The Reformation and Twentieth Century Protestantism

Excerpt from the pamphlet “The Reformation and Twentieth Century Protestantism.”

October 31 is the anniversary of the Reformation of the church—“Reformation Day.” On the 31st of October in the year 1517, in Wittenberg, Germany, the monk and university professor Martin Luther nailed to the door of the great Church a list of 95 propositions, or theses. That act and those theses became the source of that mighty movement within the church which we know as the “Reformation of the church.” We do well to commemorate and celebrate this event of the 16th century. For it had the most tremendous significance for the true church of Jesus Christ. It was the most important act of God upon the church for good from the death of the apostles to the present time.

The date, October 31, 1517, only marks what later proved to be the beginning of the Reformation. When Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the church, he had no intention of starting the Reformation. He had no plan whatever of separation from the church whose headquarters was Rome and whose head was the Pope. His purpose with the theses and the discussion of them which he hoped would follow was the correction of certain practices and the teachings that produced those practices. He wanted the existing church to reform itself. In the 95 theses, Luther revealed himself as still very much tainted with the evils of the church as she then existed. For example, he as yet regarded the Pope as the rightful head of the church, and he was willing to allow the practice of indulgences in the church, if only the gross abuses were corrected. He himself had to develop in the truth, which, however, he did speedily, so that by 1520 he recanted his former allowance of a Pope and indulgences. The Reformation, therefore, was not Luther’s intention, but the will of God. It was not Luther’s achievement, but the work of God. Luther himself said, after the Reformation had sprouted and flowered: “like a blind mule I was led by Him.”

Nor was the Reformation of the church a movement that was perfected through Luther and that ended with his death. It continued and advanced through other Reformers of the 16th century, especially John Calvin. It proceeded with power, and with blessing for the church in the great Synod of Dordt and the Westminster Assembly of the 17th century. It goes on today, over 450 years after its beginning. But the seed of this plant was sown on October 31, 1517. Whether Luther knew it or not, the 95 theses contained the truth that must shake the world and radically reform the church of Christ.