We are living in an era in history where Christians enjoy traveling to historic sites to learn about the martyrs, the Reformers, and the Puritans—but very few are willing to engage in a risky defense of the gospel today.
In 2017 I had the distinct honor of traveling through Germany and preaching in a Reformation tour. During our tour, we visited the birth house and the death house of Martin Luther. We were given the opportunity of visiting the Augustinian Monastery where Luther began his journey as a monk. We toured Wittenberg, Worms, and Eisleben. Perhaps one of the most moving sites we visited was a room in the Wartburg Castle where Luther translated the Bible into German at a relentless speed of 1,500 words per day.
Eventually, the time came when Luther was unable to remain hidden away from the public eye. Luther had to leave the castle and engage in the work of the Reformation. To leave the castle was a risk worth taking for Luther. The perversion of the gospel was no molehill for Luther. The leader of the Reformation could not lead from the castle, he had to walk the streets of Wittenberg, talk to the common man in the marketplace, teach students in the classroom, defend his writings openly, and preach sermons from the pulpit. It was a risky venture.
As we survey the landscape of our Christian circles today, it’s apparent that things are not well. The modern-day reformation that we celebrated yesterday stands in need of a new reformation today. A glowing appreciation for God’s sovereignty and a love for the doctrines of grace is a wonderful thing indeed—but how quickly it is that the evangelical church can fall into error. We are living in times where confusing doctrines and trendy ideas infiltrate the church on a daily basis. The information superhighway of the Internet runs at light speed. Such a modern reformation is not possible when men remain silent and hunker down in the safety of their own personal castles.
As Charles Spurgeon surveyed the doctrinal downgrade of his day, he made a couple of very prophetic statements:
A Reformation is as much needed now as in Luther’s day, and by God’s grace we shall have it, if we trust in Him and publish His truth. 
We want such an one as Martin Luther to rise from his tomb. If Martin Luther were now to visit our so-called reformed churches, he would say with all his holy boldness, “I was not half a reformer when I was alive before, now I will make a thorough work of it. 
When it comes to a defense of the gospel, two things are necessary—courage and discernment. If one is fueled with great zeal and little discernment, he can do great harm to himself and others in the path of his sword. When we make a stand for the gospel, we must determine if we are looking at a molehill worth avoiding or a hill worthy of death. We must make our evaluation by examining the issues through the lens of the the Scriptures. We must be committed to the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura and go forward with a high view of God. Nothing else will suffice.
If a new reformation is needed we must be clear that it will not come without confrontation of error (2 Timothy 4:1-5) and confrontation of error rarely passes without controversy. Seasons of controversy call for a defense of the faith. Consider Paul who wrote to the church at Galatia in a time when the gospel was being perverted by the Judaizers. He insisted that the gospel be defended and that error must be avoided—no matter who it was who preached and published it (Gal. 1:6-9).
Martin Luther stood courageously at Worms in 1521 and put his neck on the line for the sake of the gospel. Rather than bowing down to the powerful system of his day—he refused to recant. Not only was this a bold move by Luther—it was a tremendously dangerous decision and one that exposed him to difficulty and persecution. As Robert Murray McCheyne once remarked, “We do not know the value of Christ, if we will not cleave to Him unto death!” 
John Rogers was burned at the stake under the reign of Queen Mary I (known as “Bloody Mary”). While Rogers was the man who took up the work of his mentor and friend William Tyndale and completed the Old Testament translation that Tyndale was unable to complete—Rogers’ death was for a different cause. While Tyndale was burned for his translation work, Rogers’ death was centered upon the fact that he refused to embrace the doctrine of Transubstantiation.
Jonathan Edwards was fired and dismissed from his pulpit on June 2, 1750. Edwards was forty-seven and had the responsibility of caring for his wife and eight children who were still at home. Yet, his dismissal was not based on a moral failure—it was centered on a controversy over biblical doctrine. Arguably the nation’s most brilliant and capable pastor-theologian was fired over his position on the Lord’s Supper. He rejected his grandfather’s teaching known as the Halfway Covenant which allowed unconverted people to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Edwards was faced with a decision—remain silent and protect his position as a pastor or speak up and become vulnerable. Edwards counted the cost and entered the controversy which cost him his pastorate.
When the gospel is being watered down and overshadowed by various issues that confuse the mission of the Church—men must leave their castles behind in order to engage in the defense of the gospel. Seasons of doctrinal controversy require men to put their reputations on the line for the sake of the gospel. Far too many men hide behind thick walls and peek through the window of their castle to see if it’s safe to enter the battlefields.
