Whenever I think about the 16th Century Reformation, three key events stand out in my mind. They are: the nailing of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses; Luther’s trial at the Diet of Worms and the protest of the ‘reformers’ at the Diet of Speyer in 1529. These three events demonstrate to me the essence of the Reformation. The posting of the 95 Theses on the castle door of Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517 was a courageous act that sparked the flames of the Reformation movement all over Europe. This was Luther’s way of challenging the Roman Catholic Church (RC Church) to a debate on its doctrines, especially the sale of indulgences sanctioned by the Pope, Leo X. To me, Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses was like the nailing of a coffin which sealed the decline of the papacy and imperial power over Europe.
The trial of Luther at the Diet of Worms in 1521 was another high point of the Reformation. It was at this trial that he uttered his famous defense, “Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments … I am conquered by the Holy Scriptures quoted by me, and my conscience is bound in the word of God: I cannot and will not recant any thing, since it is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against the conscience. Here I stand! I cannot do otherwise. God help me! Amen.” (History of the Christian Church, vol. VII, ch. 3, sec. 55). His courageous faith and triumph at this trial became known throughout Europe as the victory of puny ‘David’ over the ‘Goliath’ of the corrupt system of the RC Church.
The third highlight of the Reformation is the stand taken by the six German princes and fourteen representatives at the Diet of Speyer in 1529. They stood firm against the decision of the majority and protested against the imperial ban placed on Luther and his followers. This small band of ‘reformers’ dared to defy the edit of the Emperor, the Pope and the decision of the Church Council. They cared not for their own safety but were only concerned for the honor of their Lord and the Word. It was no wonder that the motto of their protest was, “the Word of God abideth forever.” According to church historians, this event marked the beginning of the movement of Protestantism. What can we learn from these events of the Reformation? First, as beneficiaries of the Reformation, we should never forget what these ‘heroes of the faith’ did. We must be mindful of their sacrifices. We should be grateful to God for their spiritual legacy. Another lesson: It was not the actions of a disgruntled few who had ‘an axe to grind’ They were ‘reformers’ and were first and foremost, witnesses and followers of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In other words, they did not protest for the sake of protesting. When the occasion called for the demonstration of their faith, they stood up and were counted for Christ. Are we willing to be that kind of witnesses for our Lord Jesus Christ and bearing our cross daily?
We should also learn from their examples that the fundamental truths of the Gospel must never, under any circumstances, be compromised.
May our Lord grant us His grace and boldness to hold fast the confession of faith till He comes again. Amen.
Rev Mark Tay