Next Lord’s Day, October 28, is Reformation Sunday for this year. It was on 31st October 1517, 495 years ago, that Martin Luther, the great Reformer of the 16th Century, nailed his famous 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral in Germany against the errors of Roman Catholicism. For over 1000 years before the Reformation, the Bible had been a closed book. It was a period of great spiritual darkness. With the Reformation, the Bible was restored to its “open” position. Let us briefly review the Reformation in Biblical times, Reformation in the 16 Century and the Reformation today.
Reformation in Biblical Times
The Reformation had its roots in the Bible. Under Hezekiah, Josiah, and Ezra, efforts were made to bring about a fresh obedience to God’s Word. In the 18th year of King Josiah, Hilkiah, the high priest discovered “the Book of the Law” while he was clearing the treasure room of the temple in preparation for renovation. He brought this scroll to Josiah’s attention. When the king heard the Word of God, he tore his clothes in grief and immediately began making religious reforms in his own life and throughout the nation.
Josiah encouraged the exclusive worship of God and outlawed all other forms of worship. According to the biblical account, Josiah destroyed the living quarters for male cult prostitutes which were in the Temple, and also destroyed pagan objects related to the worship of Baal. Josiah had living pagan priests executed and even had the bones of the dead priests of Bethel exhumed from graves and burned on their altars, which was viewed as an extreme act of desecration. Josiah also reinstituted the Passover celebrations. According to the later account in 2 Chronicles, Josiah even destroyed altars and images of pagan deities in cities of the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, as far as Naphtali (2 Chronicles 34:6-7), which were outside of his kingdom, Judah.
Reformation in the 16th Century
For over 1000 years the Word of God was ignored. Spiritual darkness prevailed. Salvation through the righteousness of Christ was replaced by the righteousness of men by works. The Word of God was doubly chained up, first by the prohibition of translation into the common languages and second by the prohibition of interpretation other than by the clergy. The spirit of the liberty of the Gospel and the spirit to serve were replaced by asceticism characterised by withdrawal from the world into monasteries.
God raised Martin Luther and other reformers to dispel this spiritual darkness of the Middle Ages. Martin Luther’s serious studies of the epistle to the Romans led him to the re-discovery of the great Biblical truth: the just shall live by faith (Rom. 1:17 and 3:28). This peace Martin Luther found was not by observance of penance and good works but in Christ who died on the cross and justified him before God by his faith and through God’s grace.
The Reformation was a Bible movement, for it emphasised the supremacy of the Bible. Luther, Calvin, and others – not forgetting Wycliffe and Huss before them – were all distinguished scholars who assiduously applied their learning to the Word of God, not to vain speculation. Without exception they all stressed the absolute claims of the Bible as the foundation stone of Christian beliefs and living. The Bible was carefully translated; its meaning clearly explained in numerous commentaries; its teachings extracted for hymns, catechisms, and confessions. Indeed the Bible was returned to its rightful place in Christian faith and practice.
The Reformation Today
In the spirit of the 16th Century Reformation, we deem it necessary to reiterate and reaffirm our stand on the Word of God. We unreservedly uphold the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible as the Word of God in the original languages. We would promote the study of the Word of God not only for spiritual growth but also to fortify ourselves against being deceived by Satan through heresies and satanic movements masquerading as angels of light; and declare our stand for purity in Christian life.
In our effort to continue the reformation, we should redoubled our efforts to promote biblical missions and evangelism. It should cause us, like John Calvin who was a man truly committed to the spread of the gospel. Under his leadership, Geneva became “the hub of vast missionary enterprise” and school of mission. The Christians came to Geneva not merely to seek for refuge but also to learn from Calvin, the doctrines of the Reformation and they returned home to spread the true gospel.
In Singapore the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act in 1990/91 does not hinder the role of the 21st Century Reformation. We are not compromising our stand nor position when we give our support to the measures taken by our government to maintain religious harmony. Religious Harmony in Singapore means that everyone has the right to profess, practise and propagate his/her faith. However, in exercising this right, you must not break any law on public order, public health or morality.
Therefore, religious harmony is not for the purpose of working out a common faith for all religions. We may be called upon to observe the activities of other religions in order to have a better understanding of their beliefs and practices, and yet we do not participate in any of their religious ceremonies and activities. We do show our respect and regard to those who differ from us.
We dearly hold on to the Bible as our sole guide and the basis of our Christian belief and practice. In the meanwhile, we maintain our mutual fellowship with brethren of like precious faith to strengthen the faith of the believers amidst the fast advancing tide of apostasy.