We’re living in a day when many people are willing to get a selfie in the streets in Oxford where the Oxford martyrs (Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer) died for their faith, but very few are willing to enter the fight and subject themselves to the harsh criticism of defending the faith. It’s never safe to defend the gospel (Matt. 10:22, 24:9; Luke 6:22). It may harm your reputation and complicate friendships in the process, but the gospel is worthy of such risks. It’s quite possible that preachers who stand firm on the gospel will lose speaking engagements, be rejected by publishing companies, and will be ridiculed publicly, but the question remains—is Christ worth it?
Anytime we survey doctrinal controversies in our day, we must evaluate them based on their degree of importance. Is it a hill worth dying on? Sometimes people divide over matters of eschatology or the style of music in worship services, but let’s be honest—these are not hills worthy of death. A great deal of discernment is necessary when evaluating the need to defend the faith. We should never be willing to die on a molehill, but when it comes to the purity of the gospel and the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ—this is certainly a hill worthy of death.
Do we serve the “utilitarian god” as A.W. Tozer once described the false god who labors to make a person happy and successful? Do we serve the sovereign God who is both the creator and ruler of heaven and earth? Our sovereign God has never promised us personal success and safety, but he has called us to defend the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). When you see the mission of God’s Church and the gospel of King Jesus being maligned, misrepresented, and marginalized—will you peek out the window and hide behind your comfortable walls or enter the battlefield of controversy in order to make a defense of the gospel? Far too often good men confuse mountains for molehills. I leave you with the convicting words of Charles Spurgeon who not only entered controversy, but did so with a great deal of discernment. As he took his stand he stood unashamedly upon the authoritative Word of God:
We want again Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitefields, men fit to mark eras, whose names breathe terror in our foemen’s ears. We have dire need of such. Whence will they come to us? They are the gifts of Jesus Christ to the Church, and will come in due time. He has power to give us back again a golden age of preachers, and when the good old truth is once more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the altar, this shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land.…I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it. The moment the Church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her. It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His Churches. 
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, ed., The Sword and the Trowel: A Record of Combat with Sin & Labour for the Lord (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1866), 123.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol 5 (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1981), 110–111.
Robert Murray McCheyne, Comfort in Sorrow, (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2002), 67.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Autobiography, Vol 2: The Full Harvest, 1860–1892, comp. Susannah Spurgeon and Joseph Harrald (London: Banner of Truth, 1962), v.
Last year I was introduced to Stephen McCaskell and I knew immediately that he was a gifted man. McCaskell uses his gifts to tell an important story from church history—one that all of us need to know. The official trailer of his new film documentary of Martin Luther was unveiled at the 2017 G3 Conference back in January. Just a couple of weeks ago, the film was released and I had the privilege to view it with my wife this past weekend. If you’re looking for a simple summary to describe it, I would say it’s historically accurate and brilliantly presented through the interviews and the motion graphics.
Why should you consider watching a documentary on the life and legacy of a man who lived 500 years ago in church history? Not only is history important, but the study of church history should be something that all Christians give themselves to at some level or another. It’s important to know where we stand in a long line of gospel people. This film on the life of Luther gives us a unique look into his life and reminds us of the importance of the Reformation.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of what’s known as the Protestant Reformation. A simple document, intended to spark a debate among the scholarly world and Roman Catholic community in Wittenberg, Germany, was nailed to the castle church door and turned into a spark that set the world ablaze. Martin Luther wanted to talk about the theology behind the selling of indulgences, and it turned into a massive world-changing controversy. This eventually led to a movement which eventually morphed into a protest.
This is a wonderful year to learn more about Martin Luther, the central figure in the Reformation. If you don’t know much about church history, this documentary will aid you in building your knowledge about the Reformation and key figures of the protest known to us as the Reformation. Often with documentaries and historical biographies, men can become giants—exaggerated to the level of super human where we often fail to remember that they too have feet of clay.
Stephen McCaskell does a great job of reminding us that Martin Luther was a unique and gifted man that God raised up for a unique purpose in church history. However, like all of us, he had both flowers and flaws. In a balanced way, McCaskell tells the story of Luther’s life and provides us a balanced view of his flaws. This is perhaps best explained by Carl Trueman in one of the sections of the documentary as he called Luther a “bull-headed man.”
