predecessors, John Wycliffe, John Huss, and Girolarmo Savonarola, to name a few, saw the behavioral corruption within the Roman Catholic Church leadership. The reformers began to question the authority and dominion of the Roman Catholic Church. These men were raised up in the teachings of the RCC and served as monks and priests. In fact, some of John Wycliffe’s inspiration came from one of his college professors at Oxford, one Richard FitzRalph, who argued, “Why should the state of grace be required only of temporal rulers? Do churchmen have the right to rule when they live in moral sin?”
During the Reformation era, the immoral complacency of popes and religious leaders became intolerable to reformers. They desired to see a demonstration of righteous living instead of the hypocrisy displayed by popes who had adulterous affairs and sought earthly wealth and personal aggrandizement. The heightened malcontentedness of the reformers culminated in Martin Luther nailing his 95 thesis to the door of the Castle church in Wittneberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. Indulgences had been sold by the Roman Catholic Church for over 200 years preceding Luther’s denouncement of Tetzel’s sale of indulgences. However, now in Luther’s time, indulgences were for the sake of raising funds for the rebuilding of St. Peters church in Rome. In order to get these funds, the people were promised remission for sins they had not yet committed, and their relatives were assured release from purgatory. Tetzel summed up his doctrine in this fashion: “The moment the money rattles into the box, the soul for whom it was given escapes from purgatory.” The idea that the Church could assume the authority to sell salvation became unacceptable to Luther and the reformers.
The Message of the Cross is the reformation message to the modern church fraught with error. It is the balm that soothes the pain from the damages caused by the abuses of false teachers. The hopes of many believers have crashed into the rocks of despair near the shores of desperation. The modern day indulgences are the promissory notes of so-called preachers who promise prosperity and wealth in this world – but only if one gives to their ministry. Failure to give to these false prophets leaves the unfaithful believers with the fear of temporal punishment – they will live in material and spiritual poverty in this world. Guilt is used by these purveyors of unrighteousness as the means to deceive and imprison its followers. If they can only have more faith, they will be rewarded. Meanwhile, the object of their faith leaves little desire for spiritual things – for they seek after worldly wealth.
Along with the Word of Faith’s misplaced definition of faith comes the Purpose Driven Life model. Its indulgence is the promise of global peace by transforming the modern church into becoming the lowest denominator in finding common ground with anyone who desires to work toward social justice. The crown of compromise is given for the tolerant – the tolerant who champion those who are intolerant! Love is defined by a feeling of well-doing, but in the end, the blind are leading the blind, and they all will fall in the ditch.
The Cross is the light that exposes error but is also the beacon that illuminates the way back to God. The Cross is the only meeting place where man can meet God. Likewise, it is the only place that man can meet man. The Message of the Cross is the reformation message for today. It shows us how we are justified, but it also tells the believer how to live. The stalwart scripture of the early reformation was, “The just shall live by faith” (Heb. 10:38). Today, we can also say, “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith” (Col. 2:6).