What Ever Happened to the Reformation? Dr. Rick L.

Holland Pastor, College and Student Ministries No discerning evangelical would question the fact that the church of our generation suffers a debilitating case of spiritual anemia. The primary definition of “anemia” concerns itself with blood cells deficient of hemoglobin. This absence causes poor health in the individual and, left untreated, can cause weakness and ultimately death. But the secondary definition reads, “a lack of vitality or courage.” The church does indeed find herself unhealthy. And her weakness is manifest in a lack of vitality and courage. Too many contemporary Christians are lethargic and unenthused, confused and contaminated, compromising and tolerant. The Evangelical Church has become the stuff of ridicule and novelty for the World. No longer are we the nation’s conscience; instead we are passed off as an echo of a past time of idealism long abandoned. Welcome to postmodernism, where religion is pluralistic, truth is subjective, morality is relative, authority is suspect, and the power of the media reigns. In this context, no honest pastor could possibly look at the effects of the Church and conclude that she is making the difference she was designed to make. Evangelicalism has been crippled by the contamination of the world and paralyzed by its own ignorance of biblical truth. Instead of changing the world, the world has changed the church. Christians today are so gullible and pliable that they don’t recognize their infection with and corruption from paganism. As shepherds who care for our flocks, we must take this generation’s symptoms seriously. The epidemic sweeping evangelicalism can be simply diagnosed as a lethal case of Reformational Amnesia. Western Christianity has been willingly hypnotized into a pre-Reformational state where it is religiously ecumenical and morally bankrupt. Simply put, we are in need of a new Reformation which recaptures the tenets of the Reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. What is an “Evangelical?” The place to begin in any discussion of Reformational amnesia is with the term “evangelical.” Its dilution is watermark of the current evangelical crisis. R.C. Sproul observes: Since the sixteenth century the term evangelical has undergone a significant development so that today it is difficult to define. The term came into prominence during the Reformation, when it was virtually a synonym for protestant. In the twentieth century both the concept of biblical authority and the nature and significance of justification by faith alone were challenged from within the community of confessing evangelicals. So as we head into the twentieth-first century, it is no longer safe to assume that if a person calls himself an evangelical

2 that he is committed to the battle cries of the Protestant Reformers, either to sola Scriptura or to sola fide. Signs everywhere indicate that evangelicals are disowning the heritage bequeathed to them by their Reformation forebears. And the church is none the better for it, prompting some to say we are entering a new Dark Ages (R.C. Sproul, What Ever Happened to the Reformation?, xi). Amazingly, many evangelicals (i.e., “protestants”) are making efforts to join hands with Roman Catholics and heal the severance caused by the historical Reformation of the 1500’s. Why? Again, the two leading influences are the church’s confusion and contamination. James Boice notes: So what is wrong with evangelicals? The answer is that we have become worldly. We have abandoned the truths of the Bible and the historic theology of the church, which expresses those truths, and we are trying to do the work of God by means of the world’s “theology,” wisdom, methods, and agenda instead (James Montgomery Boice, Here We Stand: A Call from Confessing Evangelicals, 9). In other words, the church’s confusion about doctrine and the authority of the Bible, coupled with moral compass that points to the ways of the world, have created a climate similar to pre-Reformation Europe. But the saddest part of this tragedy is that the church has been willingly led down this path by those who call themselves Evangelicals. The Ecumenical movement represented in the World Council of Churches, the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” movement, the “Cooperative Evangelism” movement encouraged by the Billy Graham Association, and the advent of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, have publicly distanced themselves from the Reformation. And as such have denied the distinctives that make a protestant and “protestant.” In order to fully perceive the magnitude of the problem, we need to first revisit the prison that existed before the Reformation. I. Revisiting the Prison Religious and political historians agree that the sixteenth century produced the most important event in Western Civilization. It was a series of regional and national reforms that created unprecedented cultural, social, economic, and political changes, and for obvious reasons, it has been called the Reformation. The Reformation had been subject to a variety of interpretations over the last four hundred years, but the most important insight to understand the Reformation is that is was, at its core, a theological enterprise. The theological significance of the Reformation was decisive. The Patristic period of church history (i.e., the first couple of hundred years after the death and resurrection of

3 Christ) was primarily concerned with the doctrines of the Trinity and Christology. But the Reformation was had a different concern. • • • First, the Reformation dealt with theological authority. Second, the Reformation dealt with salvation. And third, the Reformation dealt with the Christian’s existence as a subject of the state.

Why did the Reformation occur? • • The Roman Catholic Church’s understanding of salvation, religious authority, and theology were found to be illegitimate when measured against the Scriptures. The Roman Catholic Church held captive the masses that desired a relationship with Christ. They did so by combining the church with the political constructs, by keeping the Word of God in untranslated Latin which made the priest and the Church indispensable, by teaching that forgiveness of sins was related to giving money to the church (e.g., the selling of indulgences), and by promoting a salvation that was based on the work of man in effort rather than the work of Christ on the Cross. This resulted in the shrouding of God in ceremony and ritual.

But today we face many of the same issues: • • The same Bible, which was fought for, has been relegated as superstitious mythology of a bygone generation and, as such, has been taken from the people. Confusion about the forgiveness of sins abounds. There is little talk of the primary doctrine that gave birth to the Reformation—Sola Fide: the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) has attempted to link Protestants back with Rome.

In short, we have forgotten the protest that makes us Protestants. II. Remembering the Protest (“protestants”) Interestingly, our amnesia of the greatest “protest” in religious history has led us to compromise the most precious doctrines. The current trend toward ecumenism has made it out of vogue to challenge anyone who holds a different belief system. Again, postmodernism has raped the church’s doctrinal pillars and left them in a violated state of inclusive relativism.

