One of the things I read most days as a companion to my Bible reading is the Christian history highlights for the day. Key events and people in the history of the Christian church are emphasized along with the year that key event happened.
On this day, November 30, in 1554, Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII, and who had recently been crowned Queen of England, restores the country to Roman Catholicism. Mary Tudor was known as “Bloody Mary” because she burned at the stake 300 Protestants, followers of the gospel of Jesus Christ espoused by Luther and Calvin and others. Some of those included in the Reformation’s cloud of witnesses are Thomas Cranmer, High Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. In addition to these martyrs, under Bloody Mary’s reign, 400 died due to imprisonment and starvation.
From our vantage point, when we think of the Reformation we often focus on the rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, the five solas – sola gratia (by grace alone), sola fidei (by faith alone), solus Christus (through Christ alone), sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone), the priesthood of the believer, among other vital truths. One aspect we often neglect or overlook is the cost of proclaiming the gospel and professing justification by faith alone. Many gave their lives for these truths.
As I prepared for our upcoming Theology Conference on “Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – Reformation, Protestantism, Evangelicalism and the EFCA,” I pondered this cost and considered having a lecture focusing on it. In many places around the world, many brothers and sisters in the Lord are professing faith in Christ alone at the cost of their lives. These contemporary expressions of faith, the ultimate sacrifice given of one’s life have connections back to the Reformation, and the Reformation’s legacy continues forward to today in the martyrdom of faithful witnesses.
Although this will not be one of our lectures at our upcoming Conference, had our scheduled allowed another lecture this is one I would have planned.
Reformation, the Global Church and Martyrdom
In 1521 Luther was called to the Diet of Worms to recant his teachings contained in his writings. He did not. This resulted in an Edict against Luther claiming he was a heretic. He escaped and remained in seclusion at the Wartburg castle. In Luther’s case, this did not ultimately lead to his death.
This cannot be said for the numbers of others subsequent to Luther who affirmed and embraced the teaching of the gospel, who refused to recant, renounce or deny the teaching, and were martyred for it. What do we learn from this? The Reformation marked the divide in the Western Church into the Roman Catholic and Protestant, or more accurately, Evangelical. It was among these groups martyrdoms were happening.
Today is a different day, such that there certainly remain the internecine debates, even among Evangelicals, but that does not rise to this level. Is there something to learn from the unshakable faith of the Reformers and post-Reformers that they were willing to die for the gospel of Jesus Christ? There certainly is. Although we face a different cultural context than the Reformation, the contemporary application would be to what is happening among some believers in Islamic countries who are giving their lives for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ and who refuse to renounce their faith in Christ. This, then, also connects the Reformation and us to the global church.
Although significantly different than the experience of many in the global church, this also reflects a cost of confessing and professing faith in Christ alone and his claims on our lives in our own contemporary Western culture. We are tempted to remain silent to avoid the backlash, scorn and ridicule, and in some cases litigation, from those espousing the new cultural and moral narrative, that of tolerance and the autonomous self. We want to avoid the judgement and condemnation of being a “cultural heretic.” But we do so at the cost of not contending and defending “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), with the result being we are “ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation (Mk. 8:38; cf. Lk. 9:26).
What do we learn from the Reformers and post-Reformers about the cost of confessing Christ? For what would we give our lives today?
We are excited for this excellent Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.