The Reformation 500 years on - Scripture Alone

Reformation 500 years on 

A chain of events which changed our whole culture, changed the world as we know it. 

The reformation wasn’t all good. There were some tragic events. There were some views that we definitely wouldn’t want to sign up to. 


But the rediscovery of the gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in christ alone has transformed the world beyond individual salvation and a changed church. 

Before the reformation, knowing God and being right with him rested on my good works. I did good works to climb the ladder to God. therefore the best thing you could do with your life was become a monk or a nun devote yourself to God.. any other way of living - a regular job, raising a family - second best! 


But the reformation said you are so turned in on yourself even your good works are for yourself not God! The only way you can know God and be right with God is if he gives you righteousness by uniting you with Jesus. A gift of grace, received by faith alone.  So All the glory is God’s!  And suddenly then all your works that used to be about you become a response of thankfulness to serve others. And the monastery… and the convent become the worst place to be godly. The best place to glorify God is out in the world serving others. The so called sacred/secular divide was broken down. And it’s affected everything. For example the whole way we do work..


Luther spoke about all work being a calling from God. It’s not just monks and priests who are called. God has arranged to care for the world as each person uses their gifts within the circumstances they find themselves to serve others.  All work is valuable. 

From this conviction flowed the great art of JS Bach who wrote the reformation maxim Soli Deo Gloria - to the glory of God alone on all his musical scores 

From it flowed the great christian social reform movements of the 18th and 19th centuries - wilberforce and the abolition of slavery, shaftesbury’s sweeping reforms for the poor and vulnerable. 


Martin Luther didn’t just believe in the glory of God in all of life. He sought to live it.

And so on 13th June 1525 one of the most significant events of his life and of the reformatoin happened - Luther the monk got married.  He married a nun on the run Katerina Von Borra. Luther was 41 and Katie was 26 

she was quite a woman - she probably had to be. she was one of 12 nuns who luther had helped escape from a convent in fish barrels. Luther managed to find husbands and homes for the other 11.  And he finally he ended up marrying Katie He gave 3 reasons for marrying her:  to please his Father; to spite the pope and the devil; and as a sign of the gospel. The glory of God in all of life! The glory of God in the changing of nappies! 

Luther said that marriage not the monastery was the school of godliness.

and the school of cleanliness it seems. Luther said: 

 ‘before i was married my bed was not made for a whole year and became foul with sweat’ 

Actually Luther suffered with terrible depression all his life and Katie was a great help in his dark times. There was one time when words couldn’t get throught to him. She dressed in black and Luther said are you going to a funeral. No but since you believe that God is dead i thought i’d join you in mourning. 


The Luther’s had 6 children - though 2 daughters tragically died. one as a baby one as a teenager. They had a busy open home. Luther built a private bowling alley on their land. Katie, who Luther called the ‘Morningstar of Wittenberg’ because of her early rising ran a small farm and brewed beer in their own microbrewery. 


i could tell you so much more about the glory of God alone.. but i want to focus for the rest of our time on the last of the 5 solas 

Foundational to the reformation. Sola Sriptura. Scripture alone. 




Martin Luther’s rediscovery of the gospel of Justification by faith alone came when he was studying the bible. 

In God’s providence the study of the Bible had come back on to the agenda largely via a secular academic movement called Humanism. Very different to modern humanism this was an academic movement that wanted to go back to ancient texts.  ‘Ad Fontes’ was it’s strapline ‘Back to the sources.’

And so Luther and the Reformers re-discovered the gospel of grace in the Bible and elevated the bible over all other authorities.  As the ultimate source of the revelation of God and the foundation of faith. 

They stood on Scripture, studied Scipture and shared and spread Scripture. 


