One of the most striking stories of the Reformation is that of Thomas Bilney, one of the first English reformers. Bilney was a student at Cambridge and while he was there he struggled under the weight of his sins much like Luther had done before him.
One day Bilney purchased a copy of Erasmus’ translation of the Bible, mainly because he had heard that the language was exquisite. Thumbing through it he came across this verse: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:15). The verse immediately struck a chord in his heart. He was that sinner, that chief sinner and could it be that Jesus came into the world to die for him? The thought broke him and made him whole all at the same time. Writing about the experience later he said “This one sentence did so exhilarate my being…that immediately I felt a marvelous comfort and quietness insomuch that my bruised bones leaped for joy”
Bilney had discovered the gospel and with that discovery came a personal revolution that touched the lives of so many people that he came into contact with, the most notable being Hugh Latimer, Thomas Arthur, John Frith and William Tyndale. So many amazing Protestant luminaries were influenced and impacted by Bilney and it all began with a deeply personal experience with the gospel of Jesus Christ, that first changed Bilney himself. This was the essence of the Protestant Reformation and it was encapsulated in every single movement that arose under its banner. Martin Luther was transformed by what he discovered in Romans 1:16-17 and his bold stance for the truth sparked the Reformation in Germany and throughout Christendom. Ulrich Zwingli read the word of God and it shook his humanistic ideology to the core, replacing it with a deep and humble dependence on God and His word, which in turn led to the Swiss Reformation. Jacques Le Fevre, Pierre Olivetan, and John Calvin all had deeply personal encounters with the Word of God that then led them to become proponents of the French Reformation. The list goes on and on.
For every Reformatory movement that was sparked in Christendom, there were men (and women, let’s not forget the likes of Katharina Von Bora and Marie Durand) who had personal, life-changing experiences with God that ignited in them a desire to help others to have that same experience.
The Reformation is a perfect example of the revolutionary power of the gospel to turn the world upside down and it all began with deeply personal experiences.
In many respects 500 years later we know the Reformation isn’t over but the strongest evidence of its longevity is found in the perpetuating of its core essence.
This weekend I had the privilege of seeing our friend Peter get baptized. Peter’s testimony is powerful. He was born in a Buddhist home in Vietnam without a great deal of religious inclination and even less faith in the existence of God. Through divine providence, he was sent to an Adventist College in Thailand where he was first introduced to the Sabbath and the Adventist Health message. After graduating he spent time in Malaysia at a secular University working on his Masters only to experience bone-crunching hopelessness. He tried all kinds of numbing tactics to deal with the emptiness including excessive video gaming among other things but nothing helped.
During this time he came across a debate on creation and evolution on YouTube which left him digging for answers to find out the truth. After an extensive search, he was convinced of the existence of a Creator and he wanted to know more about Him. However, the hopelessness he felt still wouldn’t go away.
He finally quit his studies and went back home to Vietnam where he began to attend church every Sabbath. While here he began to have Bible studies with the local church pastor. He then decided to study in Australia at which point the Pastor told him about a small campus-based church community in Melbourne, Australia. En route to Australia, he stopped in Singapore where he was again told of this same church community and given contact details. That is how he ended up in our CARE Group and started having Bible studies with my husband Asela and our friend Mike.
This week at Gateway we got to witness the culmination of years of labor by numerous individual Adventists and Adventist Institutions, confirming in my mind that it really does take a global village to save a soul.
Peter’s story is living proof that the Reformation continues because Peter’s story is no different to the stories of Thomas Bilney, Martin Luther or John Calvin. It is the story of a young man, deeply impacted by the Word of God, who then surrenders his life to God and makes a conscious choice to help others have the same experience.
The Reformation continues. Each of us who have had a personal life-changing experience with the gospel is living proof of that. The question is will we choose to carry that work forward?