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5 Reasons Why the Reformation Matters Today

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

In a conversation about our favorite historical figures, I asked a coworker if he knew who Martin Luther was. He responded with, “Oh! Is that the guy who nailed stuff to the door?”

“Yes, that’s him!” I said with a laugh.

For many people, Martin Luther exists in this single snapshot: a monk hammering the Ninety-five Theses to a church door. While some historians believe that the tale is likely apocryphal, his true legacy has greatly influenced me.

Martin Luther, a German who lived from 1483-1546, was a key figure of the Protestant Reformation, when Protestants—so-named for their protest against Catholic teachings—split from the Catholic Church. Luther’s involvement in this movement was shaped by his personal testimony of receiving God’s grace and overcoming doubts about his salvation.

God used Luther to help restore a Biblical understanding of salvation. Because I struggled with my own guilt and self-condemnation, Luther’s story resonated with me, as it showed that God can use struggles in people’s lives to draw them to Him and equip them to change the world.

This year, on October 31, we honor the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses. Here are five foundational reasons why his testimony, beliefs, and stand against the theology and practices of his day still matter today.

 

1. It reminds us to know the gospel for ourselves.

In the 1500s, the Catholic Church taught that salvation came through faith, works, and grace, and that those who repented of their sins before death would be punished for their sins in Purgatory before they could go to Heaven.

One very controversial practice was the sale of indulgences, which were credits that would supposedly reduce time in Purgatory for both the living and the already dead. This allowed corruption to flourish. One friar even advertised with the jingle, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs” (Estep, 1986).

Luther spent years fearing that he was not holy enough to merit God’s favor, and only escaped this struggle when he understood that salvation was about Christ’s righteousness, not his own. His experience with spiritual despair taught him that good behavior and church rituals could not remove the weight of his guilt (Perry, 2013).

As a professor and preacher, Luther encouraged people to focus on Christ and study the Scriptures. Things came to a head on 31 October, 1517: in his Ninety-five Theses, Luther protested the practice of selling indulgences and argued that the church did not have the authority to save souls. His writings were circulated widely.

Luther teaches us that the true gospel frees souls from spiritual bondage, and also frees people from dependence upon the gatekeepers of tradition. We should not depend upon pastors, speakers, or writers to make Christian teaching available to us. It is important to read the Bible for ourselves, know its truth, and be prepared to defend it against false teaching.

 

2. It reminds us that we are saved by grace alone.

As a monk, Luther spent countless hours in the confessional, trying to remember and recount all his sins. He also tried to attain holiness through pilgrimages, long hours of fasting, and prayer. He later said of this time, “I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.”

I will never forget what it was like to learn about Luther’s struggle to feel forgiven. As a church kid, I related to his fear that no matter how outwardly compliant he tried to be or how well he followed the rules, he could never remove the stain of guilt from his soul. Like Luther, I desired to follow Christ, but I feared condemnation and lacked assurance of salvation.

What transformed Luther’s life—and mine—is the knowledge that we are saved through grace alone. In Luther’s study of the Scriptures, he was struck by the language of righteousness in books such as Romans and Galatians, and came to understand that we are saved not because we do righteous acts in union with God, but through faith in the perfect righteousness of Christ.=

 

3. It reminds us that following Christ always has a price.

Luther was summoned by church authorities and told to recant under threat of excommunication. His response was, “I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”

Luther chose this knowing that the authority of Scripture was of greater value than his reputation or comfort. Luther once said, “I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”

Even in my ordinary life, following Christ requires sacrifice. I cherish this reminder that when I lay down my preferences at the altar and pick up my cross to follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24), my ultimate security lies in Him.

 

4. It reminds us that the gospel is for everyone.

Because the Germans did not have accessible Bible translation in their language, they depended upon the Catholic Church for religious education and training. The church taught that only priests could rightly read and interpret Scripture, but Luther argued that every person can receive faith and understanding from God.  He spent many of his later years crafting a Bible translation of the New Testament in the German vernacular, making the transformative, authoritative text of Scripture available to ordinary people.

