What a glorious year this has been! Wherever I look, there are efforts to acknowledge the great seismic event when a growing rebellion in the church led to what is now called the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 2017, it was exactly 500 years since Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses (arguments) to the door of his church in Wittenberg.

To be sure, the Protestant Reformation was not like an explosion that takes place because of one ignition. Rather, as Enock Sakala shows in his article on the history of the Reformation, it was the culmination of a growing movement of dissent. Individual preachers like William Tyndale and John Wycliffe of England, Jerome Savonarola of Italy, John Hus of Bohemia, etc., were already agitating for change in their own countries. Yet things were only getting worse…until Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched!

There were some fundamental issues around which the Reformation revolved. One of them was how to arrive at what to believe in and practice, especially if Christian teachers differed in their opinions. The Roman Catholic Church insisted that it was not only by Scripture but also by what the Pope said together with various church councils across history. The Reformers insisted that it must be by Scripture alone, and so they fought hard to have the Scriptures translated into the common language of the people. Michael Bwembya explores this matter in his article in this issue.

Another fundamental issue had to do with how God forgives men and women of their sins. The Roman Catholic Church was teaching that it was by faith and works, by grace and merit, and through Christ and other people such as the Virgin Mary and the saints. Again, the Reformers disagreed with this position. They instead taught that, according to the Scriptures, salvation was by faith alone, by grace alone, and through Christ alone. This was the understanding of the Reformers. For this they were willing to die! Joshua Lungu elaborates on this all-important matter in his article.

Why should we dedicate an entire issue of Reformation Zambia to this historic event? Is it still relevant to us today? I trust that you will see from reading the articles in this issue of the magazine that nothing can be more relevant to our world today than the issues that were addressed by the Reformers. They were foundational to human life and living in every age.

For instance, with the emergence of the Charismatic movement and its prophets, we are back to the question that was settled long ago by the Reformers. Men and women today are claiming to be the authoritative source of information from God to their fellow human beings. We are back to “the Bible plus someone else”. We need to reclaim the ground that the Reformers won, which we are fast losing (i.e. “Sola Scriptura” or “Scripture Alone”)!

We are also fast losing the clear understanding of the gospel that the Reformers unearthed for us from the Scriptures. Although we still have words such as “salvation” and “being born again”, it is very clear that what many people understand about these phrases is not what the Bible teaches. We also have human beings coming in as small saviours instead of clearing the ground and only leaving Christ there. We need to get back to justification by faith alone, by grace alone, and through Christ alone—in the biblical sense.

One other matter that is rarely appreciated is that the Reformers gave the church back to the “ordinary” members of the church. The clergy had hijacked the church so that “ordinary” members of the church merely attended like visitors. Ordinary people had no say on the church’s order of service, finances, or programmes. They could not even pray. The priests prayed for them. Even when the priests were immoral and drunkards, the people could only watch helplessly because they had no right to demand their removal. Men like Martin Luther fought hard for the fact that all God’s people have equal say on the affairs of the church.

I ask again, are we not losing this ground as we now have the untouchable “man of God” phenomenon? Pastors are living immoral lives and continuing to lead their churches. Anyone that complains against their immorality is chased out of the church. May this issue show us what the Reformers fought for so that we get our back spiritual heritage!

The Significance of the Protestant Reformation

Choolwe Mwetwa

No event in the last 500 years has shaken the religious world for good as did the Protestant Reformation ignited by Martin Luther. In revolutionary fashion, the church establishment was confronted with what it perceived as an existential threat. Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses sent Tsunamic shock waves through the Roman Catholic Church, then dominating Europe. Because of this momentous event, church authority premised on her traditions would cease to bind the consciences and faith of Protestant church goers. The role of priests as mediators between God and man would be abolished. The clergyman’s monopoly in accessing God’s written word would end.

The way of salvation would be stripped of all ceremonialism and sacerdotal strappings. Christ would be the new theme, his written word the sole authority, faith in him by grace the only saving means and the glory of God the consummate goal. All this was new and very radical at the time. But that was all centuries ago. We are now in the twenty-first century. Of what relevance to us is an event that occurred 500 years ago? Surely, we are not being encouraged to hold on to the past, are we? Promise lies in the future, not in the past, surely! Not quite. In matters of faith the past is as relevant as the future. There are very good reasons why every Christian should celebrate this event that may seem remote or little known to us.

