Today is Reformation Day! We celebrate that a monk with a mallet (and a desire to stoke debate among local academics) changed the world. There’s something there for the pedants amongst us, you never know what your gentle corrections might cause.
Which considering the Reformation tore Europe into a generation of ‘religious war’ should give you a moment’s pause. Though, for the record, even that is a description I would challenge—the Thirty Years War was a particularly unpleasant conflict, though there are no polite wars, but many of the religious elements were a pretext rather than the content of their complaints.
Why do we celebrate the Reformation? You might not consider it at all, or think of today as Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve or Samhain, but I would contend that today is a day that all Protestant churches should observe with significant joy—and ideally celebrate on the closest Sunday! Why is it worth celebrating, perhaps with a rousing game of pin the 95 theses on the door? Here are 3 reasons.
Like many of the previous reform movements that Christianity had been through—and like some of those since—the Reformation involved a rigorous returning to the text of Scripture. Do I agree with every move they made? No, I don’t, but I share the methodological ground: what does the Bible say?
The fact that we can ground our thinking and church life in the text of the Bible—along with the creeds and confessions that help us to understand it—is a legacy of the Reformation.
Justification by grace through faith
That we are clear that we are justified by the dramatic gift of God [grace is not a thing] which we appropriate by trust (which we call faith), is a gift of the Reformation. That we know that our good works are not required to justify us in front of God, but instead evidence the grace of God in our lives, is a gift of the Reformation.
These are life-changing truths which we celebrate every Sunday and which shape our lives from day to day. We are loved by God because he chose to love us, because he decided to be for us. Which, dear friends, means that we can’t mess it up if we tried.
The restoration of the Church
The third gift of the Reformation is the restoration of the church to its mission and doctrines after some error in the century or two before Luther, Calvin, and friends. We can overstate this, the medieval period was full of some grace and truth, though the 150 years or so prior to the Reformation had a number of concerning trends.
As I’ve alluded to, it was not the first, or the last, reform movement in the Church’s history. Perhaps we could do with another—though what it would correct will of course garner as many opinions as there are opinion-givers. But, the church should always be restored to the pattern in the Bible and forge forwards into everything that God has for her in the future.
We might feel that division in the church is not to be applauded, rather it should be grieved. We are right and wrong here. The church is, ultimately meant to be united (Ephesians 4), and we see that God creates by dividing from Genesis 1 onwards. This is a typically Protestant view, which I can’t really apologise for, but maturity and union are coming to the church one little step at a time. I suspect that they are not coming in my lifetime, I wonder if we may be many centuries (and perhaps even a Protestant Christendom?) away from reaching that hallowed state. But the Bible says we will get there, and God fulfils his promises, so that is our future.
In the meantime we don’t simply wait around or mourn the present state of the church in my nation and many others. There is, by-the-by, much to mourn as well as celebrate. Instead, we take those little steps towards maturity. We build on theology and pastoral practice, knowing that it will be our descendants who decide whether our contributions moved us collectively forwards and they can build on them in turn. For the majority of us and the majority of churches, our contribution will be felt and judged after we’re dead.
Which is a wonderfully freeing thought.
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