As you can expect with any documentary, the film contains footage of interviews with authors, scholars, and preachers on the subject of Luther’s life and legacy. In a masterful way, these segments are woven together along with the motion graphic sections to make for a stunning presentation. McCaskell interviews some of today’s leading voices and personalities on the life and ministry of Martin Luther including R.C. Sproul, Carl Trueman, Steven Lawson, and more.
In a way that does more than attempt to memorialize Luther, the authors, theologians, and preachers who are interviewed do an excellent job of providing details pertaining to the man known as Luther. As Dr. R.C. Sproul stated, “Luther blazed the rediscovery of justification by faith alone, and he restored the church’s focus to Christ alone.”
The Motion Graphics
Not many historic documentaries use animated graphics to tell the story of a person from history, but McCaskell employs animation in his film in a natural and non-distracting manner that ads great value and appeal to the story.
No matter what your knowledge base of Martin Luther’s life and place in church history is, you will find this documentary to be a great resource for your library. Luther accurately covers the life and ministry of the central figure of the Reformation. This documentary is powerfully presented with key interviews and stunning motion graphics. This is a great time to learn about Martin Luther and the Reformation that not only rocked the false church of Rome—but impacted the entire world. This resource would be good for both a home and church library.
Today I’m beginning a short series that will be posted each Thursday titled, Do Not Worship the Reformers. The aim of the series is to point out why we love and respect these men, but at the same time, we should not hold them up to an unhealthy level of adoration and appreciation. The Reformers accomplished many things for the glory of God, but like you and I, they all had feet of clay.
We Should Applaud Luther’s Doctrine of Justification
Martin Luther was born November 10th, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany. He would be baptized the following day. His family connections provided opportunity for education and to excel in life, but Luther’s life would take a different turn. One that he didn’t expect and one that his family opposed. He would enter the monastery in keeping with a promise he made out of fear to God in a violent thunderstorm. Little did he know that providence was guiding his footsteps. Those footsteps would eventually be led to the castle church in Wittenberg on October 31st, 1517 in protest that would eventually be heard around the world.
Martin Luther has been hailed by some as a hero of church history. When we examine the history of the church, we see the enormous contribution of Luther as a man who brought the church back to the Bible and upheld justification by faith alone.
The material principle of the historic Protestant Reformation was justification by faith alone. Is the forgiveness of sins obtained by the work of Jesus alone, or is it obtained by the work of Jesus and the cooperation of sinners through external works, as the Roman Catholic Church teaches? That issue stood at the center of the debate in Luther’s day, and it remains central in our present day as well.
In thesis 52, Luther writes:
It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.
Luther was outraged by the offer of salvation by the purchase of indulgences. Eventually Luther’s protest would grow in intensity after his conversion. True biblical salvation had been lost in the day of the sixteenth century like a precious diamond in the muck of a pig’s pen. God chose to raise up men who would recover the biblical teaching of salvation and bring God’s people back to the Bible. One such man was an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther. Commenting on the importance of justification by faith alone, Luther wrote:
The article of justification and of grace is the most delightful, and it alone makes a person a theologian and makes of a theologian a judge of the earth and of all affairs. Few there are, however, who have thought it through well and who teach it aright. 
We Should Question Luther’s Doctrine of Baptism
While Luther was a faithful opponent of the false doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church on matters of salvation, he seems to contradict himself at times on the subject of sola fide (faith alone). In discussing religious works in relation to the sacraments, Luther writes:
Therefore it cannot be true that there resides in the sacraments a power capable of giving justification, or that they are the “signs” of efficacious grace. All such things are said to the detriment of faith, and in ignorance of the divine promises. . . . In this way, the Romanists have put precepts in place of the sacraments, and works in place of faith. Now, if a sacrament were to give me grace just because I receive that sacrament, then surely I should obtain the grace, not by faith, but by my works. I should not gain the promise in the sacrament, but only the sign instituted and commanded by God. 
On a similar note, Luther writes the following about baptism:
A man can be saved without the sacrament, but not without the word; this is true of those who desire baptism but die before they can receive it. 
However, as we continue to read the works of Luther, we find statements that not only seem self-contradictory, but also seem to fall into tension with the faith alone formula of biblical salvation. The German Catechism was published in 1529. Concerning the effects of baptism, Luther appeals to Mark 16:16 and says:
This is the simplest way to put it: the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of baptism is that it saves. For no one is baptized in order to become a prince, but as the words say, ‘to be saved.’ To be saved, as everyone knows, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death and the devil, to enter into Christ’s kingdom, and to live with him forever. 
When Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the castle church door in 1517, he wasn’t yet a true Christian. It would be over the next few years that he would come to embrace Christ by faith alone.
Moving beyond Wittenberg in 1517 and Worms in 1521, Luther wrote, preached, and taught much about the doctrine of salvation. In many points, we applaud his preaching and writing, but in some areas, we find ourselves confused about Luther’s beliefs.
The tension we find in Luther’s theology reminds us that he had feet of clay. Luther was an imperfect man with imperfect theology who lived in the looming shadows of the Roman Catholic Church in the days of the sixteenth century. In short, Luther should be appreciated and applauded, but not worshipped.
What exactly did Luther mean when he said that baptism saves? Did he have in mind something different than the Roman Catholics? I believe he did have something else in mind. However, he seems to move beyond the idea of baptism being a “means of grace” whereby God bestows blessings on His people. He seems to press toward something different. While Luther was not a heretic who nullified sola fide by baptismal regeneration, it seems that he did walk too close to the line on the subject of baptism.
Whatever he truly believed about baptism, we may never fully understand. However, we do know that Luther did champion the idea of infant baptism. Once again, he was saying something different than what the Roman Catholic Church said infant baptism accomplished, but he was still not clear enough. Although Luther should be respected on many levels theologically, the mode and efficacy of baptism in Luther’s system must be called into question.
Luther proved his humanity through his doctrine of baptism. It’s here that we see strange tensions in Luther’s beliefs rising to the surface. Martin Luther came out of Rome, but at times, it seems that not all of Rome came out of Luther.
While we should applaud Luther’s position on Scripture and his willingness to protest the false doctrine of salvation taught by the Roman Catholic Church—he should not be worshipped. He should be appreciated. He should be recognized and respected, but he should not be adored and worshipped. Martin Luther, like us all, had feet of clay. Martin Luther was a sinner who God saved and used for His glory—not a superhero Christian who lived above sin. We should be grateful for the man, but he must not be worshiped.
WA, 25:375, quoted in What Luther Says, 704.
Luther, “The Pagan Servitude of the Church,” 300–301.
Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (trans. Robert C. Schultz; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966), 349.
The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 459.
The sixteenth century Reformation was caused by a variety of factors, but none was greater than the perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ by the Roman Catholic Church. The Bible clearly teaches justification by faith alone in Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins. The Roman Catholic Church labored to silence the Scriptures in order to peddle their cheap gospel. God awakened men such as Martin Luther and John Calvin and many others who would give their lives for the sake of the gospel.
Out of the Reformation came five doctrinal statements known today as the five solas of the Reformation.
Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)
Yesterday marked the 499th anniversary of the day when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the Castle door in Wittenberg in order to protest the perversion of the true gospel of Christ. As we look back at the 499 years of church history and explore the present state of the evangelical church, an honest evaluation would reveal that the Reformation is not over. Below are ten reasons why the Reformation is not over 499 years after it began.
The Roman Catholic Church has not repented of their perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Preaching is not, in many evangelical circles, the central mark of the local church.
The present state of the evangelical church is filled with a love for pragmatism and a distaste for robust theology.
The holiness of God is barely referenced much less understood among many evangelical churches.
Worship has become man-centered as opposed to God-centered.
Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are often trivialized and minimized.
Church discipline is a missing mark in most evangelical churches in our present day.
Evangelism has been replaced by gimmickry and superficial methods that seek immediate results as opposed to genuine conversion.
Holy living has been replaced by a loose antinomian approach to redeeming the culture.
Church membership has become a shadow of indulgences — one’s ticket to heaven in many evangelical churches.
Until Christ returns, the spirit of the Reformation will not be complete. The purity of the church and the exaltation of an unadulterated gospel will be the desire of those who continue to stand upon the shoulders of the Reformers of church history. May we labor with love and take the torch light of the gospel and continue the work of the Reformation.
As we reflect upon the Reformation of church history, we must consider the present Reformation and what’s needed to make the church treasure Christ more than anything else this world has to offer. We must refuse to recant and stand boldly upon the true gospel of Jesus Christ for the glory of God.
In his book titled, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism, R.C. Sproul writes, “I have found that the vast majority of people who call themselves Protestants have no idea what they are protesting.  In the year 1517, the movement known as the Protestant Reformation exploded. Led by Martin Luther, the Reformers opposed the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church – especially on the subject of justification by faith alone, the need for the Bible in the common man’s language, and the elements of the Lord’s Supper. For years, the Reformers stood with passion and bold conviction to oppose such teaching. As we near the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, we must answer this very important question: Is the Reformation over? The Pope says the Reformation is over, should we believe him?
