Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Spirit of the Reformation

Happy Reformation Day!

As always for me, today is sort of a special day. It's not just that as a child I loved Halloween and all its spookiness. I was raised in the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, and October 31 commemorates the date in 1517 on which Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the cathedral door in Wittenberg, Germany, thereby sparking what would become the Protestant Reformation.

Among the concerns of Luther and other reformers was the issue of justification, that is, on what basis we are set right with God and declared innocent of our sins. Taking St. Paul's testimony in Ephesians 2:8-9 to heart, the reformers' answer was this:

Sola gratia (by grace alone)
Sola fide (through faith alone)
Solus Christus (on the basis of Christ alone)
Soli Deo gloria (to the glory of God alone)

Nearly five centuries later, the debate over justification still continues--only this time within the Protestant churches themselves. Are we justified though faith alone apart from works, or are we justified on account of the works produced by our faith? The latter has always been Rome's position, not Augsburg's or Geneva's. But even that is beginning to change. I think the debate itself is somewhat beneficial for the church, because it always forces us to go back to the God-breathed Scriptures as our ultimate authority for faith and practice, and not any church traditions, confessions, or creeds (sola scriptura). It is times of heresy, heterodoxy, or division which often enable the church to become more pure, more convicted, and more unified in her doctrine as she is forced to reckon with the whole of Scripture and not simple proof-texting. These times also are a proving ground for how well church leaders and laity of differing traditions and convictions can continue to love one another and promote brotherly unity while seeking fidelity to their Head alone, Jesus Christ.

In the end, when the dust settles and heads clear, I think that we'll have a fuller picture of God's covenantal relationships with mankind in history, his saving work in Jesus Christ, the nature of the church, the role of the sacraments, and the relationship between justification and sanctification in our union with Christ. And while the divisiveness is bitter for now, we must pray that God will be glorified by the truth and that the church will be strengthened and unified from it. Just as Jan Hus and Martin Luther and others never sought to split the church, but rather to correct her according to God's Word (while nevertheless standing firm in their convictions even in the face of death), so too must we do so today. That is the true spirit of the Reformation.

1 comment:

Ryan P.T. said...

"It is times of heresy, heterodoxy, or division which often enable the church to become more pure, more convicted, and more unified in her doctrine as she is forced to reckon with the whole of Scripture and not simple proof-texting."

I learned this week that in the theological curriculum of the 16th century, "church history" basically meant "history of the heresies & controversies." No question, each Christian ought to know the big controversies at least as well as he knows, say, the controversy surrounding the acceptance of the Constitution (of course, by this I don't mean "not very well"--but alas, that's typically the case!).

Blessed Reformationtag!