On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther tacked his 95 Theses on the door of the Whittenburg Chapel in Whittenburg, Germany. Luther had been troubled for quite some time regarding several issues in the Catholic Church, among which were its departure from the Scriptures and the Papal abuse of power. What most people do not know is that the 95 Theses were originally published in Latin, which in the 16th century, only clergy could read. Luther meant to spawn debate among the church and open things up for discussion, but the powers that be did not take it this way. Soon, someone translated the theses into German and distributed them among the German people and the flames of Reformation were fanned.
Luther’s purpose was never to break with the Catholic Church. He wanted to reform it. Nevertheless, Luther’s courage to stand up for the Word of God finally prompted his break with the church. For the first time in the Western Church, Christianity appeared to be self-destructing.
It is interesting to me that the church’s (speaking now of the global church as in Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox) greatest strength up to this point was its unity. For the most part, the church was united as one entity. But when the Protestant Reformation ripped the church in two and subsequently splintered into several factions by the end of the 17th century, what was the greatest strength dissolved into another greatest strength: purification. The biblical teaching of justification by grace alone through faith alone was recovered (or maybe liberated) from the power structure of the Catholic Church and the priesthood of the believer once again took preeminence over any hierarchy that would place something between the believer and his or her Savior.
The problem of the Reformation is disunity. It is our weakness. While we have united under the banner of grace alone through faith alone, we have often been guilty of ignoring our spiritual heritage and dismissing a theologian or a theology simply because the theologian or theology is Catholic. Catholics view the Reformation as divisive and still divide over the issue of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. While we do still need to, as Protestant Christians, stand on the Word of God and proclaim the five solas, we also need to continue the conversation.
However, we should never give up our other beliefs, one of which is that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. That belief, which was and is the dividing line for Protestants and Catholics, is an essential and cannot be compromised. It is the point of purification to separate those who lean on their own works for salvation or those who depend on the work of Christ on the cross, once and for all time.
To summarize, The Reformation’s problem and greatest weakness is disunity, but we should never compromise unity for a false gospel, especially a gospel that inserts our own works on any level for our salvation. Our salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. That is our new greatest strength.