In churches today, we should not give special favor to the well-educated, wealthy, and beautiful, as if these markers of worldly success indicate spiritual strength. The Holy Spirit resides in every believer, and through Him, we have access to God. Spiritual gifts are poured out upon all those who put their faith in Christ.

 

5. It reminds us to depend on Scripture.

Throughout different generations, challenges to Scriptural authority vary, but the correct response remains the same. Christians must depend upon God’s revelation in Scripture as truer than any church leader’s vision or political system’s creed. They must also reject the temptation to prize other means of spiritual discovery as more important than the Bible.

Luther said, “From the beginning of my Reformation I have asked God to send me neither dreams, nor visions, nor angels, but to give me the right understanding of His Word, the Holy Scriptures; for as long as I have God’s Word, I know that I am walking in His way and that I shall not fall into any error or delusion.”

In today’s culture, it is easy for believers to feel like the unbelieving world can never be persuaded by the Bible, and that we must find fresh, glamorous ways to attract people to Jesus. But these approaches discard the tool that best convicts of sin, reveals God’s glory, and teaches the gospel. As the Reformation and the rest of Christian history shows, the Bible is our irreplaceable source of truth, with the power to change both individual hearts and the world.

 

References
“Renaissance and Reformation.” William R. Estep, 1986
“Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society.” Marvin Perry et al., 2013

Can I Really Make A Difference?

Written By Tay Boon Jin

 Boon Jin has been a staff with Singapore Youth for Christ for the past 15 years. She now serves in Malaysia—reaching children through the teaching of English.

“50 Inspirational Quotes On Making A Difference”
“Quotes About Making A Difference (153 quotes)”
“The Power of One”

There is no lack of websites that encourage people to make a difference. One of the most common quotes which often pops up comes from the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, who said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

Although most of these quotes are not given in context, it is not difficult to guess what they’re pointing towards. Poverty, war, crime, discrimination, and abuse of our environment are but some of the perennial issues we often read about in the news.

We sense the urgent need for a cure to the issues plaguing us. Yet, the problems our society face seem too big and complex, the resources needed to solve the problems too immense. “Can I make a difference?” becomes empty rhetoric and unachievable.

Of course, we’ve read of how some people made a huge impact individually. However, we may struggle to believe that what they achieve is actually attainable for us, too.

 

 The Root of the Problem

If we view the world from the big picture that God Himself has painted for us, we cannot but be persuaded that the root of all our problems is our sin. Thus, in some sense, there’s nothing that anyone can do that can make a real and permanent difference. The fallen state of our world makes human effort futile; the permeating effects of sins cannot be undone. In fact, each of us as a sinner contributes to the problem, in both large and small ways.

But God gave the solution to the world’s problem: the Lord Jesus Christ. He so loved the world that He sent His Son, who came in a humiliating fashion to take our punishment for us (John 3:16). If God holds the solution, perhaps the only difference we can truly make is to point someone to the solution by the word we preach and by the way we live.

When God makes us right and brings us back to Him, our perspective of the earthly life will change. A man may remain poor, but he no longer measures his worth by his wealth (or lack of it). A man may live in a war zone, but he trusts God for the peace in his heart.

 

Having the Right Motivation

That said, this does not change the fact that the social problems we face are tangible and affect us at every level. Neither does it mean that Christians should avoid all form of social good and humanitarian work. But perhaps we need to re-examine our motivations.

Jesus told this lesson in Matthew 25:31-40: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

In this passage, our Lord Jesus illustrates how a follower of His ought to respond to the needs in this world—by helping out in a very practical and tangible way. But Jesus doesn’t say this because He wants His disciples to change the world. Instead, the reason He gives for us to serve others, even the “least” of all, is this: By doing so, we are serving Jesus Himself. That should and must be our motivation as we go about doing social good. We are to live Christ-centered lives so that the world will be attracted to Jesus.

As we look at great men of faith who have gone before us, we see countless servants of God who have left their homes to sow the gospel seed in foreign lands. They did not go because they thought they could change the world; they went because God called. Some did not live to see the fruit of their labor; in fact, some gave their lives that the fruit may be borne.