  1. The reformation gave birth to who we are

 Any people without heritage have neither identity nor standing in society. The reformation is the heritage of all Bible lovers. This does not suggest that God could never have used other means at other times to revive his church. But having used the Reformers as he did, it is to them we owe a debt of gratitude for showing us the way. Evangelical Christianity is rooted in the teachings and practices of the Reformers. The Reformers were not the authors of these truths, of course. They are only credited with exhuming them from the grave into which the papacy buried them. Additionally, they articulated these truths clearly enough for us to recognise them as apostolic.

To commemorate the reformation, therefore, is to celebrate the return to believers of God’s Word (then the preserve of priests) and the birth of accomplished biblical exposition and exegesis. It is in this context that one understands the insistence on church Confessions of Faith. These are snappy public listings of the true identity of a body of believers, on the vast map of history. Confessions trail, at an instance, the theological lineage of a people. Churches and movements without doctrinal and practical pedigree possess neither spine nor vertebrae to give them steady shape. Circumstances evolve them easily into anything – theological octopuses, lobsters, or worms.

One reason most churches that once identified themselves as evangelicals have willy-nilly embraced the charismatic phenomenon or other liberal practices is because they long lost sense of their theological heritage. Those who forget their heritage expose themselves to alien influences. Christianity is eminently a historical faith. Its authority source, the Bible, is all history of God’s great deeds. Her saviour is a historical Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Repeatedly, God reminded Israel of who she was by appeal to her history and forefathers. They that muse over the great deeds of God in biblical and post-biblical times make godly instructional use of their memory segments and thus retain a robust heritage.

  1. The pre-reformation circumstances have returned

 The reformation may have occurred 500 years ago, but the circumstances that catalysed it are however cyclical. They come and go in one form or another in every generation. As in the days of the Reformers, clergymen today are taking over the role of the Holy Spirit. Church life revolves around them and their altars. Only their prayers are efficacious, their anointing oil issues blessings and their message is divine in kind. Tetzel style money making is a preoccupation. Except in very few churches, Scripture has lost its centrality. Church tradition holds sway. Salvation is no longer from sin but from poverty and bodily ailment. Thus, the grace of Christ through faith is now negated. Moreover, the Roman Catholic Church has not altered its core beliefs, as its doctrinal standards show. In its shrewdness, it has adapted evangelical and charismatic elements, in order to attract more members and retain those seeking to exit. Yet none of this adaptation constitutes a foundational shift from the issues that compelled Luther to pin his Ninety-Five Theses.

Alarmingly, this movement is expanding and slowly absorbing churches that once took a protestant position. These include sections of the Lutheran, Anglican and Episcopalian churches. The reformation is therefore relevant for our times. If for no other reason, it instructs us how to discern and approach similar challenges re-emerging in our times.

  1. The reformation issues are becoming blurred

 The core issues of the reformation were the absoluteness of Scripture’s authority in the church’s life, the singularity of the merits of Christ for salvation, the singularity of both faith and grace as saving means and the goal of seeking God’s glory in all activities. A casual tour of the majority of so-called evangelical churches today will show that the whims of leaders and sway of the contemporary spirit determine the order and manner of worship. Sola Scriptura is no more. Sentimental songs dwarf doctrinal songs. Prayers long lost interest in the “hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Prayers are now pretty mercenary and extortionist. God is on gunpoint to bless or else… he ceases to be God!

Spiritual blackmail of the divine is no dreadful thing among people spoilt by shambolic doctrine. Preaching is no longer based on Scripture. Fantastic stories and skimpy inspirational talks have taken over exhaustive expository preaching. After twenty-five minutes, interest in the sermon by listeners evaporates. Minds switch to post-worship entertainment. The lord of the Lord’s Day has been dethroned. Evening services are the practice of an endangered species. Discipline is deemed dangerous for church unity and growth. The glory of God is in the intensive care unit and few deacons want to boldly aid its recovery.

