Happy Reformation Day!
Well we got back in town recently from three months’ ministering in Europe, which is the maximum time allowed for non EU citizens without getting a special visa (we are presently working on writing up all the radical things God did—just takes a bit of time.) We then left again, right after we got home, across the country to Colorado for just about 10 days for a family wedding and a bit of hiking in the Rocky Mountains. So we've been running around all over the map and are still just getting back into the swing of things. It takes a little time to shift gears when you've gotten so used to packing it up, ready to hit the road for the next European city you’re going off to.
Well, it is October 31st and while most Christians want to bury their head in the sand today or replace the day of pagan revelry with a harvest festival or something, it goes largely unremembered in the US that one of the most significant post-biblical Christian events in history took place on October 31.
The Germans celebrate “Reformation Day” as do some other Northern European countries, as they should, since on October 31,1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Thus, without any forethought on Luther’s part, he had just hammered the nail into the beginning of a Reformation that would shake the nations. One of the most incredible things about the Reformation that is often overlooked is the incredible foundation it laid for revival and missions.
Luther, a tortured soul, had found the solace and mercy that none of the dead rituals in the institutional church system had prescribed would bring to him. All the fasting, and kneeling, and confessing, and praying all night long, and other rituals, did absolutely nothing for his soul but they did literally and permanently ruin his health. He had at last come upon the freeing, saving, life-giving, amazing grace Jesus offers, as he grappled with the Scriptures trying to understand what they meant in Paul’s letters in the New Testament. He says the Holy Spirit descended upon him as he read Paul’s epistles and he was “born again” through gates of paradise when he at last grasped that Jesus had done the work for him at the cross and paid fully for his sin and offered full grace without any merit or work on the believer’s part whatsoever.
The Reformation continued to spread as Luther taught and preached on this Biblical truth he had rediscovered, long lost in a sea of dead church rituals. However, he was surprised by the negative reaction and persecution he received from the institutional church system steeped in Romish Catholic traditions to something so plainly and squarely biblical. Nevertheless, others throughout Europe began to see the light and turned back to biblical truth as well and the Reformation began to move full force (learn more about Luther and the Reformation in this video).
One of the most incredible things about the Reformation that is often overlooked is the incredible foundation it laid for revival and missions. Many powerful revivals followed in its wake, as well as others who would be revivalists were born out of the Reformation. In fact, revivalist John Wesley was directly converted when he heard Luther’s commentary on Romans being read many years later.
One of the more significant revivals took place through a group of unlikely candidates that would give birth to the Protestant missions movement, sending missionaries throughout the world on the heels of the Reformation.
Even into the 1700’s Lutherans, as well as Moravians and other Protestants were being persecuted throughout Europe. The Moravians were spiritual descendants of Jan Huss who was a pre-Reformation reformer in Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic) who was martyred for his faith (link to audio program on Huss).
Running out of places to escape to and hide, a group of persecuted Protestants—mostly Lutherans and Moravians—ended up on the estate of a wealthy and devout Lutheran count in Germany named Nicolaus Ludwig Von Zinzendorf, who opened up his land and allowed them to take refuge there. Zinzendorf was very instrumental in forming the group into a movement and giving them a focus on missions. The estate was given the name Herrnhut (“The Lord’s Watch”) as many others arrived to take refuge.
Differences of opinion on some things led to some problems and conflicts, but an unexpected move of the Holy Spirit was about to break out that would literally go out to the nations.
During a child’s confirmation service in August 1727, a sudden, unexpected, and explosively powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit took place, and so great was this move that the inhabitants of Herrnhut realized they had entered into a revival. Many were taken over with intense weeping and swept with other overwhelming emotions as God’s Spirit visited them. A great renewal took place, and with that outpouring there also came a powerful impetus to take the Gospel out to the nations. This outpouring was also accompanied by a spirit of unity amongst those taking refuge; notice however that the unity was a result of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring and not a pre-requisite for the Spirit of God to move, regardless of what some who have recipes for revival may say.
The Holy Spirit’s outpoured presence took the focus of missions and made it into a reality, as many began to take the Gospel out to different nations. Within a few years, there were Moravian missionaries in the West Indies, Greenland, Lapland, Labrador, South Africa, Algeria, Ceylon, Romania and other places in Europe and the world.
Though other Protestants had made some missionary attempts and activity, many of the previous attempts had ended in tragedy. For instance, John Calvin had sent missionaries to South America who unfortunately were massacred by fanatical Catholics who were pillaging the land for its silver and gold. An early Protestant colony in the area of Florida was also massacred by the same. George Fox, leader of the charismatic Quakers, sent missionaries to China who disappeared and were never heard from again.
It took a move of God to bring forth a vital mission movement that would take Christ’s Gospel of the Kingdom out to the nations and be sustaining. And continue it did. The Moravians ended up sending more missionaries out in a short time with more results than all the combined Protestants had done in previous centuries. The Gospel of grace combined with the power of the Spirit is a dynamic force that shakes the nations!
The Spirit of God gives life (John 6:63) and power and makes His people witnesses even to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
- Quick note: Another amazing product of the Reformation is the King James Bible; we celebrate its 400-year anniversary this year. Read and watch a video about its development here.