Luther and the Reformation - Why It Still Matters

Scripture: Hebrews 7:26, Matthew 6:7, Exodus 20:4-6
Date: 10/28/2017 
Do we still need spiritual reformation? The whole basis of the Protestant Reformation is evaporating. None of the issues that the reformers protested against have changed. God is looking for people who will speak up boldly and say “This is what the Bible says, it doesn’t matter what the world is doing.”

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Doug Batchelor: Martin Luther, the 16th century father of the Reformation, showed his grit when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany to protest indulgences, and other non-biblical practices endorsed by the Catholic Church. After his trial at worms, he was excommunicated from the church, making him a fugitive from religious and civil authorities. But God provided for his rescue through Frederick the Wise, the elector of Saxony, who staged kidnapping the famous reformer and offering him safe refuge at Wartburg Castle for nearly a year. While in exile at the castle, Luther was known as Knight George, and the labor to translate the New Testament into German, making it more accessible to the common people. Martin Luther taught that God's grace cannot be earned, but it's a gift that comes through faith in Jesus. He was appalled by the church's suggestion that forgiveness could be bought through an indulgence, and he was not afraid to say so. Ultimately, his teaching split Christianity, but does what Luther taught several centuries ago still matter for Christians today?

Doug Batchelor: We're going to be talking about something connected with October 31. It was All Saints Day, believe it or not, that's part of the reason it's connected with Halloween. But that was a significant day in history in that that was a time when Martin Luther posted an advertisement on the church doors, inviting other theologians to a debate. It was written in Latin. He didn't realize he was going to turn the religious world upside down. And so, our message today is dealing with the subject of Luther and the Reformation and why it still matters.

Now, I'll give you a little amazing fact you may not know, and if you talk to the average person in society about Martin Luther, you know who they first think of? Martin Luther King, Jr. Do you know how Martin Luther King Jr. got his name? He was not born Martin Luther King Jr. He was born Michael King. In fact, Michael King, his father was Michael King also. Here was a pastor of a Baptist Church in Atlanta. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s father, whose name was Michael King, went with some other pastors to Europe. They visited the places of the Reformation. He was so inspired by the courage of Martin Luther the Reformer, that he changed his name. And his son was five years old, he changed his name too. But he changed his name to Martin Luther King, his son was Martin Luther King, Jr. and so even though Martin Luther, who was something of a reformer, got his name because of the inspiration from the life of Martin Luther.

So, before we can talk a lot about Luther, probably need to talk a little bit about the Reformation. Revelation 13, "The beast I saw was like a leopard. His feet were like the feet of a bear, his mouth was like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his seat, his throne, and great authority." You see, it was foretold that this was going to happen. But after the time of the apostles, and after this great revival that happened during the church of Ephesus, that during the church of Smyrna there'd be great persecution and then came the deadliest form of persecution at all, a great compromise. With a conversion of Constantine, or at least a pretended conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine, suddenly Christianity went from a forbidden religion, to the government religion. It became very vogue to say you're a Christian because Constantine said, "We'll conquer unto the sign of the cross." His mother claimed Christianity, though he wasn't baptized till the time of his death.

And some of the leaders all wanted to be in the palace. They got tired of living in the catacombs. And they said, "You know, we'll reach a lot more people in Rome if we, you know, just sort of adopt some of their customs and traditions, we could get more converts." For instance, they had statues all over Rome. Idolatry was everywhere. The pagans didn't want to give up their statutes and so some of the church leaders said, "Well, you know, as long as they know that they're not really praying to the statues, let's just rename them, give them Bible names." And they started to take the statues of Mercury, and Jupiter, and Apollos, and Diana, and they named them Mary, and Peter, James, and John, and Jesus. Idolatry suddenly swept through the kingdom. The robes and the vestments of the pagan priests were suddenly now being worn by the Christian bishops. And the simplicity that they once had was lost, and it became the state religion. And instead of the humble Jesus going around with a staff and barefoot or sandals, now all of a sudden they were carrying the church leaders around like royalty, and they were living in palaces, and everything began to change.

