4 Oct 2020
It has been some 500 years since the Reformation in the history of the Church. The confessional emphases of Reformation thought are still central for God’s church today and the church of God must not forget them and their implications for churchlife and God’s people.
This is particularly important as the church has gradually wavered from these emphases over the years, and today, there are many so-called churches which have almost completely veered from them altogether. Why it is important is also because they form the emphases of Scripture in the theology of salvation, sanctification and outworking of the life of the Church of God, and to turn away from them is essentially turning away from God’s revelation in Scripture.
The emphases remain clear: by faith alone, by Scripture alone, by grace alone, by Christ alone, for God’s glory alone. God is all, and man is nothing, and praise is due to God for everything good. We have nothing and everything we have is received from the hand of God; in ourselves we are destitute and we are totally dependent on God in every respect. This is true with regard to the pardon of our sins and the justification of our persons.; it is equally true of life, health, food, clothing, a job, a home, a family, and every other good thing that comes our way.
Martin Luther’s last written words were, “We are all beggars. That is true.” Two days later he died. He was right – if we think of ourselves as achievers, creators, reformers, movers and shakers, healers, educators, benefactors of society in any way at all, we are at the deepest level kidding ourselves. Before God’s throne, we are all beggars! God is the maker of all things and the provider of all good things; we are completely dependent on what He gives, even our very lives and breath. God can get on without us – as we realise this, are we truly grateful for HIs generosity, mercy and grace to us? Do we contemplate on how marvellous and wonderful God is to us, and do we lift up our hearts in worship and adoration to the almighty, the creator, the sustainer, the giver and the lover of our souls?
Luther’s exposition in the reformation was and is very clear: we are justified not on the ground of any merit of our own (for we have none) but through God’s own gift of righteousness, freely bestowed on us in virtue of Christ’s obedience and sacrifice and received through faith alone. He equally vigorously insisted that our very faith depends not on any natural ability to trust God (again, we have none) but on God’s calling – His supernatural work by the Holy Spirit of creating in us a response to the word of the gospel. God in grace gives not only righteousness but also faith to receive it – first to last, salvation is of the Lord!
In acknowledging these emphases, the church therefore has two constant needs: instruction in the truths by which it must live, and correction of the shortcomings by which its life is marred. It is the church’s responsibility to use Scripture for its intended purpose. This it does by the complementary activities of exposition followed by reformation.
To accept the authority of Scripture means in practice being willing first to believe what it teaches, and then to apply its teaching to ourselves for our correction and guidance. The Reformers saw that this was what God demanded of the church in the sixteenth century, and the truth is that He demands the same in every age of the church’s life. The words and lives of Christian men and women must be in continual process of reformation by the written Word of their God.
If we fail to see this and we forget the implications of what the reformers achieved through the reformation, even at the point of many losing their lives, we have indeed done them a great disservice and wrong. We have also failed to heed to God’s demand for His church and HIs people, and have to face the judgement of God on that great day before the judgement seat of God.