Five hundred years ago when a German monk took up a mallet and started history’s greatest protest—the Protestant Reformation—the history of the Western world was changed forever! Five centuries later the sound of that hammer continues to ring throughout the world as successive generations of Reformers continue to proclaim the truths recovered by Martin Luther and his fellow reformers.
We have spent many blog posts observing the wonderful reality that truth triumphs! It triumphed in the days of the Apostles. It triumphed throughout the first centuries of church history. And ultimately it triumphed over darkness in Martin Luther’s day.
The question is not whether truth has triumphed—clearly it has. Nor is the question whether truth will triumph in the end—it will! The question is whether or not truth will triumph in our own day—and that answer in part depends on whether or not you are willing to pick up your own mallet and join the successors of the Reformers by personally celebrating, proclaiming, and protecting the truths recovered by the Reformers during the Protestant Reformation.
When is a protest over? When is it enough already and when does the time come for both parties to come to the table to talk together, lay aside their differences, and be reconciled so unity can be restored and the breach healed? To be sure, reconciliation is to be desired and when it happens in God’s way it is sweet and glorious. But sometimes reconciliation can be deadly—when it loses truth or gives up hard-fought spiritual ground.
There are those today who argue that the Reformation has accomplished the goals of the Reformers and after 500 years it is time to be reconciled with Rome and the Roman Catholic Church. The current dialog between Protestants, Evangelicals, and Pope Francis indicates that for many, the time is ripe for mutual respect and reconciliation between Protestants and Roman Catholicism. Pope Francis is the most ecumenical pope in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. He enjoys world-wide popularity and favor and has been well-received by leaders of almost every other faith in the world—including many millennial evangelical Christians. I was reminded of this through a comment I received from one of my students regard to Pope Francis:
We millennials are prone to be tolerant. We are prone to be nice and accepting. And this can be seen in our response to Catholicism.
Pope Francis is a “hip” figure in millennial culture. He is what a lot of millennials want to see the church become—someone who doesn’t press hard on social issues (homosexuality, abortion, etc.) and is immensely kind, going around the world, feeding the poor, doing kind deeds everywhere, standing up for Muslim refugees. He’s a popular figure—even I have been drawn to show him praise.
But he is a false teacher! Rome hasn’t changed since Luther’s day! Even when Catholicism seems “cool” and modern, it’s dangerous and heretical!
I agree with this assessment, and so after spending this fall celebrating the magnificent truths recovered by the Reformers, I want to end the series with this sober reality—
The Reformation is far from over!
Those who followed the Reformers had a slogan—Semper Reformanda. It meant “always reforming.” By this they did not mean the church was always going to be discovering new truths—rather, they meant that the church would regularly reform itself by constantly examining its faithfulness to the foundational truths recovered by the Reformation.
The Reformation was about recovering truth that had been lost and applying what they recovered in four primary areas—and we must constantly guard that same truth by insisting that it shape the church in our own day and age in those same four areas.
1. RECOVERED: The Sole and Supreme Authority of the Church
A primary consideration for the Reformers was framed in the question “What is the final authority for the church—the Word of God or the word of the Pope?” The Reformers recovered the Scripture and made it the final authority for the church.
They reformed the church by insisting that the Scripture be the supreme and sole authority over the church and the single source for the content and the regulation of the worship of the church. They read it publicly—and for the first time, common man had access to it. They proclaimed it authoritatively. They preached it expositorily. They explained it and applied it. They prayed it, and they sang it.
Sola Scriptura defined the church and set the boundaries for everything that happened in the worship of the Church.
There is an appalling lack of biblical preaching of any kind in the evangelical church today. The content and practice of worship in the evangelical church at large is primarily decided on what is relevant to the culture, what is pleasing to the congregants, and what is non-offensive to unbelievers. The Bible is still a sacred text for the church, but it no longer governs the teaching of the church, the worship of the church, or the moral and ethical lives of the worshipers.
2. RECOVERED: The True Gospel of the Church
The Reformers insisted on the clear and accurate articulation of the true Gospel, and they proclaimed it everywhere. They rejected and resisted the false gospel of Rome and removed themselves from it.
They took seriously Paul’s statement in Gal 1:9 that anyone who preached a different Gospel than the one taught by Paul and the Apostles was under the curse of God—and they did not hesitate to say so about the Roman Catholic Church clearly and boldly.
What about the Evangelical Church today? Does she still believe this exclusive Gospel and are her leaders committed to it? Are they willing to stand up and speak against Gospel error? What would happen to most evangelical preachers who stood up with gracious boldness to declare that the Gospel proclaimed and taught by the formal doctrine of the Catholic Church is heretical and sends people to hell?
What would happen to a Christian leader who stated in no uncertain terms that the current Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church is a false teacher that is damming people to hell by his teaching and according to the clear teaching of Galatians 1:9 he is anathema?
3. RECOVERED: The Central Purpose for the Christian life—Soli Deo Gloria
God’s goal is His glory, and He sovereignly designs and directs all things to that end. Therefore, all of life must be lived for the glory of God alone. Not just three dollars’ worth of God. Not using God, His Word, or His Gospel to serve our ends but using our lives to serve His purposes and to bring Him glory.
Not making God merely prominent but making Him preeminent.
The Reformers would not recognize this goal in many evangelical churches today. Much of the church today is man-oriented as opposed to God-centered. The Bible is preached for what it can contribute to my life. And if it is read at all, it is packaged as a spiritual vitamin to keep sin away for the day—a verse a day keeps the devil at bay.
Church today is designed to inspire me, help me, heal me, and entertain me—welcome to the Church that is all about us! But the truth that triumphed in the Reformation needs to triumph over us! Soli Deo Gloria!
4. RECOVERED: The Spiritual Vitality and Morality of the Church
The Reformers recovered a precious doctrine that meant individual believers could worship God personally as well as corporately—we call it the priesthood of believer or the soul liberty of the believer. This had been lost, covered under sacerdotalism and shrouded in ignorance. The way to God was through the church.
The Reformers also insisted that all believers—pastoral leadership and laity alike—needed to live genuinely holy lives that adorned the Gospel by exhibiting the transforming power of the Gospel. They stressed true piety, genuine spirituality, and personal morality in a day much like our own where such traits were not to be seen in even the Catholic priests. In our day, when such rampant immorality is also a factor, we must commit to a walk of godliness that will not be “in vain.”
The Reformation must continue!
And for that to happen, you and I must become the successors to Luther and the Reformers. We must pick up Luther’s mallet, Calvin’s theological passion, Zwingli’s zeal, Martin Bucer’s piety, and John Knox’s boldness!
We must continue to resist what they resisted. We must continue to proclaim what they proclaimed. We must continue to cherish, nourish, and apply what they recovered to our churches, our worship, and our lives. We must live for the end they lived for—Soli Deo Gloria!
Has truth fully triumphed in the Church? Has it triumphed around the globe? Has it triumphed in our own lives?
Until it does in every age, in every place, in every church, the Reformation must continue.
And you and I are the Reformers!
This article conclues the series on the Reformation in celebration of the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses. It was originally published on Life to Life, Dr. Sam Horn’s blog. This series complements Bob Jones University’s doctrinal chapel series with this post being taken from a sermon preached on Dec. 6, 2017.