There could be no end to posts dealing with lessons for preachers from the Reformation. I’d like to focus in on one today, then another tomorrow. Both of them were brought out very clearly in a series of messages by Michael Reeves on Justification (available, and well worth listening to, on theologynetwork.org). In the final session of a great series of talks, Mike asks “Why is it that Luther started the Reformation and Erasmus didn’t?” Let me quote the first part of Mike’s two-part answer to this question:
Why is it that Luther started the Reformation and Erasmus didn’t? Because Erasmus is the one who unleashed the Greek New Testament onto Europe. He was getting the Bible out there, so why didn’t he start the Reformation? Well, even though Erasmus was a constant and deep student of the Scriptures, the Scriptures didn’t actually do a lot for him because of how he treated them. Erasmus kept banging on about how vague the Scriptures are (which is very convenient for his own theology), and so he gave them very little practical, let alone overruling, authority. So although he looked at Scripture, the message of Scripture could be tailored, squeezed, adjusted to fit his own vision of what Christianity is.
The only way to break out of that suffocating scheme and achieve any substantial reformation and change in the world – well, it took Luther’s attitude, that Scripture is the only sure foundation for belief. The Bible had to be acknowledged as the supreme authority. It had to be allowed to contradict and overrule all other claims, because if it couldn’t do that, it itself would be overruled and hijacked by another message, as it was with Erasmus. In other words a simple reverence for the Bible was never going to change the world, even quite a high view of the Bible was never going to do much. Sola Scriptura. Scripture alone was the indispensable key for change. Without acknowledging that the Bible has that supreme and foundational authority there would be no Reformation. No Reformation in peoples’ hearts, no Reformation in the world.
That final emboldened text is well worth a “selah” for preachers. On this matter are we an Erasmus, or a Luther?