Reformation Sunday 2004

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We are fast approaching the five hundredth anniversary of the glorious Reformation. The history of the Church is always tangled, and we can never approach it in a simplistic fashion. But with all such allowances made, the Reformation was a great work of the Holy Spirit, and we are right to remember and celebrate it. But let us take care to remember it rightly.


Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein (Jer. 6:9-16).


There are two elements in our text that we must consider. The first is the word of the Lord to stand fast, to seek out the old paths. He commands His people to find the good way, and to walk in it. In that way, they shall find rest for their souls (v. 16). The other element is the rebellion of Gods people when they hear this word. They said that they would not walk in the old paths (v. 16). And why would they not? The text tells us earliertheir ear is uncircumcised, and so they cannot hearken. The word of the Lord is a reproach to them, and so they have no delight in it (v. 10).


At the center, the Reformation was a recovery of the gospel in its purity, and consequently it resulted in a recovery of gospel preaching in its power. That gospel addresses first the condition of manthrough Adams rebellion and our complicity in it, we are utterly unable to save ourselves, or even to prepare ourselves to be saved (1 Cor. 2:14). In the next place, we note the work of God the Fatherùthe one who elected His people, apart from any fulfillment of any condition by them (Eph. 1:11; Rom. 8:29). The work of God the Son is nextùHe died on the cross to secure the salvation of all the elect (Jn. 10:14-15). Because the persons of the Trinity always work in harmony, the work of the Holy Spirit applies the decision of the Father and the blood of the Sonùthe Holy Spirit quickens the elect at the point of each individual’s conversion (Eph. 2:4-5). These things being so, it is not possible for any of the elect to fall away from their calling — we hold to the perseverance and preservation of all elect saints (Jn. 10: 27-28).


But these glorious principles found in the gospel are not suspended in mid-air. The Reformed soon discovered that the gospel is connected to all of life, and cannot be detached from an all-encompassing worldview. There were (and are) five principles that summarize this reformational worldview. The first is tota et sola Scripturaall of Scripture and only Scripture (Matt. 4:4). This means that the Bible is our only ultimate and infallible rule of faith and conduct. The second is tota et sola gratiaùsalvation is all grace and only grace. Grace and works mix like oil and water, whiskey and ice cream, sin and righteousness (Rom. 11:5-6). The next is tota et sola fideùsalvation is by means of all faith and only faith, faith all the way down (Eph. 2:8-9). Believe God! The next is totus et solus Christusùwe have only one Savior, the Lord Jesus, and we are one with Him, Head and body together (Eph. 4:15-16). The last is toti et soli Deo gloriaùthe glory goes to God alone for all things, and all the glory goes to Him (Eph. 3:21).


We believe all of this, and we believe it with all our hearts. I am so full of Calvinism, the doctors are worried about my heart exploding. I am such a Calvinist that state troopers want to give me breathlyzer tests. I am so Calvinistic that it makes my back teeth ache. This being the case, then why the steady drumbeat critique of Calvinism from this pulpit? The answer is two-fold. First, it is far too easy to preach powerful sermons (that require no courage) when you take on the condition of others. But such are just a fireworks display, and not the artillery fire of the Word. And second, that which is being critiqued is not Calvinism, but rather a pathetic residue of Calvinism. To paraphrase Pirates, there are the remains of a fine theology about her. It is never an attack on the prophets to attack the tidy-minded curators of their memorials (Matt. 23:29).


There is a stark difference between polishing the marble in the mausoleum and doing the works of the one whose memorial it is. If you were sons of Abraham, do the works of Abraham! Do we really think that Luther walked around with a parsiminous expression? Do we think that Martin Bucer was a fussy little man? The Word of God elicits two responses only, and they are the responses of faith (Rom. 10:17) and unbelief (Jn. 10:25-26). But whenever unbelief masquerades as faith, it takes on the role of managing the Word, tidying up the loose ends. What this powerful new teaching needs, obviously, is a PR consultant.


Just one moreecclesia reformata et semper reformanda, which means “the church reformed and always reforming.” We do not say this because we want to be like those silly women in Scipture who are always learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth. We are always reforming in the same way we are to be always repenting. A reformation left to itself rapidly becomes an unreformation. Are we in the midst of a new reformation? I believe so. Is this megalomania? “Who do you think you are?” We are nothing but small believers in a great God.

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