Read His Words Before Ours!
I remember the first time I became enthralled with church history. The door was flung wide to the past with the words, “Let’s explore those on whose shoulders we stand.”
Curiosity gripped me, along with conviction.
Regrettably, I hadn’t considered anyone’s shoulders I had been privileged to stand on, aside from the biblical characters of the early church like Peter, Paul, and Silas. I hadn’t given much thought at all to how we, as the church, came to be today.
As I began reading a short book on church history, my curiosity for these brave men and women intensified. What became abundantly clear the more I studied was how regular and ordinary these people were. Yet, they moved through history with radical boldness fueled by the matchless power of the God who loves His Bride, the Church, and would protect her and fight for her at all cost.
Over the course of this 3-week Journey Theme, Sola, our intentions are to peek behind the curtains of history to see the face and faith of Luther the Reformer to understand why he fought so valiantly to identify and protect the five Solas. In so doing, we are praying a similar fire be lit in our own hearts as was present with Luther and countless other Christ-followers like him. Come with us, feel the shoulders on whom we stand, then turn and look in the mirror and ask what legacy we are building for the Church!
Luther’s monument in Worms, Germany (pronounced “verms”) literally stands on 4 pillars which represent the shoulders of 4 pre-reformers who cleared the way with their faith, their lives, and even their deaths, for Martin Luther to take his stand for the Church.
Peter Waldo (~1140-1218) was an unlikely reformer. A wealthy, confident, socialite in Lyons, France, had everything he wanted, but eventually, through life circumstances, became increasingly concerned on how to be saved. The Roman Catholic church held great power at this time, but there was little to no access to read the Scripture for oneself. Waldo was intent on doing exactly this, so hired two translators to copy Scripture from Latin to French so he could read it himself.
God’s Words pierced his heart.
Waldo repented of his love of self, gave up his wealth, and committed the rest of his life to translating Scripture from Latin to French so everyone in Europe could access truth for themselves. The more he studied Scripture, the more convicted he became that Catholic doctrine and practices weren’t aligned with God’s Word. Waldo was excommunicated from the Catholic church, but his efforts to re-take the solid ground of Scripture paved the way for Luther just over 300 years later.
John Wycliffe (1330-1384), often referred to as the Morning Star of the Reformation, had reform woven through every fabric of his being. Like Waldo, over 100 years prior, the more Wycliffe studied his Bible, the more he realized how far off course the Church had veered when it came to truth. An anchor was needed. A light must shine out like a lighthouse to call the Church back to the unshakeable truth of God’s Word. Once aflame with the passion of God’s conviction, Wycliffe would not be silenced. He outed the Catholic Church for the papacy, finding absolutely no support in Scripture for the role of the Pope. He argued passionately for Scripture’s authority of the Church, not the other way around. Finally, his most important preparation for the Reformation coming 200 years later centered around the widespread translation of the Latin Bible into English that everyone could read Scripture for themselves.
Thirty-one years later in 1415, at the Council of Constance, the deceased Wycliffe was declared a heretic. His body was exhumed, his bones were burned, and his ashes dumped into the River Swift. At this same Council, our third pre-reformer took his stand.
Jan Hus (1369-1415), whose last name means “goose” in Czech, was born in modern-day Czech Republic and his zeal for studying Scripture colored everything he did. Again, just like the other men we are studying today, what set him apart was not his bravado, his intelligence, or his position, rather it was simply his commitment to studying Scripture and applying it to real, everyday life. He refused to simply learn, Hus staked his life on the claims of the Bible. Hus witnessed the abuse of power by Roman Catholic popes. He saw the Church attempt to hold authority over Scripture, deciding their own truth along the way. He was reviled by it.
When given the opportunity to recant before the Council of Constance, Jan Hus declared with a power from the Holy Spirit living within him, “What I taught with my lips, I will now seal with my blood.” He did exactly that and was ordered to be burned at the stake. After his death sentence was given, Hus made his famous proclamation, “You may roast the goose, but a hundred years from now a swan will arise whose singing you will not be able to silence.” Hammer in hand, Luther nailed his 95-Theses to Wittenberg’s church door 102 years later. The swan had arrived, standing on the shoulders of the goose.
Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498), a fiery Italian friar, was incredibly intelligent with a keen talent for public speaking. He quickly rose in popularity as a public preacher after spending a good portion of his early years studying Scripture and committing it to memory. Savonarola passionately called for moral reform and blatantly condemned the Roman Catholic church for their abuse of Scripture. Savonarola’s zeal won him a death sentence by hanging and burning, but the sparks he lit with his passion would encourage Luther a mere 30 years later.
On April 17, 1521, much like Hus at the Council of Constance in 1415, Luther was called in at the Diet of Worms and ordered to recant his stance on the authority of Scripture and against the Roman Catholic Church. Luther asked for one day to consider, only to return the following day with these words,
“Your serene emperor and you illustrious princes and gracious lords, you demand a clear and direct answer; here it is, plain and unvarnished—I cannot and I will not recant.
My conscience is captive to the Word of God.
Here I stand. I can do no other.
God help me. Amen.”
Three months prior to his ultimate statement of deference to Scripture, Luther had declared during a debate with Johann Eck, the sharpest Roman Catholic debater,
“I Am A Hussite”.
Luther’s declaration to fully associate himself as standing on the shoulders of Jan Hus won him the title “heretic” and moved him to the Diet at Worms.
Graciously, God spared Luther’s life from burning or hanging for his unashamed stance on truth and he went on to continue encouraging the Church to return to Scripture, read it for themselves, and anchor herself on the teachings of God’s Word, centered around the Five Solas.
See, truth matters.
Each of these men had lived in a world where truth had become irrelevant and authority was glibly handed off to a select few, along with power and prestige. Here, the Church raced wildly towards preaching a powerless gospel that could save none while offering empty, meaningless tokens of self-righteousness in place of the all-sufficient saving sacrifice of Christ Jesus.
What is truth?
It’s whatever we make it, isn’t it?
Relevant to circumstance.
And, I’d certainly better not impose my truth onto your truth.
Just be good, right? (AKA self-righteous)
But as long as it’s your definition of good, and it doesn’t infringe on my definition.
God loves everyone, right? If there even is a God.
Not real, right?
Sisters, it’s time to stand strong again on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. It’s time to read our Bibles and abandon everything else for the sake of holding unswervingly to Scripture.
Maybe we need the five Solas more than we realize…
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!