Let me tell you some of the things that Protestants protested against the church had begun to do. The Bible teaches we're not to bow down to statues. The church began and that's, of course, one of the Ten Commandments. The church began to say, you can make and bow down the statues and pray to them. The Bible says Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. 1 Timothy 2:5, the church began to teach that Mary was a co-mediator with Christ, and you could reach Christ through the saints. They would mediate.

The Bible teaches that Christ offered a sacrifice on the cross once for all. Hebrews 7, the church began to teach the priests offer Christ's body when they do the mass every time.

The Bible teaches that all Christians are saints and priests. Ephesians 1, 1 Peter 2, the church in Rome began to teach the priests are a special cast within the Christian community, to be treated differently.

The Bible teaches that we should call no religious leader father, Matthew 23:9. In the Catholic Church, they began to say you call the priests and the Pope and the bishops father.

The Bible says not to pray in vain repetition. Jesus said in Matthew 6:7, the church started saying if you want forgiveness, you've gotta repeat this specific prayer over and over again, whether it's the Lord's Prayer or Hail Mary.

The Bible says you confess your sins to God, only God can forgive sins. Isaiah 43:25, the church in Rome began to say you must confess your sins to the priests to obtain forgiveness.

The teaching of purgatory in limbo, prayers for the dead, nowhere in Scripture, the relics of paganism. The idea of an everlasting hell that begins at the time of death before you're even judged, all these things came out of Greek mythology about Pluto and Hades. And they crept into the church until what you had was milkshake. It was a stew. It was a hash where you had the commingling of some Christian truths, but a lot of paganism. The church had fallen, and they then had military power, and they began to persecute those who are faithful to the Word, who had to flee into the wilderness.

So, you set the stage for this great apostasy that the apostles foretold was coming. And there's a lot more I could say about the corruption that had come in. But it got so bad that the church, realizing people reading the Bible would find out these problems and false doctrines, they took the Bibles away from the people. They said, "Only the priests can understand the Bible," and it got to the point where very few priests could even read and have the Bible. And it just fell into formalism, and it became a corrupt institution.

So, what the reformers wanted to do was bring the Word back to the people. One of the early reformers, there were many through history. The records have been destroyed because the church would destroy these records. He was the one who actually put the Scriptures in the language of the people. His name was John Wycliffe, and you'll find it spelt differently because they didn't have the rules of spelling. Now sometimes it's Wycliffe, it's Whitecliff, it's Whitecliff. But everyone in history knows who this great reformer was. He was the one who really inspired so many others like us, and like Luther. He spoke--but he was a priest. He was a Roman Catholic priest, but he realized, as he read the Scriptures, he was a professor in England and he said, "They're not following the Bible." He spoke against the abuses in the church. He spoke against the way they were robbing the people of funds and that the priests were living in luxury, and the monks. He challenged the idea that they would sell forgiveness for sin for money.

See, the idea of purgatory and never burn in hell that begins a death became very profitable because the church said, only the church has the right to get people out of hell. Before you go to hell forever, you might just go to purgatory and there's still hope for a while. But we decide who gets out of purgatory. If you make a good offering, we will pray. Only the priests have this power. And we can shorten their time in purgatory or get them out right away, depends on how much you give. And so, the people in their superstition, they didn't have the Bible. They didn't know any different. They believed, and they were being abused. They were being exploited and robbed.

So, he spoke against those abuses. He challenged the indulgences. Here's what Wycliffe said, "It is plain to me that our prelates in granting indulgences do commonly blaspheme the wisdom of God." He repudiated the confessional. "Private confession," he wrote, "was not ordered by Christ and was not used by the apostles." He reiterated the biblical teaching on faith, trust holy in Christ, rely altogether on his sufferings, beware of seeking to be justified in any other way than by his righteousness."

He believed that every Christian should have access to the Scriptures. He began translating the Bible into English in 1382, and I think it's safe to say, the English translation of the Bible that he affected, altered history more than any other document. Some of you have King James Bibles, you got New King James. Even if you get an N.I.V. Bible, all of those Bibles grew out of the original translation by Wycliffe. There were no Bibles in the vernacular of the common people. The Bibles were in Latin, and they were very few. The first Bible that Luther ultimately found was a Latin Bible. If he had not learned Latin at the pushing of his father earlier, he never would have been able to read it. But Wycliffe put the Bible in the language of the people and it change history.

