It has been just over 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 protestations against the Roman Catholic Church to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. These 95 protestations or theses were a customary invitation for theological debate on the sale of indulgences, which was a trademark of much preaching in those days. But little did Luther know that they would spark the Protestant Reformation, the effects of which are still being seen and felt in church and society today.
What was the Reformation?
According to Ernst Troeltsch, four key questions were essential to the Reformation:
- How is a person saved?
- Where does religious authority lie?
- What is the Christian church?
- What is the essence of Christian living?
The Reformers’ answers to these questions hinged on five biblical principles, famously known as the Solas. Strung together, they affirm that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone, according to the Scriptures alone.
Scripture was at the Centre
At the Diet of Worms, Luther was brought before German princes and church authorities to defend his presuppositions. However, it did not take long for him to realise that his defense was nothing more than an opportunity to recant, abandoning his searching criticisms.
Praise God for Luther’s serious commitment to Scripture, a mark of all the Reformers.
He gave his now famous answer, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture…for my conscience is captive to the word of God, I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other. So help me God.” Praise God for his serious commitment to Scripture, a mark of all the Reformers and their preaching.
Preaching for Reformation in Africa
The Reformation continues today. For the challenges faced in the 16th century are still felt in many Protestant churches. Thus the Reformers’ solution remains: Scripture alone. Today in Africa, anyone who knows past errors is best prepared to refute present ones. The sound of Luther’s hammer and protestations must echo today in Africa.
In a church full of compromise, the tool needed is still the Bible.
Protestants must continue to correct false teaching and preaching. We must challenge all distortions of the grace of God, as well as those who deny the supreme superiority of Christ. In our preaching and teaching we must cast off additions to the word of God, refusing to glorify any man or woman of God instead of God himself. In a church full of compromise, the tool needed is still the Bible. Wherever God’s word is taught correctly, his voice is heard and lives are transformed for God’s glory.
Who is Your Authority?
Today, in Africa, the man of God has overthrown the authority of the word of God. We no longer know the name of the church. Instead, we know the name of the man of God. Furthermore, we no longer seek God’s truth from the Word. We wait for the pastor to unleash his declarations on us. Because many church groups depend on these men of God, the churches end with them.
We no longer seek God’s truth. We wait for the pastor to unleash his declarations.
If we are to see a Reformation on our own continent, as the church in Europe did some 500 years ago, there must be a revival of biblically saturated preaching. We seem to want everything except what is most important: God’s very words.
What African Churches Need is Biblical Preaching
With everything that is being added to the church liturgy, it is displacing the primacy of preaching. The Reformation was a revival of biblical preaching. It was a revival of expository preaching, a form of preaching that lay dormant for centuries. The life or death of the church in Africa depends on its preaching.
The life or death of the church in Africa depends on its preaching.
The church in Africa will starve if its diet continues to be the mere words man. But it will thrive when pulpits are committed to the authority and message of Scripture. Ultimately, the church in Africa will fall without its own Reformation so let us stand, as Luther did, on the Bible.
What the church in Africa needs today is not mighty men of God or powerful preachers. What we need is men and women persuaded that God’s truth is the powerful means through which God will transform his church, and this continent.