Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:19-21)
Most of the time, date night is Friday or Saturday. It’s the day of the week many people anticipate most. (Except for pastors. We look ahead to another day of the week.) But this week, date night will be tomorrow. Put an X through Friday and mark your calendar instead for Tuesday, October 31, 2017. Then bake a cake and spread 500 candles on it.
Although tomorrow is October 31, date night this week is not about Halloween. It has nothing to do with Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve, the original religious holiday which ushered in All Saints Day on November 1.
Five hundred years ago tomorrow, Martin Luther nailed (or mailed) 95 theses challenging the established church’s practices. Luther’s ideas really weren’t original, but earlier protestors had been snuffed out. The difference this time would be the invention of the printing press. Luther’s ideas quickly spread throughout Europe and were embraced eagerly by thousands of people.
Church historians mark October 31, 1517, as the birthday of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was a really big deal. The church looks very different today because of Martin Luther. The whole world looks different today because of Martin Luther.
We could argue that the Protestant Reformation was not the first reformation in church history, although it was certainly the biggest. One might even argue that events recorded in the book of Acts actually constitute the first reformation of the church. That may be overstated, but there are some notable parallels in the early church, Martin Luther’s time, and our present world as well.
Here are four parallels to the early church in Acts 11:19-30, the Protestant Reformation, and today.
- A broken church – God had intended that the Gospel be made available to all people everywhere. But the first believers fell short of God’s design for the church and evangelized only other Jews when they traveled to other nations. Likewise, the Roman Catholic church was broken by corruption and compromise 500 years ago. When Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, many of those weaknesses were exposed for the world to see. Today the established church is broken again and often failing in the Great Commission.
- An obscure fix – Unnamed believers from Cyprus and Cyrene weren’t sidetracked by the same blindness of the believers from Jerusalem and shared the Gospel with non-Jews. Likewise, Martin Luther was an obscure monk when he rediscovered God’s imputed justification by faith alone. Today God is raising up obscure people in obscure places to carry on his work.
- A wake-up call – Barnabas came to Antioch from the established church in Jerusalem and saw the evidence that God was at work. He applauded and encouraged the new Gentile believers. Likewise, Martin Luther’s ideas gained a foothold around Europe and eventually spread to the entire western world. Today God is waking up the established church with the success of new churches around the world.
- A new thing – The believers in Antioch were the first to be called “Christians.” Undoubtedly, their non-Jewish worship looked different from the Jewish church in Jerusalem. God raised up the church in Antioch as a new kind of church. Likewise, the Protestant Reformation created a new kind of church. As for today, I’m encouraged by the new thing God is doing through ministry entrepreneurs.
Reformation is not just a motto. It’s God at work in his church, 2,000 years ago, 500 years ago, and today. Reformation is still going on in the church. I want to be a part of it.