Whether the game was Simon Says or Simon, the idea was that a command was given and you do it. If you do it successfully enough, and better than others, then you win. That’s what a lot of people think of religion. And with defiled religion, that may be true, but true religion as James says in James 1, or true Christianity as we would call it, represents a completely different idea.
But it hasn’t always been that way, and frankly, it isn’t that way today in a lot of places. Christianity is a difficult concept to fully comprehend. Living out our faith in Christ is quite a difficult task. At least for me it is. I think I get one truth figured out, and then I realize that the depths of my understanding are stretched further. Maybe it would be easier just to have someone to tell us what to do.
But that’s the problem. Many people will tell you what to do without a clue of whether it is right or wrong, or how to do it. They may even want to tell you what to do for the right reasons, but ultimately, the motives of mankind will turn selfish without a constant focus on God. Therefore, every leader will likely mislead you at some point because no one keeps a perfect focus on God at all times. But a God-honoring leader will repent, ask forgiveness, and seek to make things right. Unfortunately, it is often easier to be led astray than it is to return. And, at some point, many do not return at all, and that leads to a dark place – which is how we arrived at a need for a reformation of the Church.
A Need for Reformation
Before I share some reasons for why The Reformation was needed, let me clarify what the word means. First, we must remember that the more formal name of this series of events is The Protestant Reformation (Protest-ant) Reformation. But to understand the aim of this protest, we need to know what the word “reformation” means.
Reformation (Re – Form – Ation)
- RE – from a Latin word; has an element of “again” or “again and again”; a backward motion (like retrace or revert); return
- FORM – to construct or frame; to arrange or organize
- ATION – an act of process
Thus, the protestors want to initiate a process to construct, frame, or organize something as it had been in the past. What was that something? The Church. The Church as Jesus said He would build it – not what it had become over the centuries. As I mentioned last week, the manner in which the Church evolved is why a rallying cry for this time period was “post tenebras lux” (After darkness, light), which is the theme of this current series.
So, what caused the darkness? And more importantly, why was a new priesthood needed? Before I answer that question, let me encourage you to read Exodus 19.5-6. God is speaking here to the nation of Israel and says the full nation will be to God a kingdom of priests. The Levites would become the priestly tribe, but before God gives the Law (including the 10 Commandments), He says the full nation will serve Him as priests – IF, if they obey God and keep the covenant. Hold that in mind for a few minutes as I now share a few issues from church history. Without a bit of knowledge of church history, the need for The Reformation cannot be understood. Even with this brief overview of the history of the church, we cannot fully grasp how problematic it was for many people to escape the darkness.
As with many aspects of life, some of the traditions of the early church were not bad at all. However, over time, many elements became requirements even taking precedence over the Bible.
- By 215 AD, many routines began to be established for aspects such as baptism – but routines became requirements
- By 250, Rome had 1 bishop (the pope) – done primarily to control doctrine and prevent heresy. Ultimately, the pope would not only control all doctrine for the church, but establish the meaning and interpretation of any doctrine.
- By 4th century some traditions (again, nothing wrong with any of these, per se)
- Prayers written down
- Candles and ornaments used
- Ministers begin to wear robes
One issue that aroused some concern for the early church was the decision to celebrate the birth of Jesus on Dec 25. (Yes, this date was not formalized until 325 AD.) The issue was the choice of date. Constantine (the emperor) had earlier worshipped Mithras, the Persian god of light – otherwise known as the Sun God. The feast for this god was held each year on Dec 25. So, Constantine decided to celebrate a feast for the Son of God on the same day that everyone usually celebrated the feast to the Sun God. Like with the traditions above, the idea of establishing a date to celebrate the birth of Jesus is not wrong per se, but hopefully you see that his choice of December 25 as the date could create a lot of confusion. Or we celebrating the Sun God or the Son of God?
5 Key Reasons People Began to Question the Church
Within the first few centuries of the Church, the items mentioned above were largely accepted without challenge because, again, nothing is truly wrong with any of them. However, over time the abuse from the pope, holy wars, certain requirements for salvation, and misconceptions of grace led to a need for change. Let me briefly mention these issues (in chronological order) as they were the real impetus leading to the Reformation.
1. The Crusades
The Crusades began in 11th Century. There were, literally, hundreds of them, but seven were considered major. Ultimately, the Crusades were about taking control of the Holy Land with a promise from the pope that any loot could be kept. One particular troubling aspect of the Crusades is that the pope announced that the killing non-Christians was permitted. Interestingly, the Crusades were not only led by adults. One children’s crusade was led by a twelve-year-old boy. Some 30,000 children left and were not heard from for several years. It was later determined most were sold as slaves.
2. Papal Abuse
Not all popes were evil, but some like Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) did not live up to the honor of their title (or in his case, his name). Pope Innocent III claimed his job was to rule the world because the pope was above man (though below God). This pope ordered an inquisition which continued through the famed Spanish Inquisition which began some 250 years later and lasted for 400 years.
However, perhaps the most influential teaching was the idea of the Works of Supererogation. The idea is that Jesus did more than what was necessary (again, this was promoted by this pope, it is not true – what Jesus did was fully necessary and only what was necessary). Furthermore, according to this false doctrine, those who have become saints have added their works over time building up the treasury of God. Therefore, according to the Catholic faith, money can be added to this treasury to help free people from purgatory. (These indulgences as they are called, are not for forgiveness, but rather to reduce the punishment for sins already forgiven. See https://www.catholic.com/tract/myths-about-indulgences for some clarification on indulgences.) Time does not allow me to fully share the problems with this doctrine, but let me state that the idea of purgatory is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.