It is man’s show and to man be the glory. A Christ focused c church life is trailing way behind an anthropocentric life. Therefore, messages on salvation from sin and hell are rare. Teachings on holiness are repugnant. Salvation by grace through faith competes vigorously with salvation by happy, healthy, wealthy living, in which the greatest sin is offence to the neighbour. Forget about God. Remembering the reformation helps not only Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians, but all true Christian people revisit the central truths of the Scriptures with the aim of reaffirming their stout devotion to them. Paul sums up the purpose of historical records: “now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1Corinthians 10:11).

  1. The reformation spirit is dying

 The Reformers were brave warriors. We know little about Luther, Calvin and Knox if we are unaware of the bravery with which they confronted the compromises and evils of their days. Challenging the church establishment of their times was not just dangerous, it was suicidal. Death was the punishment for all perceived to be heretics.

Yet these men defied all threats. They boldly proclaimed the truths of God’s word, caring little for consequences. Why did they? First, they valued truth more than their lives. Second, they viewed themselves as God’s servants to do his bidding whatever the dangers. Third, they saw themselves as pilgrims whose stay on earth was transitory. In other words, they were not worldly but heavenly in their outlook. Fourth, they lived pious godly lives. Therefore, they feared no charge of hypocrisy or exposure of scandal. “The righteous are as bold as a lion,” remember. Fifth, they were driven by the desire to glorify God in all they did. If this meant challenging the state and its wicked head, or the decadent church establishment, nothing deterred them. John Knox in Scotland was feared by Queen Mary for this.

These were men of profound faith in God and in the power of his word. Fearing God, they feared nothing else. Political and ecclesiastical correctness is the fad of our day. No offence, no correction of erring saints, no rebuke. It’s the dirty duty of elders, who share no less in the timidity. Zeal for truth is zapped. Sacrificing of one’s life for the gospel is for the dead. Today’s Christians are nice sweet people of this world, who happen to have checked-in their souls’ luggage to Zion’s lodges. To enjoy the best of both worlds, stress-free is their moto. If only more could read and know about the lives and exploits of John Knox, John Calvin, Martin Luther and Huldreich Zwingli, more believers would be enthused to boldly stand for biblical truth, fearlessly confronting the compromises and sins of the day in and out of the church.

  1. The Scriptures encourage us to commemorate such notable events

 Israel was repeatedly being told to remember not merely God, but the God of their fathers. And it is not all their fathers, but specific fathers through whom God’s greatness manifested, such as Abraham and Jacob. These fathers distinguished themselves by playing pivotal roles in the history of the nation. When generations later others played similar roles, God was even then identified with them. And so, you hear of God being the “God of David” (2Kings 20:5) and many other examples like this.

The Reformers lived in times when true Christianity, as we see it expressed in the book of Acts was all but extinguished. Formalism and dead religious rituals that saw the church replace the work of the Holy Spirit ruled. This was the state of affairs in much of the world then dominated by the Roman Catholic Church (Europe), Islam (Central Asia and North Africa) and Confucianism (East Asia). The Reformers in Europe, risked their lives and fought to restore the religion of the early church. It just makes sense that such a notable event be merited with tribute.

Our God is very insistent on remembrance. His great works of providence must be called to memory repeatedly. They form the basis for his ongoing relationship with his people. The rainbow served to remind humanity of God’s covenant with creation (Genesis 9:6). Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage was to be remembered in the Passover feast (Exodus 13:3). The Sabbath would remind man of God’s creative genius and rest (Exodus 20:8). The sabbath would also remind Israel of her own deliverance from bondage (Deuteronomy 5:15). Most splendidly, the Lord’s Supper is given to remind us perpetually of the great atoning work of Christ. The great deliverance from Roman Catholic damning errors ranks among the great works of God’s providence. It is a manifestation of God’s great delivering grace which restored the gospel to its rightful place, and must be celebrated reiteratively.

The exhortation is succinctly stated: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:7). We are to remember those who sacrificed their lives to bring to us our treasured truths, however long ago. This is with the view of imitating their lives and their faith. For it is the same Jesus that raised them and sustained them and their truths whose lordship we seek today. His historical works are therefore a basis for contemporary faith in his power and faithfulness. God be blessed for the Protestant Reformation in the year 1517 that drew us back to his holy Word and his only Son. With pride, we call ourselves Reformed Christians.