In my recent phase of life, God has given me opportunities to minister to a poor community in another country. My initial encounter with this community got me thinking hard about how to meet their needs. Some of the ideas that sprang to mind included ways to alleviate poverty, put all the children through school and keep them there, guide the youths to find a clear and good purpose in life, and even provide employment for the adults. These were all good goals, but I soon realized that they were beyond my means. It was discouraging to know that I could not provide the help that they needed.

It was then that I was reminded of Jesus’ words that the smallest effort to the least is by no means insignificant. I began to look at how I could help the individual: provide socks and shoes when a kid went to school in slippers, provide a month’s breakfast when a kid stopped going to school because he had no food to sustain him through the morning’s learning, provide information to unemployed parents whenever I knew of factories that had job vacancies.

As each of these recipients thanked me for relieving them of their worries and needs at those points, it gave me opportunities to testify to them that God was the one who had provided. Some of them even thanked God with me.

So let’s continue to labor on in helping others practically and spiritually. Let’s take heart that God will bring about this great work of sanctifying His people to live lives that glorify Him. And ultimately, let’s be encouraged that God will bring about perfection in the world when Christ comes again!

Blade Runner 2049: What Does It Mean To Be Christian?

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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What does it mean to be human? That was the question at the heart of Ridley Scott’s neo-noir science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner (1982). It’s a question further explored and dissected in Blade Runner 2049, with French-Canadian film director Denis Villeneuve now in the driver’s seat.

In the first Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) was tasked with hunting down rogue human-like androids called Replicants, who were on a mission to extend their built-in four-year lifespan. It was against this backdrop that he wrestled with his own humanity as well as his feelings for a replicant, Rachael (played by Sean Young).

The sequel has us following the exploits of Ryan Gosling’s Officer K, a latest-version Replicant who has not only been built to live longer but also programmed to be more obedient than his predecessors. K, too, is tasked with hunting down rogue Replicants, but stumbles upon a revelation that causes him to question the very meaning of his existence.

Villeneuve’s America of 2049 is an immersive experience. It draws you in with stunning visuals and landscapes, with towering pyramids and monolithic structures that fill the majority of the screen and engulf the characters. Then there’s the soundtrack, both evocative and transfixing, which pulls you into the tumultuous world of K. But they never distract from the narrative, which centers on K’s personal turbulence. For it is this ultimate mission to find significance and purpose in his existence, that drives the unfolding plot.

The film grapples with this issue through the juxtaposition of humans, who come into the world through birth, and replicants, who are manufactured. As with the first film, the lines are blurred. And with the sequel being told from the perspective of a replicant, their plight begins to seem all the more human. For K, to be birthed carries consequences beyond the obvious biological implications; birth imbues an individual with a significance and purpose that K craves.

In reality, we too crave significance. Everything about our culture is geared towards telling us that we are special, that there is more to life than mundane existence. From the media we consume to the experiences we seek, we’re encouraged to dream of a purposeful, exciting destiny.

However, as Christians, we recognize that our purpose is very different from the one that mainstream culture tries to sell us. As one of Blade Runner 2049’s most poignant lines suggests, purpose and significance is born out of a cause worth dying for, rather than what gains we may manufacture in this life.

The Christian existence revolves around the gospel. Our purpose is very much tied to it and never manifested apart from it. For it is through the gospel that we are brought from spiritual death to life, as described in Ephesians 2:4-5. And it is for the gospel that we are called to suffer for—and ultimately, if need be, to die for. For Christians, the gospel is the cause worth dying for.

The theme of dying for a greater cause is a big thing in Blade Runner 2049. The opening scenes feature the replicant farmer Sapper Morton (played by Dave Bautista) telling K that he, K, is settling for a mundane life because he’s never witnessed a miracle. Morton himself has found the meaning of his existence and a cause worthy of death, because of a miracle that lies at the center of the film’s plot.

Similarly, the miracle of Jesus’ death and resurrection should radically change the way we live and our perception of life on this earth. In light of what the new creation has in store for us, material pursuits should lose their shine. The miracle of the gospel should shape the way we approach our daily tasks, and the way we prioritize our time.

