Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Reformation in Our Day

Reformation in our day. This month marks a big deal in the history of the Protestant Reformation in Europe, namely its 500th Anniversary. A number of writers and bloggers and Facebook fans have posted Reformation type articles and reminders. This may be seen as another addition, though I hope it stirs some to positive and enduring action for the next 500 years, if God so wills.

Reformation must begin in the Church and in God's people, Christ-followers by name and brand. Quite some time ago, the apologist Francis Schaeffer posited that we stand before a "watching world," and that if our behaviors do not radically change, there would be nothing inviting for unbelievers to transfer their allegiances. Many others have followed suit, and we have had "radical" Christianity preached and taught from many pulpits and in many quarters. Yet, the culture and world remain essentially unchanged and unchallenged, not so much by our words, as by our actions and attitudes. The Apostle Peter wrote, "For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:17) Pontification about what should be done, or not done, without transformed lives doing what should be done, or not done, does little to change or challenge the current atmosphere. We gain nothing by shouting louder than our opponents, or arguing with them better, or writing more books about the truth. Our post-post-Christian (not a typo) world has seen Christians and their churches come and go with very little cultural transformation or impact. I know this because as semi-retired from active pastoral ministry, I have coached and mentored numbers of churches and Christian leaders and followers, and have found the same judgment about Christianity's impact from them.

We must get back to Reformation basics--Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, God's glory Alone. Saying these phrases, even in their Latin formulations, does not mean we actually follow them. Scripture Alone, but we have "added" to the Scriptures by our own admission, not in adding actual verses to the Bible, but in summarizing and tweaking them to fit our conceptions of leadership, or fellowship, or Christian theology and philosophy. Anybody can make the Bible say anything they want it to say. What has happened to serious study of the Scriptures, to contextual and careful biblical exposition and development? Many churches do not even bother to reference a verse or two in their Sunday morning presentations, and these are self-proclaimed Bible churches. We have used and re-used the word relevancy so much that it has become our new Bible.

Christ Alone has become stories about Jesus, rather than the solid teachings of Jesus, both positive and negative in our world. We love John 3:16--"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life,"--but we stay away from John 3:36 -- "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." We especially abhor Romans 1, and ignore its stern warnings about sexual immorality of various sorts and people making their own gods to follow and worship. Until we get away from the "nice" Jesus, the "innocuous" Jesus, the "harmless" Jesus, we shall never know Christ Alone. And it is Christ Alone that can and will save us, not a mishmash of Jesus plus other "good" religions. The Cross and the Resurrection must frame our stories and sermons and writings. Christ must once again become the center point of what we teach and believe and follow.

Grace Alone and Faith Alone have been substituted by doing the best we can to please God. Sad to say, but many Christians and Christian churches have substituted a form of "works" plus faith for the successful and Spirit filled believer. The rules have overcome salvation by grace through faith alone. I am teaching a course on the Letter to the Romans in a Bible based church, only to hear class members bemoan the fact that they have never heard this teaching in the church's public ministry. That is not to say that it was never there, but it has been eclipsed by other "relevant" topics over the years. The sovereignty of God's grace rarely gets a hearing in today's larger churches. And if so, it is shuttled to the side in an obscure small group or sparsely attended class. We need to return to Grace Alone and Faith Alone to have Reformation in our day.

God's Glory Alone is an unknown quantity in our day as well. Many do not even know what it means to "glorify God" in everything we say and do and think. It is a mystical, airy thing floating in the theological stratosphere with no earthly relevance. To glorify God means to have the "weightiness" of God's Word, God's character, God's values informing and impacting our own. It means a world-and-life viewpoint that informs and transforms our work, our play, our schooling, and our lives. Barna Associates have pointed out in survey after survey that over 90% of modern day Christians have little to no idea of a wholistic, 9-5, Sunday to Saturday, 24/7 faith life in Christ. People are not taught to glorify God, and when told to do so, have no idea what that means to the Christian truck driver, or waitress, or stockbroker, or politician, or schoolteacher. We have divorced faith from real life in so many ways that Sunday rarely bleeds over into Monday through Saturday. 

So, on this 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, let us commit ourselves to real reformation, in our schools, our businesses, our recreation and our lives. Let us bravely and courageously adhere to and follow those brave Reformers, many of whom gave their lives for the Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone and to God's Glory Alone. May the next 500 years find us faithful to a true Reformation.