The Catholicity of the Reformation

The Catholicity of the Reformation

Lutherans in Augsburg insisted upon traditional teachings about the Trinity both to show that they were orthodox Christians but also to underscore the unity of the Trinity in working ‘for us and for our salvation’ as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

~Timothy Wengert

Dear People of God,

The Reformation is said to have begun on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church. He was not out to start a new church. He acknowledged over time abuses had crept into the church that undermined the clarity of the gospel. And, so he worked to overturn and correct the abuses. It got him in to trouble, partly because he was no pushover, but mostly because his reforms would be like pushing a pin into a balloon—it would destroy the prevailing norms of the church of his time.

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The central issue of the Reformation was justification of the godless through faith alone. That is, a person is not made right in the eyes of God by what they have done or who they are. Human beings, no matter their age, have absolutely no goodness or righteousness of their own. We stand condemned in our sin. Instead, God justifies the ungodly when they believe that Jesus Christ died and was raised for their sins. Faith is itself the gift of God whom he places within human beings. Therefore, it is not a matter of free will, but of God’s will because God is the Almighty.

Was the Reformation, then, a refutation of all Christians since the time of the apostles in the early church. Was the time between the first generation of Christians and the Reformation, a period of about 1500 years, darkness and darkness only? By no means. For we have a promise of God— “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:10-11).

Though the church has been and continues to experience corruption, especially by those in power, God has not abandoned the sheep of his fold. He has sent out his Word and it will not ever return empty (Nor has it ever). It will indeed accomplish that for which God has sent it. When we confess the Apostles’ Creed, we confess we believe in “the holy catholic church.” Which means there must at all times be those who bear the name of Christ, even if just a faithful few.

The Reformation was catholic. Not Roman. Universal. The Reformation acknowledged that yes there may be darkness that creeps into the church, but the light of Christ has never been extinguished, nor will it ever be. God the Holy Spirit has been at work in every era. Which is why churches of the Reformation affirm traditional teachings on the Trinity. To deny the Trinity is to deny who God is, which is to forfeit being a Christian. The teaching of the Holy Trinity is not an old, stuffy doctrine of no use to us “more enlightened” people. This teaching points us to our salvation.

As we confess to believe: “The entire Holy Trinity, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, directs all people to Christ as the Book of Life, in whom they should seek the Father’s eternal election” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration 11:66). Peace and joy,

Pastor Levi Powers
Mount of Olives Lutheran Church
Rock Springs, WY