If there is one thing about Blade Runner 2049 that might discomfort, it’s the notion that the grand scheme of things is not really about us. We like to feel special and noteworthy, and we like to put ourselves at the center of the known universe. To hear the gospel saying differently grates against our instincts.

The cause and purpose of the gospel is far greater than our ambitions and dreams. It is an opportunity that God presents to us to be a part of His great redemptive plan, which is something infinitely larger than anything we could ever possibly accomplish on our own. We play our role by living out the gospel and proclaiming it, but in the end, the real star is Jesus Christ. As Colossians 1:28 says “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” Jesus is the cause worth living and dying for.

Blade Runner 2049 asks what it means to be human. But there’s a bigger question: what does it mean to be Christian? As we consider the purpose and significance of our existence, a good starting point would be to take cues from the Gospel and the way that it radically and intrinsically reshapes our existence.

Dunkirk: Searching For The Way Home

Photo taken from Official Trailer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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Written By Caleb Young, Australia

What would you do to survive? And to what lengths would you go to save others?

These are the questions at the core of Dunkirk, an action-packed thriller of a war film based on real-life events at the French port town of Dunkirk during World War II.

Forced to the beaches of Dunkirk by the Nazi invasion of France, some 400,000 Allied—mainly British—troops were stranded. England was only 26 miles away across the English Channel but British Prime Minister Winston Churchill thought that no more than 40,000 men could be rescued—until a nationwide flotilla of military and civilian vessels brought some 334,000 men home.

The unending tension, immersive soundscape, unique storytelling, masterful filmmaking, and the extraordinary ensemble cast are just a few of the factors that make this an incredible cinematic experience and the best big-budget film of the year.

But as I consider my own Christian worldview, I realize that the film also speaks to how we treat the message of the saving power of Jesus’ sacrifice.

(Minor spoilers ahead.)

 

There Are Many People Who Need Saving

Just like on the beaches of Dunkirk back in 1940, there are desperate people all around us who are living in fear, searching for a way to escape. Just like the young soldiers Tommy and Gibson in the film who masquerade as medics to get on board a transport ship for the wounded, many people take measures into their own hands and put on masks to feel safe and protected. However, just as the transport ship in the film eventually sinks, the false sense of protection that the world offers will not save anyone.

 

We Need to Show Them the Way Out

In Dunkirk, the characters of Mr. Dawson, along with his teenage son Peter and deckhand George, know that their private boat—together with hundreds of other small boats—along the English coast are the key to saving the soldiers at Dunkirk. However, that knowledge alone will not save those men. They have to sail across the English Channel and show them their salvation. As Christians, we know “the way, the truth, and the life” that will save those around us. However, keeping that knowledge to ourselves will not help anyone. We must purposefully search out opportunities to share this amazing news with others.

 

Sharing the Good News with Others Isn’t Always Easy

The journey across the English Channel is a difficult one for Mr. Dawson, Peter, and George. Just like all the civilian volunteer vessels, they face the threat of German submarines and enemy aircraft throughout their entire journey. With uncertainty at every point, the sailors who went to Dunkirk needed bravery, determination, and even sacrifice to save those desperate souls across the sea.

Sharing the salvation that Christ offers to the world isn’t an easy task either. We also have an enemy working hard to weaken our faith and cause us to turn back. And yet, it is important that we face the difficult task like the sailors in Dunkirk did, with courage and fortitude—ready to give sacrificially to save others.

 

Human beings are prepared to go to incredible lengths to survive. The Dunkirk film is a great example of the resilience of the human spirit. But resilience alone doesn’t always save us; we humans cannot save ourselves from our own sinful nature. The beautiful thing about the gospel is that it doesn’t depend on our own strength. Just like the boats that saved hundreds of thousands at Dunkirk, Jesus is our lifeboat: all we have to do is jump in. For those of us who are already saved, let us tell others of this free salvation that we can have in Christ.

The story and scope of Dunkirk is awe-inspiring and will lead movie-goers on an intense, action-packed ride as you experience the fear and bravery of those at Dunkirk. But as you enjoy this remarkable cinematic masterpiece, may you also be inspired to bring the salvation we know in Christ to those around us who are in need of saving.