Today is Reformation Day, a holiday celebrating the great faithfulness of our forefathers in the faith, as they defended the Word of God in the Middle Ages. On October 31st of 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famed ninety-five theses onto the castle door of the church at Wittenberg. He was challenging the Catholic church's practice of indulgences, and what ensued is what is commonly known in history books as the Protestant Reformation.
Many Christians today (myself guilty at times!) look at our culture today and think that there is no hope for the Gospel, and that we are indeed sinking into greater and greater unbelief, heresy, and corruption. We are prone to see the earth on a freight train headed straight towards a great engulfment. We see our current political situations, the unBiblical laws passed, the millions of our children who are murdered by their own parents each year, prayer stripped out of schools, Gospel truth replaced by moral relativism, and the "Christians" in our society following mammon and Hollywood more readily than Jesus. And we take a VERY pessimistic view of where our glove is headed. We think there is nothing that can be done.
But look at Europe at the time leading up to the Protestant Reformation. The Word of God was held captive by a religious elite who were corrupt to the very core, hiding theft, adultery, greed, swindling, and lies underneath the guise of the name of our Lord. The Gospel was not being preached to the masses; instead they were hearing select portions of scripture read to them in a language not native to them, and the public were being taught that they had to help earn their righteousness. They were so frightened of the future of their souls, and so frantic to do anything to earn their way into heaven, that the poor would give away some of their last pennies to buy off a few years from purgatory or to save their souls from hell. The masses murmured rote prayers in penance, trusted in priests to be their mediators before God, and lived in utter fear and spiritual darkness.
That, my friends, is despair. That sounds like a place where the Gospel truth would never spread. That's a society sinking into greater unbelief, heresy, and corruption. The Word of God was not even available to the masses! Yet God was still sovereign, even when His church came to the brink of self-destruction. He used a monk who was bold enough to challenge the powers that were, and He used corrupt church counsels and men who were still searching for the truth to accomplish His will. And look at the fruit it has born! Churches around the globe still benefit from the courage of men like Luther, Calvin, Knox, Zwingli, and others. God's church continues to spread, not because all the factors are aligned in its favor, but because God is in His heaven, and He is still ruling.
So when I get discouraged and am tempted to adopt a very pessimistic eschatology, I remember the Protestant Reformation, and give a prayer of thanks to God for always preserving a remnant of His people. And I remember a brave monk in 1517, and all the reformers who came after him, who were willing to die because of their beliefs, letting the truths of God be their dying cry:
Sola scriptura - Scripture alone
Solus Christus - Christ alone
Sola gratia - Grace alone
Sola fide - Faith alone
Soli deo gloria - To God Alone be Glory!
Make sure to read some of the excellent posts linked at the 2007 Reformation Day Symposium.