Last night I watched two newer documentaries about the history of the Reformation, the men who propelled the message of Grace forward, rejecting the domination of Papal authority and the abuse of Fundamentalism. I was reminded again about the lives that were given (in faith) at firey altars of Satan, where they were burned at the stake for their heretical views. Some were imprisoned, tortured, and exiled for their simple desire to offer individual faith to each individual believer.
Entire villages were decimated for this belief – that Salvation was through faith alone – at one point, nearly 30,000 lost their lives in one concentrated attack on Faith, from the then-dominant Roman Catholic Church. As I watched I remembered, that even I, having been one of those Fundamentals, really had, at one point, no understanding of what the Reformation was. And for someone claiming to be Christian – that’s an incredibly scare and dubious background for my faith – to not know where it came from, why I can have it, and how it became what it is today.
The Hero’s (and terrible men) of Faith that brought Us Grace
Many names are immediately recognizable in the Christian faith, of who these men were. Today we have commentaries, Bibles, even publishing houses named after them.
Naturally, the name Martin Luther will ring bells, but little do people know about who he was, and what he did, aside from the existential topic of his 95-point thesis. But there are other names, such as Hus, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Calvin, and more. When one searches for information on the Reformation you are told it was a 16th-century movement created by Martin Luther that changes the face of Christianity. But that’s not entirely true – it started in the 1300s and what we see in Martin Luther was the culmination of many lives lost and many efforts made to bring Faith and Scripture to individuals across Europe – in the face of mortal danger.
Kings, Emporers and Popes alike would scorn, exile and kill these men for their radical beliefs, primarily, that Faith in Christ alone was what saved you. Prior to this, it was the Roman Catholic Church that saved you – it was your priest and Bishops and Papal Bulls that dictated your salvation. In those superstitious times of immense illiteracy and the purposeful dumbing-down of society by religious and monarchial leaders, laymen had little other choices than to believe the words of the man in the pulpit.
So when men like Wycliffe, and Tyndale, and later Martin Luther made the effort to bring Scripture, in the common tongue, to anyone and everyone, they had to be silenced. Yet, as seen throughout history, in all religions and all sects of life – the more prosecuted it is – the more it will grow.
But – the story that is told is rarely all true. Martin Luther especially was a radical man, who condoned the killing of thousands of peasants who had taken his message of liberty and rose up again the feudal-lord system they suffered under. Luther was adamantly anti-Semite and railed against the Jews as strongly as he did the Roman Catholic Church – and true to the era – he was as intolerant of other beliefs as those who he fought against. (Roman Catholics)
Yet, for all their ill character, it was similar men used in Biblical times. David, who was called a ‘man after God’s own heart’ was an unfortunate murderer, adulterer, liar and deviant. Saul no less so, and Solomon no less so.
And Abraham – who lied and went to war, who no doubt pillaged the wives and children of the men killed in battle as was custom. Used as the Father of the Faithful and the seed of God’s people. His son’s going on to produce two warring factions, and then those future leaders of Israel, and Judah, who did awful things in the name of their birthright. Yet, through all of that human tragedy – grace marched on, perhaps even more powerful was the message in spite of, or perhaps because of, the atrocities of humanity.
The Application of Grace Today
Some time back, early in my exodus from heavily conservative and radically Fundamental Christian beliefs, I wrote an article The Similarities of Medieval Catholicism and Modern Oneness Pentecostalism because I started to realize, for the first time, how we (my religion) had reverted back towards what the Reformers had given life and liberty to abandon, expose and reform.
We had gone back to a system similar to Papal Authority. We had gone back to a system that worshipped the created (pastors, apostles, evangelists, and their ‘legacy’) more than the creator. We placed our faith in men instead of the God-man Christ Jesus. Our ‘hope of glory’ was in our outward dress standards, abstinence and separation and not in the finished Works of Calvary.
Worst of all, we had come to a place where we truly believed and taught, tongue-in-cheek, that the local ‘pastor’, was our mediator. (Think the Pope) I personally, and have heard this said by many others in similar organizations or backgrounds, believed and heard it taught that if God had a message for me, God would tell my pastor, and when the pastor wanted, he would tell me. That my Christian life (and afterlife) was directly associated with my absolute obedience to a man’s commandments. (Mark 7:7)
But Grace, through Faith (not in man but in Christ) doesn’t operate that way. And, simultaneously, Grace did not do away with the high-calling of ministerial needs. God still gives some, preachers, teachers, but not Popes, nor Apostles, for the Doctrine of the Church and the creeds of faith have all been written. The faith, which was once and for all (no continued revelation) delivered to the Saints, is ours to embrace, not re-write or re-create.
How is Grace applied to us today?
For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God; 9 not as a result of [your] works [nor your attempts to keep the Law], so that no one will [be able to] boast or take credit in any way [for his salvation]. 10 For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us]. ~ Ephesians 2:8-10, AMP
One of the most magical moments was when I stopped interpreting this passage of Scripture via the lens of my past teaching and read it for how it reads. Prior teaching made me believe that a) The Epistles were written to already saved people so any doctrinal statement of salvation was not the prescription of HOW we are saved, rather, how we are to work to STAY saved, and b) that Grace was only applied after one obeyed the sacraments and works of the religion they belonged to.
After I ‘threw the baby out with the bathwater’ so to speak (and I wish I could get paid cash money every time I hear that inane statement repeated) and started studying with a blank slate, I realized, the verbatim reading of Paul, was a very different message than I had been taught.
Christ himself, at one time, said ‘no person comes to the Father (salvation) but through me’ (John 14:16), and again, that ‘No man comes to me except the Father draws him’. (Luke 6:44). He had said, “He that believes has eternal life.” (John 6:47) and prior, we read in John 3, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
So, if you cannot be saved except you enter through the door of Christ, and you will not be allured to Christ except the Father of heaven and earth draws you to him, how do we apply this to Ephesians? By reading it just as it was written. Taking what (Paul, and God through Paul) says directly instead of reinventing/abbreviating what it says to fit your denominal articles of faith!
That Grace IS, as notated in the Amplified Bible version quoted above, God’s unbelievable, and unmerited, unearned drawing, that isn’t warranted by any outward holiness, works or sacrament we perform, or pompous self-righteousness (that as best is as filthy rags to God) that we can do. That just as it says, Grace (based on nothing of our own doing) draws us to Him (Christ), that we should be saved, Believing on the works of Calvary because that is the greatest gift of God that could be given.
Grace (Salvation) is the Gift of God, free to all, who believe, and believing does not come as the result of your external works – or obedience to extra-Biblical man’s commandments, sacraments, etc. Amen.