The true hero of the Reformation is the Word of God. The role of the Word of God in the Reformation is the single most important event of this period in church history. As personalities are studied, celebrated, and rightly set in their places by those who follow in their footsteps, we must also recognize their chief work of translating, disseminating, and teaching the Word of God as their most enduring contribution. As Charles Spurgeon observed, “The Reformation was the liberation of the Bible.”
Luther was teaching through Psalms, Romans, and Galatians when he “felt born again, saw the scriptures in a new light,” and “walked through the gate of paradise.” Ulrich Zwingli was preaching verse by verse through the Greek New Testament and translating in to Swiss German as his parishioners began to understand faith alone and began eating sausage. William Tyndale was always “singing the same note” as he poured out his life translating Scripture in to English from the original languages so he caused “the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the scripture. . .” One of the most reverberating actions from John Calvin is his return to Geneva after a three year forced hiatus when he simply picked up with the next verse of Scripture from which he had left off the Sunday he was ran out of town. The common thread through the Reformation is the Word of God that was read, preached, and understood.
I read these words from J.C. Ryle (a 19th century Church of England Bishop in the Church of England) in the October edition of Banner of Truth magazine and realized I could not articulate this truth more poetically than he did:
“The grand lever which overthrew the Pope’s power in [Germany] was Luther’s translation of the Bible into the German tongue. . . It was the royal permission to have the Bible translated [into English] and set up in churches, so that everyone who liked might read it. Yes. It was the reading and circulation of Scripture which mainly established the cause of Protestantism in England, in Germany, and in Switzerland… The people knew too much. They had seen the light. They had heard the joyful sound. They had tasted the truth. The sun and had risen on their minds. The scales had fallen from their eyes. The bible had done its appointed work within them. . .” (emphasis mine)
If we wish to see the powerful earth-shattering culture-shifting movements such as the Reformers saw in their day in our day, then we must put forth the same effort in to translating, disseminating, and teaching the Word of God (especially to those who have never heard). That is the work, and nothing more. Sola Scriptura indeed.
“I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise, I did nothing. The Word did everything.” – Martin Luther
As we oppose the false gospels in the world, proclaim the true Gospel, and point others to Jesus, may we be able to conclude, as did Luther, we have done nothing, but may the Word do everything.