There is a mysterious power hidden in the Word of God, like a great oak is hidden in a small acorn, or bushels of apples hidden in a tiny apple seed. When God unleashes that power, He transforms people, families, communities, even entire nations. Yet it happens in ways we cannot fully understand or trace, but only receive with joy. Christ said, “So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how” (Mark 4:26–27).
God sent forth the power of His Word in the Reformation of the sixteenth century, and even the Reformers marveled at it. The Reformation served as a dynamic motivation and catalyst for change and progress wherever its influence reached. Many would credit Martin Luther as the driving engine that propelled the Reformation, but Luther said, “I did nothing; the Word did everything.” John Knox said, “God did so multiply our number that it appeared as if men had rained from the clouds.”
How did the Reformation change the church and the world? What are its lasting fruits or results? It is beyond the scope and purpose to survey them all here, but I want to touch on how God’s Word, during the time of the Reformation, made a significant difference in the church and world today.
The Supreme Rule of Faith & Life
The Reformers recognized the Bible as God’s written Word, and the supreme rule of faith and life for both the individual believer and for the life of the church—indeed, for all of life. Here is the great starting point for understanding the aims, dynamism, and achievements of the Protestant Reformation. As part of the revival of learning connected with the Renaissance, the Western church recovered the knowledge of the original languages of the Bible (chiefly Hebrew and Greek). For the first time in many centuries, her scholars and teachers were able to read the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, and examine the extant Latin translations of the Bible in the light of the original.
The Reformers emphasized Scripture in five important ways:
1. Authority. Scripture is the very Word of God and the voice of God (verbum Dei), and is therefore supremely authoritative. All other kinds of authority—civil, creedal, papal, ecclesiastical, etc.—must be subordinate to Scripture. Contrary to Rome, the Reformers believed that Scripture’s authority is absolute, not derivative. The church does not declare Scripture authoritative but only recognizes its inherent authority.
2. Infallibility and inerrancy. The Reformers taught that the Bible’s infallibility is exhaustive, for every word of every sentence, as 2 Timothy 3:16–17 says, is the breath of the living God. Nor can Scripture err. “I have learned to hold only the Holy Scripture inerrant,” Martin Luther said, quoting Augustine’s letter to Jerome.
3. Self-interpretation and self-authentication. Reformed theologians also stress the harmony between Scripture and the Holy Spirit. They taught that the Holy Spirit is the true expositor of the Bible, which enables the church to recognize that Scripture interprets and validates Scripture. While tradition may aid interpretation, the true meaning of Scripture is its natural, literal sense, not an allegorical one, unless the particular Scripture passage being studied is allegorical in nature. Scripture’s self-authentication means that the Bible’s witness is confirmed, as Calvin said, by the internal testimony of the Spirit in the believer’s heart.
4. Liberation. The Reformers liberated the Bible from the Roman Catholic hierarchy in at least three ways: first, by vernacular translation, such as Luther’s German Bible. As a matter of first importance, the Reformers saw that the Bible had to be translated into the languages of those lands into which it comes, because “the people of God… have a right and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them” (WCF 1.8). Second, by expository preaching, as recommenced by Zwingli. The Reformers insisted that the pulpit must be given pride of place in the church, since “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). And third, by straightforward grammatical-historical exegesis, best exemplified by Calvin’s commentaries. Through Scripture read and preached and expounded in Bible-based books, God speaks to us as a father speaks to his children, as Calvin said—and what can be more liberating than that!
5. Power. The Reformers taught that God gave us Scripture as His word of power that transforms and renews our minds by His Spirit. That power must be manifested in our lives, our homes, our churches, and our communities. While other books may inform or even reform us, only one book can transform us and conform us to the image of Christ.
So the light of Scripture began to dispel all darkness, and men like Luther were compelled to examine the very foundations of their faith and practice as Christians. What Luther found in the Greek New Testament shook him to his core, and soon he lifted up his protest against the accumulated errors of the preceding ages. Pointing to the Scriptures, Luther said, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.”
The Fruit of the Reformation
From that time onward, it has been the glory of the Reformed faith to be faithful to Scripture in all that it teaches, concerning what we are to believe concerning God, or what duty God requires of us. The value of the Reformed Creeds and Confessions lies chiefly in their faithfulness as summaries and expositions of the system of doctrine taught in God’s Word. Reformed Christians cherish the Bible as the living and active “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17) by which God speaks to us today and works in our hearts and lives, imparting faith, leading us to Christ, sealing us for salvation, and leading us onward to the city of God.
If you want to call yourself an heir of the Reformation, then you must be a student of the Bible. Read the Word of God and meditate on it daily. Cultivate a systematic understanding of the Bible’s teachings. Compare Scripture with Scripture. Use cross-references like those found in John Brown’s Systematic Theology. Take advantage of study resources like the Reformation Heritage Study Bible. Never walk away from private devotions, family worship, or a sermon without taking hold of some particular truth and applying it to your soul. When you lack wisdom, pray for it and search the Scriptures, for in them is eternal life and the knowledge of Christ.
 Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.7.2–4; cf. Westminster Confession, 1.5.