In just a few days, we will once again remember the historic Reformation of church history. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses was the spark of the Reformation. When he nailed it to the castle door in Wittenberg on October 31st, 1517, it altered history. It served as the sword that pierced the bowels of the Roman Catholic Church. As Luther stood before Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, lord of Spain, Austria, Burgundy, southern and northern Italy, and the Netherlands – he was dressed in a humble monk’s attire. When asked to recant, after being granted a full day to consider his answer, he stood boldly and said:
I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.
From that moment forward, the Reformation exploded. The Reformers were opposed to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and their lockdown approach to God’s Word. During this era in church history, the Bible was being translated, preached, and read in the common man’s language. Men would give their lives for the cause. Wives would lose their husbands. Children would watch as their fathers were led to be burned at the stake. Yet through it all, the fires of the Reformation preaching burned with greater intensity than the fires at the stake.
Reformation Preaching was Risky
Prior to the Reformation, papal authority, ritualistic ceremonies and relics had replaced the preaching of the Bible. The preaching of this era was often a short talk or homily that was largely based on stories rather than a clear exposition of God’s Word. Often these talks were in Latin, a language that the people didn’t speak or understand.
During the Reformation period, the preachers were standing boldly and proclaiming God’s Word. They were spending many hours translating it into the common language of the people. Luther spent time translating the Bible, writing, and preaching. This was the same pattern of William Tyndale and others such as John Rogers who worked under a false name – Thomas Matthew. These men labored in their translation and preaching. Their work was risky. It often didn’t end well. Tyndale was burned at the stake (1536) and John Rogers would soon follow him in (1555).
Although men like Luther and Calvin often had a similar purpose, they were profoundly different in their styles. Tyndale and Rogers were alike in many ways, but also different. The central element of common ground in the Reformation was a love for God’s Word. They were willing to risk it all for the sake of getting the Word to the people.
Reformation Preaching was Expository
Often the Reformers were noted for their expository style. It has been said that the battle cry of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura. For the Reformers, the preaching of God’s Word was at the forefront. If the first mark of an authentic church is the exposition of Scripture, that’s what the Reformers labored to accomplish. This expository (verse by verse) method was often the style of their preaching and their writing. John Calvin has left us with a great resource in his commentaries. Most scholars will reference him in their study of the Bible. Clearly the tone of the Reformation was set to the tune of exposition.
In a nasty conversation at the supper table, William Tyndale argued with a Catholic scholar in the home of his employer, Sir John Walsh. Tyndale, possessing a brilliant mind, was hired as a tutor for his children. After spending so much time with Erasmus’ New Testament, the supper table became a place of controversy. Once a Catholic scholar said to Tyndale, “We were better be without God’s law than the pope’s.” Tyndale replied, “I defy the pope, and all his laws…and if God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”  The point was clear, the Reformers couldn’t support the Roman Catholic Church’s desire to mute God’s Word and to prevent people from understanding it in their own language.
Reformation Preaching was Grace Centered
For years, the Roman Catholic Church had locked grace into a back closet and placed emphasis upon ecclesiastical traditions and works of the flesh. This was the outflow of their strangle hold they had on the Bible and their public proclamation of the Word being done in Latin rather than the language of the people. For years, the people had grown accustomed to what they had to do rather than what God had done on their behalf.
The outflow of the Reformation was a bursting forth of grace from the back closet through the work of expository preaching and the risky labor of Bible translation. Couple this with other works being written such as Tyndale’s Parable of the Wicked Mammon, which was an arguement for justification by faith alone. These naughty books were often confiscated and burned, but not before the flames of the doctrines of grace were starting to blaze in the hearts of people.
Today we stand on the shoulders of these men who preached the doctrines of grace faithfully. From the Reformation flowed a true commitment to Scripture. Not just Sola Scriptura, but also Tota Scriptura – the totality of Scripture. The Reformation is the result of risk taking expositors who opened up the cage and let the lion of God’s Word loose. It never returns void. It always accomplishes God’s work for God’s glory. We can learn much from the preaching and preachers of the Reformation, but we need men with those same convictions to continue to stand firmly upon the foundation of God’s Word in our present evil age of compromise and cultural pressures.
- Michael Reeves, The Unquenchable Flame, 2009, 122-123.