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Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A., Editor
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Principles Of The
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
- Perhaps the greatest renewal in the Church since first century was the Reformation. As a
movement it changed the Church in ways that virtually no previous phenomenon had.
Certainly the Reformation was a unique action used by God for His purposes of furthering
- What things characterized that movement? More importantly, what principles were evident
that may be used today to bring about such renewal in today's Christian Church? By
examining the work and ministry of Martin Luther, one gains insight into some of the major
principles of the Reformation. By God's working, these principles propelled unparalleled
church renewal in virtually all of Christendom.
- Certainly this listing is not exhaustive. This listing will, however, describe the major
Reformation principles which still propel the renewal, growth and expansion of the Gospel
1) Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
- We're saved only by faith ("fide") in God's undeserved grace ("gratia")
in Christ. This gift of grace is properly described and given only in Scripture ("scriptura").
This is the starting point of the Reformation and of our Christian faith as well. If we
don't start the Christian faith with faith, grace and Scripture, we don't start Christian
faith at all.
2) A Clear Understanding of the Church's Identity and Purpose
- Why does the Church exist? It's sole purpose is to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to
all nations. The church, Luther taught, is not simply defined where clergyman is present.
Rather it is wherever "the Word of God is found in its truth and purity and the
sacraments administered as Christ administered them." The church, therefore, is not
so much a grouping of people as it is a grouping of people committed to the sole purpose
of proclaiming grace to the world.
3) A Contagious Passion For God's Church
Luther believed God's Church was worth fighting for. It's worth the price to do everything
and bear everything possible so that God's Church will stand and God's truth will be
proclaimed to the nations. It is pastors and congregations who have that passion. It is
also they who must often pay the price.
4) A Captivating Vision For The Spread Of The Gospel
Luther is known primarily as a theologian, scholar and Reformer. So often overlooked is
that he was a missionary with a captivating vision for the spread of the Gospel.
- The Reformation was a mission movement, guided by Luther's Scriptural conviction to
"make disciples of all nations." If he didn't have this vision, the Reformation
would have started--and stopped--in a little east German town called Wittenberg. Indeed,
it would have never made it off campus of the University of Wittenberg! But it didn't! It
spread through Germany, Europe, and all the world! The Gospel permeated the world then.
Today it can permeate the world in an even greater manner than ever before.
5) A Contagious Desire For Outreach
Luther used every means possible and the very latest and best of all media available to
him to proclaim the Gospel to the world. He used the recently invented printing press,
preaching, teaching, newspapers, 95 theses on a church door, countless brochures,
friend-to-friend sharing, and even governmental forums ("diets") to promote the
message of salvation even before kings and emperors. Nothing could stop his contagious
desire for sharing the Gospel--even the threat of death.
When forced into hiding, Luther became a writer. He developed volumes of worship
materials, adapted, created, rewrote and edited all kinds of worship materials. He wrote
over 125 hymns. He wrote over 400 pamphlets. Why? Simply to reach out with the Gospel of
- The proliferation of Christian literature and the fullest use possible of all available
media was a key to the success of the Reformation. Ought we doubt that a similar use of
all available media would help propel the Church to a new--and greater--reformation?
6) A Preference For The Practical And The Simple
Whatever was orderly, orthodox, and easily understood was used. If people were going to
hear and respond to the Word, Luther believed it had to be simple. It had to be in the
language of the people. No more Latin for worship. Let them worship in their language, in
their culture, in their own common language.
- Paul in I Corinthians 14:24-25 spoke of the importance of the simple proclamation of the
Gospel. When the Gospel is preached in a simple, understandable fashion, an unbeliever
- "will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the
secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming,
'God is really among you!'" (KJV)
It is this simplicity which resulted in the remarkable renewal and expansion of the
Reformation Church. This soul-winning simplicity may also bring the Church closer to the
original Reformation zeal.
- 7) Vigorous Church Planting
Historians don't even know how many new churches Luther directly planted or was
instrumental in supporting. One thing for sure: Luther never said, "There are already
enough churches." He also never said, "Oh, there's enough churches now. Let's
stop this Reformation thing and just let things settle down a bit."
- Instead, as people caught on to his contagious vision for outreach, Reformation
Christians demonstrated their joyful obedience to Christ's command to "make
disciples" by planting new churches. That is one of the ways the Reformation became a
worldwide phenomenon! One cannot be a true Reformation Christian without this desire,
passion and involvement in the planting and support of new churches locally and throughout
8) A Proper Understanding Of The Role Of The Laity
Luther never understood the laity to be idle spectators. Though not called to be pastors,
they were expected and encouraged to develop the gifts which the Holy Spirit had given
them. It was the pastors' role to equip and prepare them for suitable service in the
- In order to develop greater strength in their ministries, they were encouraged to read
the Bible for themselves...in the simple German translation which Luther himself provided.
Indeed, Luther even had the parents participate in their children's confirmation
instruction. Using Luther's Small Catechism, parents (i.e. the "head of the
household") were to instruct their children. The pastors would then examine and
confirm them. Such partnership and trust and common understanding of the essential
relationship and proper role of pastors and laity formed a dynamic bond of ministry.
9) A Proper Understanding Of The Ministerial Office
The Office of Pastor was not to "lord it over" the people. Instead, it was an
office of service. The pastor did not exercise absolute temporal power. Instead, the real
power of the ministry was purely the power of proclaiming the Word of God publicly, in
God's stead, for the purpose of granting God's forgiveness and helping God's people reach
maturity in the Word.
10) A Passionate Desire To Study of God's Word
The Reformation Church was a Church of the Word. Its people were marked by
a desire to learn, read and follow God's Word. They knew it was the power behind the
Reformation. So they remained faithful in it--reading, studying, learning, growing and
11) A Singular Focus On Glorifying Christ...In Everything
In everything Luther did, he followed one simple
standard: "Does it glorify Christ?" Whether it was His preaching, his
teaching, his serving, his prayers, his devotional life, his actions
with his family, he always measured its usefulness in terms of whether it glorified Christ
and exalted His Word. In asking, "What would Jesus do?" today's Church also
seeks to have Christ pre-eminent and glorified in all that it does in His Name.
- 12) A Predomination Of The Cross
- Luther understood the ultimate importance of the Cross for ministry. As he stated in I
Corinthians 15:17, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are
still in your sins" (KJV). As it is the Cross which gives meaning and power to the
ministry of the Gospel, it follows that the proclamation of the Cross must always
- What pre-dominates the preaching in your church? Law or Gospel? Legalism or freedom?
Duty or joy? Ought to's or love? Bondage and guilt or Freedom and forgiveness?
- The proclamation of God's undeserved grace is the greatest heritage of the Reformation.
It glorifies Christ and it transforms sinners into forgiven saints. Whatever your
ecclesiastical tradition, recall, consider and implement these principles in your church
and watch the power of the Spirit working in God's Word renew and reform Christ's Church
where you are!
- Thomas F. Fischer
- The Festival of the Reformation
- October 31, 1998
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:11 PM