By Christine Darg, Jerusalem Channel

The Protestant Reformation concerns recovery of the truth of the glorious Gospel, that salvation is by faith and righteousness is imputed to those who put their trust and faith in the Saviour.

Traditionally, 31 October 1517 is widely held to be the day German monk Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. Historians and other experts on the subject argue that Luther may have chosen All Hallows’ Eve on purpose to get the attention of the common people, although this has never been proven.

Luther objected to a saying attributed to Johann Tetzel, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory [also attested as ‘into heaven’] springs.”

When the Apostle Paul taught the doctrine of justification by faith, he cited as a biblical example the patriarch Abraham: “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’” (Rom. 4:3, citing Gen. 15:6). God justified Abraham because of his faith. God counted Abraham as righteous because he believed in the promise God had made to him. That is the doctrine of imputation. Martin Luther and other reformers recovered these biblical truths.

Protestantism teaches a divine exchange. By faith our sin is imputed to Jesus, and His righteousness is imputed to us.

The sale of indulgences, woodcut by Jörg Breu the Elder of Augsburg, circa 1530.

While 500 years ago the Church was selling indulgences and putting faith in relics–what Luther called “the Pope’s second hand junk”–God used the Protestant reformers to recover Biblical truth. We must never forget that the initiative was God’s, and so we believe today for continued recovery of truth. We don’t need new truth; we don’t need a new Gospel. We must rediscover on this Reformation Day the everlasting truths of the glorious Gospel! That is revival!

In 2 Cor 5: 21, Paul explains the most amazing theological statement….. God “made Jesus who never sinned to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” This is an important doctrinal statement in order to grasp the power of the Gospel and the power of the Reformation. This is why Protestants are Protestants and why evangelicals are evangelicals. God treated Jesus as if Jesus had personally committed every sin in the world….though He committed none of them. This is God’s justice in the atonement: God laid all the punishment for all the sins of all who believe on Jesus and poured out His wrath on Jesus instead of us. Jesus paid as a ransom with his blood for the accumulated sins of the world. You see, on the cross, He died for all. This is the mystery of the Gospel that Jesus absorbed all of God’s wrath on the Cross for our sins. And that’s why Jesus shouted in triumph with his dying breath, “It is finished!”

In the Lutheran Church, the liturgical color of the day is red, which represents the Holy Spirit and the martyrs of the Christian Church. Luther’s hymn, “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (“A Mighty Fortress is our God”), a paraphrase of Psalm 46, is traditionally sung on this day. It has been called the one hymn that most symbolizes the Protestant Reformation. It is said that those persecuted and martyred for their convictions during the Reformation sang these words:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

The Jews did not come to faith in Jesus on Luther’s schedule and thus he fell tragically into anti-semitism. We are still trying to rid the consequences of Luther’s far-reaching anti-semitism from the churches, but as for his recovery of justification by faith, we rejoice today. It’s an ignorant mistake to downplay the power of the Reformation and its many martyrs because of the tragic anti-semitism of Luther toward the end of his life. Do not throw the baby out with the bath water! Any Christian who does not properly appreciate all the Biblical truth that the Protestant Reformation recovered from the darkness of indulgent Catholicism of 500 years ago has no real understanding of the ongoing progress needed. Yes, another Reformation from the scourge of Replacement Theology is necessary.