Recently, in an interview, Pope Francis made some very confusing statements. While this might not be a surprise, when he speaks about the Reformation and the precious doctrine of justification, it’s worthy of our attention. During an in-flight press conference interview while traveling, Pope Francis was asked the following question:
Seeing that you will go in I believe four months to Lund for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I think perhaps this is also the right moment for us not only to remember the wounds on both sides but also to recognize the gifts of the reformation. Perhaps also – this is a heretical question – perhaps to annul or withdraw the excommunication of Martin Luther or of some sort of rehabilitation. Thank you.
Pope Francis’ full answer to this question can be read in accessed (see full interview here), but in his response he made some important statements that must be addressed.
Are We United or Divided on Justification?
Pope Francis, when answering the question about the Reformation, said, “And today Lutherans and Catholics, Protestants, all of us agree on the doctrine of justification.” Is that true? Do we all believe the same thing regarding the doctrine of justification? In that same answer, Pope Francis pointed back to the eccumenical document signed in 1999 by the Roman Catholic Church and a group of liberal Lutherans on justification titled, “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.”
According to the official doctrinal statementCatechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Roman Catholic Church states the following:
1987 The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” and through Baptism.
In a later paragraph, the same document says:
1993 Justification establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom. On man’s part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent.
In both places, the Roman Catholic Church adds to justification by faith alone the work of baptism and the gift of faith suggesting that sinful rebels cooperate with God in this work of justification. This is one of the central dividing lines between the doctrines of Rome and Christians. According to Martin Luther, “The doctrine of justification is the article by which the church stands or falls.” It’s essential to note that there is no hint of eccuminism in Luther’s tone.
GOD freely justifies the persons whom He effectually calls. He does this, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins and by accounting them, and accepting them, as righteous. This He does for Christ’s sake alone, and not for anything wrought in them or done by them. The righteousness which is imputed to them, that is, reckoned to their account, is neither their faith nor the act of believing nor any other obedience to the gospel which they have rendered, but Christ’s obedience alone. Christ’s one obedience is twofold-His active obedience rendered to the entire divine law, and His passive obedience rendered in His death.Those thus justified receive and rest by faith upon Christ’s righteousness; and this faith they have, not of themselves, but as the gift of God.
According to Romans 3:21-24, Paul makes the clear point that justification is by God’s grace alone:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
It doesn’t matter if the Pope believes we’re united on justification, the fact remains, we’re Protestant and we continue to protest the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine of justification. Until the Roman Catholic Church repents of this perversion, we will not be united on this doctrine. Perhaps it’s the office of Pope that prevents true unity on justification. Jesus sits in the seat of supremacy – not the Pope. In a sermon at the 2016 Together for the Gospelconference, Ligon Duncan made this statement:
The greatest barrier to real biblical institutional unity in the world is the claim of the Roman pontiff to ecclesiastical supremacy. The claim to papal supremacy by the bishop of Rome is the single most schismatic act in the history of Christianity. It has provided more schism by far than that of the wildest heretical sects imaginable.
Is the Reformation Over?
How can Pope Francis claim that we all agree on justification? It’s plainly obvious that we are not all Roman Catholic in doctrine. The historic Reformation was not merely a political protest. At the heart of the protest was the issue of justification by faith alone. What many people fail to realize is that doctrine matters. Out of the Reformation came five doctrinal statements known today as the five solas of the Reformation.
Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)
We must not forget that the Roman Catholic Church rejects the sufficiency of Scripture, adds works to God’s grace, perverts faith, and blasphemes the Son of God. These grievous errors must be rejected, and that’s why the Reformers were willing to give their lives throughout church history. It wasn’t merely the bad behavior of a misguided Catholic priest that led to this juncture. It was the conversion of a Roman Catholic priest to Christianity and a bold stand against the perversion of the gospel.
With great certainty we must protest the idea that the Reformation is over. Until Rome repents, the same protests of church history continue today. We don’t claim perfection in our attempts to protest, but we do claim a trustworthy doctrine of justification by faith alone as revealed to us in God’s sufficient Word. If we shift on this foundational doctrine, we must call ourselves something other than Christian.
Just as the hymn writer Augustus Toplady penned years ago, we must embrace as truth today:
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
R.C. Sproul, Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, ), 71.