3. The Plague (1347)
The Plague that ravaged Europe in the 14th Century led many people then to do what we often do now when some sort of tragedy strikes. They questioned the goodness of God. Could God have really caused this? What authority does the church really have?
This last question was made worse because Christians got sick, but the Jews did not. Why? Because Jews had cats. The cats ate the rats that carried the plague and thus the plague did not spread in places where the rats did not live. (One reason that most non-Jews did not have cats is that in 14th Century Europe was that cats were equated with witchcraft. It was said that witches could take the form of a cat, and that cats themselves could be a home for Satan – in part because a cat could not be trained!)
4. Split Papacy (1378)
More probably should be said about this fact, but the papacy split in 1378. The real issue with this is that the pope is consider the Vicar of Christ, or the representative of Christ. Of course, all Christians should be representing Christ, and we will get to this point soon, but within the Catholic Church, the pope holds this distinction in a special way. What it truly means is that the pope possesses the same authority and power over the church as Jesus. While that should be troubling to you, imagine if there were two popes. Which one really has authority? When the papacy split late in the 14th Century, this question was not hypothetical – it was real! This particular issue really began to open people’s eyes to some misapplied powers. However, because the common people did not have a Bible to read, they could not know for sure.
5. Lack of Biblical Understanding of Ministers
Let me start with a statement about the statistics I am about to share. These stats are from 1551 or, about 34 years after the beginning of The Reformation (source is a professor). If these statistics are true then, it is no doubt true of the period leading up to The Reformation. The following is from a survey of 331 ministers. Regarding the:
- 10 Commandments – 33 couldn’t find in the Bible; 9 ministers couldn’t count to 10
- Lord’s Prayer – 10 couldn’t say it, 39 couldn’t find if, 34 didn’t know who said it!
- Articles of Faith – only 10 couldn’t say, but 2/3 could not find references
Given these five issues, the people were becoming more skeptical of the Church. With the advent of the printing press in the 15th Century, people were becoming exposed to books, and many began to read. When Bible translations became available over the next 150 years, culminating with the Bible being translated in the king’s English – the King James Version, people were truly able to know the Bible for themselves. The King James Version was finished being translated over 90 years after The Reformation began, but it certainly helped keep the momentum moving.
The Priests of God
I finally arrive at the primary Scripture for this week. Peter wrote words in his first letter which echo the ideas God expressed in Exodus 19 which I mentioned above. In Exodus, God called for a group of obedient people to be a nation of priests proclaiming God’s name everywhere. Peter says the same thing only not to the people of Israel, but to the people of God for all time. In 1 Peter 2.9-10, Peter calls us chosen, a royal priesthood, and the people of God for the purpose of proclaiming His excellent message. A few verses prior, in verse 5, Peter says we are a holy priesthood which offer sacrifices through Jesus Christ. These verses are where the idea of a priesthood of believers originates. We, as believers – as priests of God! Therefore, we are to take responsibility for our faith!
We are not to abdicate our responsibilities or our privileges to someone else.
We are not to look to someone else for our direction or even communication with God.
We are not to confess our sins to another so they might seek forgiveness for us (though the Bible does say we should confess our sins to one another for the sake of reconciliation and peace).
Prior to The Reformation the church had all the power. What was worse was that many (most) people could not read and the Bible was written in Latin so only a few could read it. Thus, you had to take the word of the priests that what they said was true. But according to 1 Peter 2, we are the priests, and particularly, if you can read, then you do not have that excuse. People may read from different translations, but the essence remains the same (in most translations). Therefore everyone has a chance to understand. Why? Because everyone who believes in Christ is to be a priest. And as priests we are to serve and tell others about the goodness and greatness of God and His message.
The history of the church is flawed, which should not be a surprise because the church is made of humans. However, a church fully dependent on Christ will be far less flawed. This is the reason that we should all be involved in serving. When one or two people are in charge, bad decisions can be made which negatively impact the entire group (or during the Middle Ages – the entire world). However, when a group of believers band together to seek what God says and then try to follow it, one person’s agenda (like Pope Innocent III, from above) could have less of an impact, if any impact at all.
As Christians we will still make mistakes. As a leader, I will still make mistakes. But if we seek God rather than our own agendas, we can minimize our mistakes, and maximize His glory. To do that requires us to have a focus like the reformers did. Their focus was not on tradition, and not even on their fear of the pope and the Church trying to stop them – though that certainly happened. Rather, the reformers focused on five aspects which re-form-ation-ed the church, and is still doing so today. Those five aspects are known as The Five Solas. They are:
- Solua Scriptura, Scripture Alone
- Sola Christus, Christ Alone
- Sola Fide, Faith Alone
- Sola Gratia, Grace Alone
- Soli Deo Gloria, For God’s Glory Alone
Next week, I will briefly discuss each of these five solas. Then, over the following five weeks, I will cover each one separately. Also, next week should include the return of our teaching moments blogs on this site as well. Those posts will include a focus on the some of the great names of The Reformation.
How does this message apply to our JOURNEY? Well, if we are to be priests, then the answer must be about:
JOURNEY: Y – You
Jesus has done His part. Jesus has called you to do yours. How will you respond? Will you be His priest? Will you serve Him as He desires to be served by you?
Live: A priest is someone who serves God. We are all called to be priests of God. This week, look for areas where you can serve God as He has made you – with your talents, your skills, your gifts, etc. – not how you think others might have you serve.