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How can we work towards a new Reformation?
In the midst of growing ecumenism, rank heresy and theological liberalism, surely the time has come for the Protestant people to start crying out to the Lord for a new work of Reformation like that which left medieval Europe shell-shocked some 500 years ago.
As Reformation Day (31st October) draws near, I find myself musing once again about the future of our Evangelical confession. Where are the Luthers, the Zwinglis and the Calvins of our generation willing to speak out and put their lives on the line for the cause of the Gospel? Oh, that the Lord would turn our Western nations back to himself as in days gone by!
But here’s the question: how can we work towards a new Reformation with so much spiritual confusion around about us? Or, what can we do to be forerunners of a fresh moving of God? Surely we could at least be Waldos, Wycliffes, Husses and Savonarolas!
I can do little better than to offer the same three pieces of advice that the man of God Dr. Klaas Runia (1926-2006) gave us some fifty years ago:
1.- Get Back to Doctrinal Preaching
Doctrinal preaching has gone out of fashion in our theologically-indifferent postmodern world. It was precisely this airy-fairy attitude towards doctrine that so enraged God’s volcano, Martin Luther. The German hit out at Erasmus for his anemic view of Gospel truth. Whereas Erasmus merely sought after a moral renovation within the walls of Roman Catholicism, Luther was adamant that the real issue at stake in the sixteenth century had to do with doctrine, theology and the truth claims of the written Word of God.
During the first two centuries of the Reformation, catechisms and confessions of faith were widely relied upon as means of building up one’s faith both at the house of worship and at home. Even young people were trained to learn off the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Catechism by heart. Preaching too was thoroughly doctrinal. As Runia so aptly put it, “Doctrinal preaching is the only way to get a congregation to know what it believes”.1
Today, however, many churches that sport the Evangelical label have so watered down the theological element of preaching that sermon-time is little more than a cheap motivational chat. Such messages may be emotional but they contribute nothing towards having one’s soul soundly edified by the solid foundations of Scripture. This wishy-washy means of preaching has all but killed off our Protestant discernment thus flinging open the doors for liberals to occupy our pulpits and to dupe us back to the enclosure of the Vatican. Oh for another Luther to stamp out this Erasmian spirit!
2.- The Need for Discipline
Alongside the loss of doctrinal preaching, discipline is another feature that has come off for the worse in our contemporary age. It seems that anyone in the Protestant world who confesses some type of belief in God is eligible for church membership regardless of their doctrine or holiness of life.
Let’s be clear: merely “believing in Jesus” is not enough to belong to a Christian church. The word “Jesus” by itself can be taken to mean a thousand different things. It must be clear that the Jesus upon the Evangelical stakes his (or her) life is the Christ of Scripture: the One who is simultaneously fully God and fully man; the One who laid down His life for the sins of His people as a propitiatory sacrifice and resurrected bodily for their justification; and the One who is the only means of access to God the Father. If this is not the “Jesus” in whom the ‘believer’ professes faith, then such a faith is short of the New Testament requirements. It is a non-faith. In other words, it is disbelief.
With regards to holiness of life, no sane church has ever asked “perfection” of its members. Nevertheless, there should be some tangible sign of fruit in a truly converted person’s life as well as a desire for the things of the Lord. The Lord Jesus wisely illustrated to us that a tree is known by its fruit. Christians no longer belong to themselves but to the Lord Christ.
Therefore, they are to be held mutually accountable to one another within the context of a local congregation. This is a sure-fire method of keeping a congregation spiritually robust.
3.- Keep Protesting
Protesting has never been popular as those protesting are usually brushed aside as excessively narrow-minded or bigoted and they often have to stand alone. But in spite of such insults and isolation, our Protestant forefathers were willing to speak out when it mattered. They didn’t give into the seduction of playing it safe.
Now, there are a host of issues upon which Christians may legitimately differ, but the time to raise one’s voice is when the Word of God is brought into open disrepute. The whole pro-homosexual marriage fiasco over the past couple of years serves as a clear example where a deafening silence has pervaded the Evangelical camp. So many are afraid of being designated as “homophobes” by the media or something worse that they simply opt to button their lips.
Such a lack of protest does disservice to God and the Scriptures. Similarly, the advancing ecumenical spirit has yet to be soundly challenged. And the presence of theological liberals in Protestant pulpits, key denominational posts or para-church organizations must be dealt with square on.
May we always keep in mind that once our voice of protest goes, so will our Protestantism! Let’s defend the truth of God’s Word whatever it takes. It won’t be easy just as it wasn’t easy for Spurgeon to speak out during the ‘Down Grade Controversy’, but he remained faithful to the end as a veritable soldier of the Lord.
So may this serve as a wake up call to all those Waldos, Wycliffes, Husses and Savonarolas out there or perhaps even to those Luthers, Zwinglis and Calvins! The best way to keep our precious Reformation-legacy alive is by investing in its future via God’s time-tested methods: doctrinal preaching, the practice of Christian disciple and the voice of protest.
Oh, for a New Reformation!
Oh, for yet another generation left shell-shocked by the power of the Word!
1 RUNIA, Klaas, Reformation Today (Banner of Truth: London, 1968), p. 101.