The Reformers STOOD on the Bible  


because of his beliefs and writings luther came increasingly into conflict with the church’s authority.  if you undermine the church’s source of money through indulgences there’s a lot of people who are not going to be happy with you.  people wrote against martin luther and called him a drunk german and he wrote against them calling them far worse things.  In 1520 The pope issued a bull on Luther (not an animal, this was a decree authenticated by the stamp of the pope’s bulla, or seal). It ordered Luther to recant his beliefs about Justification by grace and faith within 60 days or face excommunication and ban (that is no one could shelter him but would have to give him up for arrest). The church’s unwillingness to even grapple with God’s word convinced Luther that setting herself up above and against God’s word the church of the day could only be a tool of Satan. Luther publicly burned the papal bull, declared the pope the anti-christ and broke with Rome. 


In 1521, Luther was summoned to the Diet of Worms - this has nothing to do with a bush-tucker trial on I’m a celebrity get me out of here.  A diet was a debate or council and Worms or Vorms was a place, a town. 

So Luther was summoned to the Council of  Vorms to appear before the Holy Roman Emperor,  Charles V - a big deal.. 

Luther thought he had been invited to a debate. It was basically a trial for heresy, the punishment for which was death. 

Luther’s prosecuter in the trial was Dr Eck, the wily old  Archbishop of Trier:  

And this is what Eck said: 

Martin, ..Your plea to be heard from the Scripture is the one always made by heretics.  … How will the Jews, how will the Turks, exult to hear Christians discussing whether they have been wrong all these years!  Martin, how can you assume that you are the only one to understand the sense of Scripture?  Would you put your judgment above that of so many famous men and claim that you know more than they all?  You have no right to call into question the most holy orthodox faith, instituted by Christ the perfect lawgiver, proclaimed throughout the world by the apostles, sealed by the red blood of martyrs, confirmed by the sacred councils, defined by the Church in which all our fathers believed until death and gave us as an inheritance, and which now we are forbidden by the pope and the emperor to discuss lest there be no end of debate.  I ask you, Martin--answer candidly and without horns--do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?


Luther: Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convinced of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convinced by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God's word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us.

On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.



in the most pressurised environment, before the most powerful people. facing certain death… Luther said Scripture is my supreme and final authority. Here I stand. I can do no other. 

Incredible courage. And Luther didn’t die. He legged it and was then kidnapped. Many thought he was being taken off to be executed privately. The artist Albrecht Durer write in his diary ‘O God, if Luther is dead who will now teach us the Holy Gospel so clearly?’ 


But Luther was not dead. His kidnapper was a friend. Frederick the wise of Saxony hid Luther away in the Wartburg castle gave him a new identity to enable him to continue to write and teach. 


The Reformers stood on the Bible alone. 

It’s not that they said that Scipture is our only authority Solo Scriptura or Nuda Sciptura. No, there are other important authorities for the christian - creeds, confessions, the voices of tradition, church ministers - should be listened to and followed. But Scripture alone is our final authority. It is the authority that rules over and governs all other authorities. 


Because Scripture is the Word of GOD. It is FROM God the Father ABOUT God the Son, and BY God the Holy Spirit inspired. 


Scripture is so important. We are saved by Christ alone but the place where we encounter christ is in and through Scripture, God’s word that brings life and transformation. 

The reformers weren’t setting out to change the world. They just wanted to get people back to the Bible. But going back to the Bible changed the world. 


Here’s how Luther described how the Reformation happened. He says :

“I simply taught, preached and wrote God’s word; otherwise i did nothing. And while i slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf the word so weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing, the word did everything!” 


Or as the Bible itself puts it:  Hebrews 4:13

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 


The Reformers stood on the Bible as our supreme and final authority 

The reformers studied the Bible.  Not to know things but to have Jesus Christ. In 1533, Luther wrote: ‘for a number of years now i have annually read through the bible twice. If the bible was a great tree with large and tiny branches i have tapped at every branch, eager to know what was there and what it had to offer.’ 


And the reformers shared the Bible, they spread the word. 

In two main ways. First by a commitment to preaching it. 

