500 years ago today the reformation began when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. This was a turning point in world history. One of the main thoughts of the reformation is the idea that scripture is the highest authority on spiritual matters, rather than any one person like the Pope. Anyone can read and understand what the Bible teaches, arrive at conclusions from the teachings of scripture, and in turn teach others. It is a very liberating idea.
The idea of following a person over following God’s teaching is something that has been a thorn in the side of Christianity since the beginning. Paul addressed it himself in I Corinthians 3. Some Christians were claiming to follow Paul, others claimed to follow a guy named Apollos. This was causing divisions in the church. Paul urged people to follow God. He wanted us to understand that we are all on the same team and worship the same God. Factions do not help. Follow God and not men.
Yet, the desire to follow a person continued and in 1054 the church in Europe was split between East and West when the western church decided to follow the Pope and the eastern church refused. This was what the reformation pushed back on over 500 years later, and out of the reformation came great thinkers and church leaders like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli.
Though the reformation moved in the right direction, these new church leaders (likely of no intent of their own) quickly became the leaders of new factions. These factions remain today in the form of various denominations.
Yet this is not how it should be. It is perfectly acceptable to cite great theologians when discussing theological issues, but if we truly believe that scripture alone is the highest authority on spiritual issues, and if we truly believe in the priesthood of all believers, then we must believe that all followers of Jesus have the authority to read and teach the Bible, baptize those who come to faith in Christ, and teach others spiritual truths about God in light of His scriptures.
This does not mean that we will never be in error, but it does mean that we can all call people out when we see error. It means that even the greatest theologian with the most degrees and highest respect can be called into question by anyone when his teaching contradicts the Bible. It also means that the lowest and least educated of us can read, understand, and apply scripture to his life without having to seek the guidance of a so called higher level Christian. (Though seeking wisdom from our fellow believers is highly recommended.)
This is what our work in Bulgaria is about. We want to teach the Bible and teach others to teach it as well. We want believers to be able to feed themselves through scripture. It is one of our beliefs that anyone can lead a small group and in these small groups we can study God’s word together.
Let us celebrate the 500th anniversary of this great historical moment by finishing what the reformers started. Let us empower everyone to read the Bible and know God personally.