Why a reformation?
The Reformation—the word still conjures up images and excitement whenever we hear it. We picture that determined German monk nailing his ninety-five theses to the Wittenberg church door and later on taking his stand before the emperor and church representatives at Worms. What he said and did back there in the 1500s quite literally changed the history of the church and the world. Heady stuff.
But the Reformation didn’t start with Martin Luther, nor did it end with him. Rather, what happened was this: From the beginning the church faced a host of challenges which threatened to destroy the teaching it had received from its Lord. To these challenges, which more and more became crises, the church responded. Challenge and response, the structure of world history which Arnold Toynbee detected, is clearly obvious in the specific matter of the history of the Christian church.
Even before Luther’s time, the church’s response to the challenges it faced had become so insistent that response had turned into reformation. With Luther this response reached its high point, and since Luther the church has continued to face even more challenges to which it must respond. Response, then, still leads to reformation, to re-forming in line with God’s truth. Ecclesia semper reformanda—the church is always in the process of being reformed.
Though any person may observe challenges and responses, deformation and reformation, in the church, only the person of faith will see the hand of God in the whole process. For God is always watching over his church and his truth.
When Luther came on the scene, his response to this blatant sinfulness in the church was in many ways like the response of a lot of other people before him. But it was also different. Luther didn’t start out by condemning the immorality and the love of money in the church. Rather, he started out by responding to the spiritual condition in his own heart. However, by the time he was finished, he was making the ultimate response to unscriptural theology and corruption in the papacy and monasticism, the very things that had been plaguing and disturbing the church for so long.