Why You Should Know About the Reformation

Reading Time: 4 mins

When the Reformers read the Bible (especially when studied in the original languages), they found a God who was gracious and merciful for the sake of Christ.

For the past year or so on The Thinking Fellows podcast, we’ve been doing a series called “Why You Should.” So I thought it would be appropriate to extend that series, here, in celebration of Reformation Day, offering three reasons why you should know more about the Reformation.

1. The Reformation rediscovered the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone.

It is surely true that the doctrine of salvation by God’s grace alone (his undeserved favor), through faith alone (heartfelt trust), on account of Christ alone was present before Martin Luther’s early 16th-century rediscovery. We can see this doctrine explained clearly by the Apostle Paul in well-known verses like Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” And also in Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Yet, it is also true that by the time Luther had his “evangelical discovery” this doctrine, while not totally lost, had been obscured. The obscuring may not have even been intentional. The Roman Catholic church of his time, and earlier, too often focused its teaching and practice on a system of salvation “through the church” rather than exclusively on account of Christ alone. Rather than man’s work, that when added to faith, would possibly earn God’s favor, Luther’s rediscovery brought back to the fore God’s work on behalf of the sinner.

Luther, his collaborator, Philip Melanchthon, and others believed the Roman Catholic system led to doubt on behalf of the believer as to whether they were, or even could be, truly saved. In contrast, when the Reformers read the Bible (especially when studied in the original languages), they found a God who was gracious and merciful for the sake of Christ. This God required faith but gave that required trust through the preaching of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, by 1530 the Evangelicals (the original term used to describe Lutherans) made the seminal statement regarding justification in Article Four of the Augsburg Confession. “Also, they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.” Thus, the rediscovery of the gospel of Christ Jesus was complete, and the Church could and would once again confess justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone as the article of faith upon which the Church of God stands or falls. [1]


2. The Reformation gave us the doctrine of Christian Vocation.

Prior to the Reformation, the aforementioned “system” of the Church of Rome also taught that only vocations within the Church were holy or divine. These vocations included those of priests, monks, nuns, bishops, and the like. Thus, if one wanted to serve God in their daily life, one needed to vow to devote that life wholly to God. This service required forsaking the world and its common, carnal, and banal trappings, in exchange for service to God within one of the divine callings of the Church.

As Luther progressed in his theological understanding, though he was a monk and a priest himself, he began to reject this idea. He saw in the Scriptures that God had ordained all work for the purpose of serving one’s neighbor. If you desire to serve God, Luther would say, look around you to the people that God has put in your life and find the ways that he has called you to serve them, e.g. by being a good mother or father, husband, or wife, worker, teacher, child, or student. When one fulfills one’s vocation to another, one serves God. Luther called this being “little christs” to the world.

In this way, Luther and others taught that ordinary service to others was no ordinary thing at all; it was holy. Every vocation allowed God to use the believer as his hands and gave normal work extraordinary purpose. So, you today, even if you don’t work in “professional church work,” can say that you serve God in your earthly job because that job helps and serves your neighbor. Through the Reformation doctrine of Christian vocation, Luther brought purpose back to our work and everyday service. [2]

3. The Reformation shaped modern education and improved literacy through the reform of the educational system in Germany (which extended to most of the world).

Before the Reformation, universal education for the young was unknown, and literacy was very low. Perhaps because the Lutheran “gospel rediscovery” came through literacy (specifically in Greek and Hebrew), Lutherans had a high view of the need for education. Melanchthon established something called the Gymnasium—a system of education for young children according to age and ability. Children would progress in levels of education when certain literacy skills were mastered. Students learned to read using the Bible and Luther’s Small Catechism, and they would learn basic skills, as well as some mathematics, history, religion, and philosophy. The system of the Gymnasium was the progenitor of what many students now experience, in various forms, in both public and private primary school education.

Additionally, Melanchthon had a leading hand in the reforming and founding of several German universities. His work developing a curriculum for these universities was the progenitor of what is now advertised as a classical liberal arts university education. His curriculum included studying ancient languages, ancient literature, theology, philosophy, mathematics, and history. His work was so seminal that it was used as the model for developing higher education curricula for over 300 years, and his influence can still be seen today at universities that still include – or are trying to reintroduce – classic liberal arts to their educational curricula. [3]

In Conclusion:

If you worship in a church that preaches that you are saved by God’s good grace alone, through believing in Christ crucified for the forgiveness of your sins alone, not only should you be thankful for it, but you should learn more about the Reformation. If you believe that your work in your profession, or in your home as a husband or wife, father, or mother, is God-pleasing and a real service to your neighbor, you have the Reformation to thank. And finally, if you were educated within the public or private school system and received a good liberal arts education either in high school or at the collegiate level, you can honor that education by studying more about the Reformation.

Whether you do or don’t, do know this: God loves you and justifies you because of the death and resurrection of his Son. He died and rose again for you. His preached Word creates faith in your heart, and you are now his own dear child. Once this miracle has taken place, you will love and serve (though imperfectly) those he has put into your life. He will make you his hands and his mouth. The Gospel truly is the power of God unto salvation for all those that believe – Christians included, and you included!

Happy Reformation Day!

[1] For more on the Augsburg Confession, see Mark Mattes, The Augsburg Confession: A Guide for the Perplexed (1517 Publishing, 2022).

[2] For more on Christian Vocation, see Michael Berg, Vocation: The Setting for Human Flourishing (1517 Publishing, 2021).

[3] For more on the Lutheran influence on liberal arts education, see Scott Ashmon and Scott Keith, To Be a Student (1517 Publishing, 2018).