Luther said that he valued preaching the bible more than anything else in life 

‘if i could today become king or emperor i would not give up my office as preacher’ 

Luther regularly preached at the Town church in Wittenberg where his friend,  Johannes Bugenhaagen was the Pastor. He’d often preach twice on a sunday and once during the week.


The reformers believed and taught that preaching is also the Word of God. 

They pointed to passages like that one in Hebrews 4v13. ‘The word of God is living and active’ and noted that that passage is talking v2 about the preached word. Or they read 1 Peter 1v23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.  And (v25) this is the word that was preached to you


Preaching is the Word of God. Not in the same way that the Bible is the Word of God - Preaching is a human act, the Bible is infallible - but as an administration or extension of God’s word. For people to be saved the word needed to be distributed not left as a book on a shelf. More than that, Luther said that merely reading the word is not as fruitful and powerful as it is through a  public preacher whom God has ordained to preach. I think we know this in our experience, don’t we? That God’s voice is heard in preaching. 


Luther again: 

“Would to God that we could gradually train our hearts to believe that the preacher’s words are God’s Word …It is not an angel or a hundred thousand angels but the Divine Majesty Himself that is preaching there. To be sure, I do not hear this with my ears or see it with my eyes; all I hear is the voice of the preacher, and I behold only a man before me. But I view the picture correctly if I add that the voice and words of the pastor are not his own words and doctrine but those of our Lord and God. It is not a prince, a king or an archangel whom i hear; it is He who declares that He is able to dispense the water of eternal life.”


Now none of this meant that the preacher is anything! Both preacher and listener are pupils of the Word.  God is everything! 

It actually places great responsibility on preachers to know and proclaim the gospel so as not to be in Luther’s words ‘a kind of pest to the church’… a wolf that does violence.


The point is that preaching is not a process of education or a transfer of information. Often we already know the truths contained in the sermon. But we come to the preaching of the word not to learn new things but to hear Jesus’ voice and encounter his presence afresh. What an incentive to be at church to meet Jesus in the preaching of the word as well as at his table. 


The Reformers spread the bible by preaching it 

They also spread the Bible by translating it. 


Few people had access to a bible or could read it because the only official Bible available was the Latin Vulgate which also happened to be a particularly inaccurate translation. So the reformers set about translating the bible from the original hebrew and greek (back to the sources) into easy everyday common languages so that all people ‘might sieze and taste the pure clear word of God.’ Of Luther’s german translation someone wrote that no other had “the same majesty of diction,  sweeping vocabulary,  native earthiness and  religious profundity of Luther.” This is what Luther himself said of his desire to show how relevant the Bible is  “I endeavoured” he wrote “to make Moses so german that no one would suspect he was a Jew!” 


In England, William Tyndale, wanting others to read the words of life that had saved him, set about his life’s work of translating the Bible into English.

He sailed to Germany, where it was safer to work. And there, within a few short years, Tyndale managed to translate most of the Bible. Accurate and easy to read, it turned out to be a gem of a translation with words and turns of phrase that have influenced spoken and written English more than Shakespeare. 

It was illegal in England to own or even read such a translation – and the penalty was death. Some 16,000 copies of Tyndale’s Bible were smuggled into England before he was caught in 1535 and burned to death near Brussels, uttering the immortal last words ‘Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!’


Just two years after Tyndale had died uttering that prayer, it was decreed by the king that an English bible be placed in every church in England. King Henry VIII ordered ‘ye shall discourage no man from the reading or hearing of the Bible, but shall expressly provoke, stir and exhort every person to read the same as that which is the very lively word of God.’

Six English bibles were placed in St Paul’s Cathedral, crowds immediately thronging round those who could read loud enough to make themselves heard. So great was the excitement that priests complained of how, even during the sermon, laypeople were reading the Bible aloud to each other.

The message – and the excitement – were spreading.

with the Bible freely available in common language, Luther said that it was possible for a cleaner to know more of God than 10 professors in the university.  You don’t need high intellect to know God, you just need to be able to read or listen - the Holy Spirit speaks