Throughout history, there have been two things that distinguished the people of God from others. Those things were the personal presence of God and the Word of God. Moses summed it up well in Deuteronomy when he said, “For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:7-8 NKJV) Whether it was the Old Testament Nation of Israel or the New Testament Church of Jesus Christ, the people of God were identified by their devotion to God’s Word. In fact, other religions have been known to call Christians “the people of the Book.”
Since the Word of God has always been so important to the people of God, Satan’s attacks have usually started on the Word of God. Our first introduction to Satan is in the Garden of Eden when he comes to Eve and says,
(Genesis 3:1 ) Satan knew that if he could get Adam and Eve to doubt God’s Word then he could convince them to sin against God. His plan worked perfectly. Satan’s seed of doubt led Adam and Eve to sin against God and at that moment, humanity fell into sin.
While we don’t often explicitly see Satan at work in the O.T. doing this, we definitely see evidence of this work. 2 Kings 22 tells us the story of a young King of Judah who sets out to reestablish the worship of God after 57 years of wickedness, idolatry and the abandonment of the worship of God. In the process of cleaning out the temple, they find scrolls containing the Word of God that had long been ignored. In fact, as you read the story it’s almost as if the Word of God had been discarded like so much trash and only providentially kept from destruction. Their finding of God’s Word became a time of rejoicing and sorrow. Rejoicing because the Word of God was once again among the people of God and sorrow because they recognized how far they had gotten from God.
Throughout history, different people have tried to take and keep the Word of God out of the hands of the people of God. Probably the most successful attempt at this came at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church. For many years prior to the Reformation, the RCC kept the Word of God from being translated into the language of the people. Instead, they had it translated into Latin, which was a language that basically only the priests could read. Their official position for many years was that the common person was not able to read and accurately understand the Scriptures and so they needed to let the priests read and interpret the Bible for them.
For many years, the common people were kept ignorant of what God had said in His Word. The first crack in this oppression came on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany. Luther’s 95 Theses was Luther’s protest against what he considered clerical abuses, especially in regard to indulgences. Indulgences was the RCC practice of selling the remission of sins as part of a fund-raising campaign commissioned by Pope Leo X to finance the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The basic idea of this was that if you paid a certain amount of money to the RCC then Pope Leo would absolve your relatives of their sins and get them out of purgatory and into heaven. I’m fairly certain you could also buy indulgences for yourself to keep you out of purgatory and ensure you a place in heaven. In his 95 Theses, Luther argued that this was a gross violation of confession and penance.
In 1521, Luther was summoned to the city of Worms in modern day Germany for what is now called the Diet of Worms. By this time, Luther had already written several books that contradicted RCC doctrine, not only the doctrine of Indulgences but also that of Papal rule and Luther now insisted that salvation came by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. He was called in and asked if these books were truly written by him and if he was ready to ready to renounce the heresy contained in them. Luther requested more time before giving his answer. He was given until 4pm the next day
When Luther was brought back in the next day he was again asked if he was ready to renounce the heresy of his writings and teaching. Luther responded by saying, “Unless I am convinced by the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures or evident reason (for I believe neither in the Pope nor councils alone, since it has been established that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures adduced by me, and my conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God, and I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen.” The RCC responded by issuing an edict that branded Luther a heretic and offered a reward for anyone who captured him and turned him over to the RCC.
Not long after the Diet of Worms Luther began working on a German translation of the Bible. Luther’s work at translating the Bible into the tongue of the people influenced a man named William Tyndale. Tyndale spent many years of his life in hiding as he had been branded as an outlaw by the RCC. In 1536, Tyndale was tied to a stake, strangled to death and then his body was burned.
His crime was heresy against the church. The heresy he was guilty of was translating the Bible into English. He too believed that the Word of God belonged to the people of God.
Other Reformers suffered similar fates for the sake of the Bible. It was their conviction that the Word of God belonged in the hands of the people of God. They were willing to live and die for the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Sola Scripture basically means Scripture alone. This is the doctrine that the Bible is the only infallible and inerrant authority for the Christian faith. Consequently, Sola Scripture demands that any doctrine of faith and practice for the Christian life must come from Scripture instead of tradition, counsel or decree.
I plan on my posts this week focusing on the inspiration and authority of Scripture. My goal is encourage those who read this to make Scripture the authority in their lives, to deepen their appreciation for Scripture and to inspire them to study the Scriptures diligently.