That leads us to someone who's considered to be the Elijah of the Protestant Reformation, born November 10, in 1483 in Eisleben, Saxony, and that was part of the Holy Roman Empire. He originally, at the urging of his father, he entered school, he studied Latin. His father and mother were lower middle-class people. Later in his life, they did much better because of their industry and thrift. But they knew education was everything, and so they sent their son to school. They wanted him to be a lawyer. Martin Luther's father had no time for the monks in the church. He was educated enough to know it was completely corrupt. They were exploiting the people.

And so, Martin Luther studied law. He had no peace about his relationship with God. And one day after a visit home, he was riding on a horse through the woods on his way back to law school, he got caught in a terrible thunderstorm. Lightning was flashing and clapping all around. He knew the strikes were very close. He was filled with fear that he was going to be struck. And sure enough, a bolt of lightning struck right by him and his horse. He fell from his horse like the Apostle Paul and in terror, he cried out to Saint Anne and said, "Save my life, and I will be a monk." Well, the storm died away and he realized, "I was saved, and I made a vow to God." And against the pleading of his father, he entered the monastery. His father didn't want him to waste his life. He said, "You're wasting all these years of education I paid for. You're going to become a useless monk." And he and his father didn't speak for two years.

But he realized he had no peace. He entered the monastery, and he did everything he could to try to find peace with God. He prayed. He confessed his sins. Matter of fact, he spent one time four hours in confession. And the priests were worn out. Whenever Luther showed up for confession, it would wear them out. They didn't want to hear his confessions because every little thought, he was so sensitive. His conscience was so sensitive to sin that every little thought, and he just saw the pride, and he saw the problems, and he saw the sin, and all the impurity. And he thought, "Well, maybe I'll find peace if I go on this pilgrimage to Rome."

So, he went to Rome and he thought Rome, holy city. He'd never been there. You know, they didn't have the Internet back then. They thought everyone walked on air in Rome. That's where the Pope was, where the, you know, the apostles were crucified. They called it the Eternal City. And when he got there, he found out that it was like, it was like Las Vegas. It was just a party town, and there was so much debauchery. And he went and he stayed in some of the monasteries, and his monastery's in Germany. They were hungry, they were eating crust. Here, they were feasting, and it was like a brothel. And he was shocked. And then he finally got to Rome and he saw it was more of the same. But he went to all the holy sites, and he's trying to find peace with God.

Ultimately, he's going up this staircase that supposedly was the staircase that where Jesus was tried. They called it Pilate's staircase. It's still there today. People go up on their knees, pilgrims. And Luther was going up saying the Lord's Prayer on each of the steps, and trying to find some peace with God. And the Scripture kept going through his mind, "The just shall live by faith." And finally, he ran from the place and said, "What am I doing, trying to find forgiveness by working? I'm supposed to find it by faith." Back at the monastery, he had found a Latin copy of the Bible. Up until that point, he'd only read little sections of the Bible. He had no idea that someone had the whole book. He said, "I'd give everything for a whole copy of the Bible." He just was so thrilled that he could find one in the monastery he could read. You and I don't know the privilege we have to have Bibles, multiple Bibles in our hands. And he fell in love with the Word of God.

The rest of his life, he was never the same. Everything was about the Word of God. He saw it as the final authority. He could not trust, the declarations, and the edicts of the church. He could not trust the words of various priests and monks. He realized the only authority for what is truth, and he'd studied philosophy, he'd studied law, he studied Augustine. He studied everything. Said, "The final word in life has to be a book that is divine. It's the Word of God." So, everything Luther did from that point was because of his respect for the Bible.

Doug: Don't go anywhere, friends. In just a moment, we're going to return for the rest of today's presentation. No other book in the Bible has been more misunderstood than the Book of Revelation. Maybe you've even been a little frustrated trying to comprehend it on your own. After all, the book is filled with mysterious symbols, ominous predictions, and strange beasts. Nevertheless, Jesus did pronounce a blessing on those who read and keep the things written in this book. Well, I've got good news, the Book of Revelation can be understood and we'd like to help you experience that blessing. "Amazing Facts" wants to send you a powerful resource called "Revelation: The Bride, The Beast and Babylon." It's a 60-minute documentary DVD that reveals the true identity of the beast power in Revelation, and it's a vivid panorama of biblical history from the time of Christ to our present day. This eye-opening feature, which includes subtitles in many major languages, will show you how you can be ready for the final events of prophecy. To get your free copy, call the number on the screen and ask for offer number 817, or visit the web address. And after you read this incredible resource, make sure and share it with a friend. Well, let's return to today's presentation and learn some more amazing facts from the Word God.

