As we remember the resurrection of our Lord from the dead every Lord’s Day, we must also remember that this great power was not exhibited in the world so that we might simply watch it — He rose from the dead as the firstborn from the dead, and so that we might understand His great resurrection power in all other aspects of our lives. The Church has many times been in dire straits, but we serve a God who raises the dead. The Church has gone through this pattern numerous times, but one of the greatest examples of this was the series of events that we have come to call the Reformation.
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us . . . (2 Cor. 1:8-10).
The Scriptures describe the resurrection of Jesus for us, and the Scriptures also describe a resurrection power that is loose in the world. The Bible teaches us that Christ rose from the dead: 1. As the firstfruits of the coming resurrection of all His people (1 Cor. 15:20-23); 2. As the justification or vindication of His people (Rom. 4:23-25); 3. As a model of available power in individual lives of believers (2 Cor. 1:8-10); 4. And as a model of available power in the collective body of believers throughout all time (Eph. 1:15-23). This resurrection-like power was bequeathed to the Church throughout all ages, and the greatest manifestation of it to date was found in the period which we call the Reformation.
In the next post we will consider some of the main characters of the Reformation — Luther, Calvin, Tyndale, Zwingli, et al. But as an introduction to the Reformation, we must first consider the issues which were at stake.
What does the word evangelical mean? It comes from the Greek word for gospel, but as you should understand by now, the gospel is not merely a small truncated series of steps that a sinner may go through to get saved. Until recently, the word evangelical applied to the “five solas” of the Reformation. They all focus on the gospel as biblically understood, and as collectively owned, by God’s people. This is not a contradiction, incidentally. “If the key word is sola, then why are there five of them?”
Sola Scriptura – The way of salvation for us is infallibly revealed through Scripture alone. “. . . which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures . . .” (Rom. 1:2). This doctrine means that Scriptures and Scriptures alone are our only ultimate and infallible authority in spiritual matters. There are other spiritual authorities, like parents or the Church, but there is a court of appeal past them, and for good reason — they are not infallible.
Soli Deo Gloria – The salvation of sinners is ultimately for the glory of God alone. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! . . . For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33,36). The Church is never thriving unless she is God-centered. When we make our ultimate point the salvation of sinners, we cease to glorify God, and we start seeing a marked decline in the salvation of sinners. But put the glory of God at the center, not the glory of man, and one of the first things that happens is the glorification of man.
Solus Christus – The salvation of sinners is accomplished through one Mediator alone. “. . . even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus . . .” (Rom. 3:22-24).
Sola Gratia – The salvation we receive is not earned by us in whole or in part; it is through grace alone. “For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17). The Reformers’ insistence on grace was set over against centuries of motive-scratching, and the preaching of free grace was unalloyed good news. Unfortunately, some heirs of the Reformation have turned the purity of grace on its head, requiring people to understand it perfectly before they can earn some of it for themselves. That is partly why we always need reformations.
Sola Fide – The instrument of our salvation is faith alone. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” (Rom. 1:17). The ground of our salvation is the life and obedience of Christ alone, but the instrument we have for receiving it is evangelical faith alone. The faith that receives the grace of God is a lively faith.
Put it all together, and what do you have? You have God’s governance of all things for His own glory, and His determination to renew all things through His Son Jesus Christ. He tells us about His purposes in all this through the Scriptures alone, and we are equipped to understand it when we grasp His infinite grace, received by us through the instrument of faith, which is itself an additional gracious gift.
We do not just see the meaning of Easter once a year. We see it weekly in our worship services, and we see it exhibited throughout the history of the Church. We must remember — Christ died and rose, and when this is proclaimed properly, sinners are raised to spiritual life now, and to eternal life hereafter. These are words which raise the dead.
Merle d’Aubigne described it well. “Those heavenly powers which had lain dormant in the church since the first ages of Christianity, awoke from their slumber in the sixteenth century, and this awakening called the modern times into existence. The church was created anew, and from that regeneration flowed great developments of literature and science, of morality, liberty, and industry. None of these things would have existed without the Reformation. Whenever society enters upon a new era, it requires the baptism of faith.”