Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Reformation: Does It Even Matter Any More?

October 31st has come to be known for Halloween, perhaps the silliest "holiday" that the American mind has conjured up. But long before it became famous for candy and general mayhem, it marked the beginning of what eventually became known as The Protestant Reformation. On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the famous "95 Theses" to the door of Wittenberg Castle unleashing a revolution that would result in the Word of God reaching more people than it had ever before.

Five hundred years on, however, many are questioning whether the Reformation matters anymore. The church finds itself at a crossroads, with many wondering what exactly does being a Christian mean in the 21st century. Increasing numbers of churches are becoming "main line" as they seek to become all things to all people. It is not uncommon to find churches conducting surveys and interviews used to determine what people want. Eventually, the idea is that the church needs to evolve to become a "better fit" to the society around it. In this way, the theory goes, people will be more willing to go to church and become "Christianized." As I have said before, however, what you win them with, is what you win them to. If you give people what they want, what the human depraved mind already is looking for, then what need will there be for the true holiness that Christ demands.

There is no doubt that a new reformation is necessary. One of the refrains that the Reformed church has repeated throughout history is "Semper Reformanda"--"Always Reforming." The idea is that the church cannot stand pat. It must continue to examine itself, just as individuals should do (2 Corinthians 13:5), in order to determine whether it needs to change. We cannot afford to believe that we are "just fine" rather than working to make the church better and more responsive to the Word of Christ. As humans, we will always find issues that need to be addressed. If we become arrogant and proud, however, we run the risk of remaking the church in our own image.

The Reformers understood that it is God's will, not our own, that must hold sway. That was the essence of their claim, the fact that submitting to the Word was the only way the church could survive and thrive. They were used to the corruptions of the Catholic System. Thus, they sought to change what they saw as a breathtaking abuse of power by a Magisterium that had arrogated to itself  the authority to decide what Christianity was all about. Instead, the Word of God, said the Reformers, would be the determining factor concerning all faith and practice. "Sola Scriptura" was the cornerstone of their claims and we would do well to heed that call in our day. With the Word of God continuing to undergo assaults, even by the so-called church, it behooves us to hold fast to the "faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3) and refuse to bend to the pressure exerted by the world. The world is always attempting to remake the church in its own image. If we allow it to do so, we will find ourselves the inheritors of a hallow faith with little meaning.

The history of God's work throughout the centuries is replete with the names of those who refused to compromise the Word of God for the counterfeit presented by the establishment church. Jan Huss, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Huldrych Zwingli, Fritz Erba. Some are well known, others not so much. But they followed in the footsteps of those who long before had given their lives for the truth of God. None flinched at the torturers methods or the flames, the whip or the sword. And all because they knew that "the sufferings that we face in this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

Does the Reformation matter? You bet! Not only did the Reformers break through a threshold that was once believed to be impregnable, but they have left us a legacy of courage and wisdom that we would do well to emulate. To be sure they had their problems, and those have been well documented elsewhere so I will not do it here. But God works through flawed human beings to accomplish His work. That is something that should encourage us as we go about doing God's will in our day.


  1. Fritz Erbe? Though he was a cab driver I knew in Frankfurt....

    Pretty obscure! Did you ever read Verduin's "The Reformers and Their Stepchildren?" You might like it - it is a very sympathetic treatment of the Anabaptists.

    Enjoyed you article!


    1. Hey David, always enjoy your feedback. Yeah, I was in a conference recently and the speaker mentioned some of the reformers and their work. Fritz's name came up and that's the only way I know about him. I sure picked one of the most obscure names I could find! One thing, though, he spent seven years in a literal hole because he refused to baptize his children when they were babies. He was convinced that the Bible had nothing to say about that practice and for it he suffered the way he did. How many of us would be willing to even spend a week in such conditions for our faith? A tremendous example for us to follow. Thanks again.