Doug: On the Bible, Luther said, "The Bible is alive. It speaks to me. It has feet, it runs after me. It has hands, it lays hold of me." On church practices, "A simple layman," he said, "armed with the Scriptures is to be believed above the Pope, or Cardinal, or Cardinal without it." On human nature he said, "Nothing is easier than sinning." And finally, when he saw the abuses that were happening in the church compared with the Bible, he said, "Someone needs to speak up against this." He realized the church needs revival.

Now, right about this time, the church was trying to build St. Peter's Basilica, which is today one of the biggest churches, if not the biggest church, in the world. They needed a lot of money. They were spending all the money on the excesses of Rome so they needed new revenue. So, they thought, we'll have a fundraising campaign. They had a different kind of capital campaign than we do. They said, "We're going to sell licenses to sin." Not only will you sell a license to you, and I've actually got documents I could show you that have price lists for various sins, everything from adultery. They had a price for murder. They had a price list for sin, that you can be forgiven. You could purchase, in advance, forgiveness for these things. Not only that, you could pay and have your former friends and family, that may have been total atheists, to get them out of purgatory. And this guy named Tetzel, he came into Wittenberg and he started to tell people, "You know, you come and we're going to start this fire here. And you've got your loved ones." And they had a big bonfire and they said, "Your loved ones are burning the fires of purgatory, but you can get them out right now. As soon as the money in the coffer's ring, a soul from purgatory flings," or something like that. Anyway, he had a little poem, of course, it was in German so I don't know what the original was. But he had all this, this whole marketing program. And everybody lined up and they're buying these indulgences. And they're showing up to Luther and saying, "We don't have to confess our sins anymore because I got-- I bought an indulgence. I'm good to go. I can sin all I want now because I bought--" You know, get out of jail card, you ever play Monopoly? It was your get out of purgatory card. And Luther said, "That's not how you get forgiveness. You must repent, you must confess, you must turn." And he was outraged.

And so, with all of this going on across Europe and had come to his own town, he said, "Enough is enough, we gotta talk about this. This is unbiblical." So, that's when he took his Ninety-five Theses and he named it, and nailed it on the door. Well, first he thought it was just going to be looked at by the theologians around the campus. But, you know, right about this time, the printing press was invented. Isn't that interesting? It's like what, you know, the internet now. And some of the students took his writings that were in the Latin. He just meant for it to-- the priests, he wanted to reform among the leadership. But instead, the students translated it into the language of the people, and they got some of it to Gutenberg. And all of a sudden, Luther's writings, the first book on a printing press was the Bible. But a lot of Luther's writings were on the printing presses that were being built now.

They began to go, not only throughout Germany, they began to go overseas to England, and to Sweden, and all of a sudden everybody was talking about it. Then they told Luther, "You gotta come to Rome, answer for your charges." He said, "I'm not going to Rome." And the Pope would denounced him, and he'd send a bull. And Luther would stand up in his town. The bull was this big letter from the Pope. Luther would burn the Pope's letter. I mean, people were aghast that he would have the audacity to do that. They were burning his writings in Rome, Luther said, "I'm going to burn your writings here." He says, "I've got the truth on my side." And they were hurling threats back and they said, "You're excommunicated, you're consigned to the flames," and just everything about Luther.

But the people in the town loved him, and the Germans, they were getting tired of being taxed by Rome. They started to stand up for Luther as their hero. And pretty soon, he agrees to go to this August assembly. They say Worms, if you're in Germany, I've been there. It was all the princes. It was a Holy Roman Empire then. Europe was not divided in the way it is today, and the different princes, and rulers, and kings of the different territories came to this incredible gathering for the purpose of letting this poor, humble monk, who is born of a father who was a copper miner, and he's now going to speak against the largest institution in the world back then, which was the Roman Catholic Church. And here's the actual answer of Luther, and this was given to the Diet of Worms in 1521. You can see, he posted his thing 1517, and so, I'd been spreading for several years. "Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason-- I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other-- my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant," in other words, renounce what he had said. "Anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen."

