Truth, authority, reason, and revelation—these are vital elements in every worldview. To elevate human tradition over divine revelation is to trust in the rituals of man rather than the works of God. And to elevate human reason over divine revelation is to trust in self rather than God. Both are egregious errors that rob God of rightful glory and rob humanity of all true hope.
The Reformation advanced the world by going back to the Scripture. The importance of truth, the recognition of ultimate authority, and the supremacy of revelation over reason were issues that changed both the church and the world—the Reformation recovered a biblical worldview of reality.
The Reformation still matters because truth still matters.
The igniting power that God used to erupt the Reformation came through His very own word. The first and foundational discovery of the Reformation was the voice of God in the Holy Scriptures. In divine irony, while the Renaissance was busy painting new faces on a stagnant culture by ad fontes—“returning to the sources” (of ancient civilization)—so God had another meaning in mind. A return to the source of divine revelation—the Scripture—would result in more than temporal renovation, it would ignite pervasive personal and cultural transformation. Indeed, the fountains of the great deep burst forth as the Holy Scriptures were brought out of obscurity and into contact with Spirit-illumined hearts.
God was at work in a most conspicuous way. Nearly two hundred years before Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, a Roman Catholic priest and Oxford University professor, was given by God the conviction to communicate the Scriptures in the common language of the people. Wycliffe was an exceptional scholar who was the first, along with a team of academic helpers, to translate the Scriptures from the Latin Vulgate into English. The Scripture had awakened Wycliffe to some of the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church, which he began to speak against. Wycliffe and his translation of the Bible were opposed by the established authorities in Rome and Wycliffe was later condemned a heretic. Later, John Huss, a priest in Bohemia, was given some of Wycliffe’s writings and he too came under “God’s spell” (gospel) by studying the Scriptures for himself. He was strongly opposed by the bishops and eventually condemned. He was burned at the stake in 1415. Luther would later claim that what he learned (in appreciating the authority of Scripture), he learned from Huss. In about 1456, God brought about the invention of the movable type printing press through Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany. This revolutionized the reproduction of written material and proved instrumental in the glorious eruption of the gospel through the Reformation.
The very first book that was printed on Gutenberg's press was the Holy Bible, in Latin of course. Then in 1516, Desiderius Erasmus, the famed humanist, printed the Greek New Testament, making the New Testament available in its original language for the first time in a millennium. This providence of God would be the fuel to the fire of the Reformation. The spark would come soon after as the Holy Spirit would direct men to rediscover the gospel through the Scriptures recovered from their original languages.
The Reformation was much more than merely a challenge to church practices, it was most fundamentally a restoration of God to the center of meaning and life. A wrong view of God and self is behind every faulty worldview. Because the Reformation marked a unique recovery of God’s word, darkness was invaded by light. Both the church and society as a whole was radically transformed by a biblical view of God.
Man is not the center of all things nor the final arbiter of truth. But man is not merely one of many like creatures either. Man is uniquely made in the image of God, created and designed to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This concept captures the heart of the Reformation, revolutionizing man’s self-understanding and purpose through the revelation of God. By knowing God rightly we know ourselves rightly.
The Reformation once again celebrated the gospel. This time it overcame the highest powers in the world. God raised up instruments to recover the gospel in a way that had not been witnessed in over a thousand years. The uncontainable flame of the Reformation was the power of the gospel to save sinners and through it to know true peace.
Essential to the heart of the Reformation was the honor and glory of God over and against man’s distorted views and perverse behavior. The glory of Christ was revealed from the unleashing of God’s word. Through the preaching of the gospel, hearts were transformed in regeneration, resulting in lives that delighted to please God. Worship as a way of life was recovered.