He was something of a modern-day Elijah that God used. You see, Elijah was a person, he appears out of nowhere in history. Doesn't talk about his family, says very little about where he's from, but there was a time of great apostasy had come to God's people in the Old Testament. You see, what happened is the King Ahab, the government, he married a pagan Queen, Jezebel, the daughter of Ithobaal, the king of Sidonians where they worship Baal. And they began to replace the worship of God with the worship of Baal, and idolatry was introduced in the kingdom. And they sort of commingled and corrupted the worship of the true God. Well, because of this terrible apostasy, God said that Ahab lead the people to sin more than any that were before him because his wife spurned him on. And Bible analogies, the king, the government is the state, a woman represent what? Represents the church.

So here, you had the commingling of the church and the state. Jezebel began to persecute the prophets of God. They went underground, they had to go into the wilderness, they hid in caves. And during this time of great famine, God finally instructed Elijah to do something that was very bold. He summoned the king. He confronted the king with his sins. He said, "You gather all of Israel to me, and we're going to find that which god is the real God." And there was an assembly on top of Mount Carmel where all the prophets of Baal, there are about 400 of them. By the way, you'll read this in 1 Kings 18:22. "Elijah said to the people, 'I alone am left of the prophet of the Lord; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men." And he issued a challenge, "How long will you halt between two opinions? If the lord of Jehovah is God, worship him. If Baal is God, worship him. I have a proposition let's see which God is the real God. You build an altar to your god, I'll build an altar to Jehovah. Whichever god answers by fire, he is the God. Any moment, they had been searching all over the country for Elijah because of the famine. They had his wanted poster everywhere. Now suddenly, he boldly appears in front of all of them, and nobody dare touches him. And he issues this command, he said, "Let's find out who has the Word of God." And then, you know, they built their altar to Baal and they sacrificed, they danced, and sang, and shouted all day long, and they cut themselves and carried on and nothing but flies.

Elijah kneels down at the end, and he prays a prayer, takes 30 seconds. He prays a prayer, a simple, humble prayer and said, "Lord God, show these people that you are the true God. Bring them back to you again, and show that I've done these things at your Word." And pow, lightning flashes down like an arc welder on the altar of Elijah, burns up the sacrifices, burns up the rocks, burns up the water that was in the ditch. And the people fell down and said, "The Lord, He is God. The Lord, He is God." And the prophets of Baal start to slink away from the scene. Elijah says, "Seize them," and all the prophets of Baal were slain. That one man had the courage to stand up at the risk of his life against an institution that had been corrupt. And it wasn't over yet, but through Elijah, and through Elisha, and those that followed, a revival was brought about a Great Reformation.

Are the principles of the Reformation under attack right now? What's changed? Does the Catholic Church still believe in indulgences? They do. They still offer them. Pope Francis offered a year of mercy and indulgence. Do they still have idols that they pray to? Do they still have purgatory? Do they still venerate Mary? If you go to the--do they still celebrate the mass and say they've got the power to turn the bread into the body of Christ? If you go to what the issues were that the reformers protested against, none of them have been changed, and the Protestant leaders are capitulating, they're surrendering, and accepting Baal worship, basically.

God needs more Elijahs today. You know, the Bible says, "Behold, I send you Elijah the Prophet." Not only did John the Baptist come in the spirit and the power of Elijah, Martin Luther and many reformers did the work of Elijah and Elisha. But Jesus isn't here yet. Just before Christ even simultaneous with Christ's first coming, John the Baptist was doing his work. I believe God is looking for people that will do the work of Elijah in the world today that will speak up boldly and say, "This is what the Bible says. It doesn't matter what the church says. It doesn't matter what the world is doing. Man is going to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."

We need to have another Reformation. We need to be willing to stand like Luther. He wasn't afraid of what was going to happen to him. He was more concerned what would happen to the truth because truth never dies.

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