4 The catalyst of the “protest” was a man who was shaken out of religious complacency by a glimpse of the holiness of God. James R. White notes: The monk of Wittenberg, the professor of theology who enjoyed discussing spiritual topics over beer and pretzels, was forced into his life of Reformer by an Isaiah-like conviction of his own sinfulness in the light of and unshakable conviction of the utter holiness of God (James R. White, The Justification of God, 21). The protest of the Reformation did not arise just because of the abuses of the Catholic Church; it came first as a response to God’s holiness and that same God’s grace that stays His own holiness. If we are to see a modern-day Reformation, it will have to come the same way. It is not enough to be polemical about the current state of evangelicalism, we must be renewed in our vision and understanding of a Holy God who justifies sinners by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. III. Reclaiming the Pillars As the Reformation gained momentum, it clarified itself with a fresh set of convictions about the faith. Luther began developing a biblical theology on which other Reformers would build. Out of this first generation of the Reformers came the sola’s (meaning “alone”) that became the pillars of the Reformation. The modern day Reformation that evangelicalism so desperately needs can only come if we reclaim these exclusive theological moorings. The Sola’s of the Sixteenth Century Protestant Reformation A. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture Alone”) Problem: Too many evangelicals have separated the Bible from its authoritative function. Scripture alone is the inerrant standard and authority for the church’s life. It should be no surprise that the world has balked and fought against the Scripture’s authority, but the evangelical catastrophe is that the church has distanced herself from the authority of the Bible. The stepchildren of modernity are science and psychology. Since the Renaissance, the wheels of science have been set in motion that rule to this day. From telescopes looking up to microscopes looking down, information and technology have searched long and hard to try to discover meaning and significance. But black holes and quarks have not provided anything to satisfy the souls of men. When the “hard” sciences failed to bear the weight of man’s depravity, the “soft” science of psychology made an all-out effort to answer the call. For two hundred years psychological “experts” purported to have solutions to man’s problems through understanding the complex intricacies of the human psyche. Yet the DSM (Diagnostics

5 and Statistics Manual—the “Bible” for psychological sciences) goes through an almost annual revision to change the standard by which clients are evaluated. The setting for the Reformation was a time when the Bible was kept from the people. But our own setting is one in which we have kept ourselves from the Bible. Any new movement of God will only come with a rediscovery of the Word of God. And the most critical place for this rediscovery is in the pulpits through expository preaching. Catholic Apologist Sam Carpenter writes: “God did not leave us with the Bible as the sole authority in matters of faith. The doctrine of sola scriptura has led to chaos in the Christian community.” B. Sola Fide (“Faith Alone”) Problem: Too many evangelicals have succumbed to a man-centered, man-generated gospel. Sola Fide is known as the “chief article of the Reformation.” Simply stated, justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. This was the doctrine that liberated Luther from his impotent attempts at salvation by works. Sola fide has been called the material principle of the Reformation because it represents the very nature of the gospel. The purity of the gospel depends on this doctrine. All other schemes supply man’s righteous and works as a supplement to salvation. The gospel is about believing what God has done for us in Christ, not strategizing what we can do to get to God. The core of sola fide is the recognition that salvation is all of God and none of man. The only and best thing we can do is believe (exercise faith) in his work. C. Sola Gratia (“Grace Alone”) Problem: Too many evangelicals have put too much confidence in human ability as a means of regeneration. The doctrine of the total depravity of man has become, for many, a bygone relic of pre-Enlightenment man. But sola gratia recognizes this as fact and solves the problem on God’s side, not man’s. God owes mankind nothing but punishment for their sin. And yet He saves some in spite of their sin because it pleases Him to do so. There is a general sentiment that man is basically good these days and that God owes everyone an opportunity to be saved. But nothing could be farther from the truth. If we really believe that man is “dead in his trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1-3), then we must conclude that only God’s gracious regeneration can waken the soul in faith.

6 D. Solus Christus (“Christ Alone”) Problem: Too many evangelicals are buying into the religious trend toward ecumenism and leaving the exclusivity of Jesus Christ behind. Salvation is by and through the Lord Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. No man contributes any merit to his own salvation (and in Catholic context we might add here or in purgatory). Boice writes: As evangelical faith has become secularized, its interests have been blurred with those of the culture. The result is a loss of absolute values, permissive individualism, and a substitution of wholeness for holiness, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope. Christ and his cross have moved from the center of our vision (James Boice, Here We Stand, 16). The cross has lost its offence because so many have relegated it to sentimentalism, jewelry, and a level of importance that is second tier. For the church to recapture her identity and reform her ministry, Paul’s confession must be regripped, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). E. Soli Deo Gloria (“To God Alone be Glory”) Problem: Too many evangelicals have forgotten that God is to be glorified above all else and that He does not share His glory with anyone or anything (Is. 42:8). The Hebrew word for “glory” (kaboth) means “weightiness.” So when we say that the church has lost its passion for the glory of God, what is meant is that we have seen a grotesque exchange of the God of infinite glory for “God-light.” This accounts for the moral compromise, biblical ignorance, and loss of missionary zeal so prevalent. Any time there is a lessoning of the glory of God in the mind, heresy is not far behind. Open theism is a classic case of exchanging the glory of God championed by the Reformers for a dumbed-down deity worthy of our sympathy and compassion. The Reformers who bled and died over the glory of God would be horrified at some of the things that are claimed by so-called evangelicals today. We need a vision of a great and holy God to redirect the church back to her Master. Only then will we give God the glory He deserves. The tragedy of Reformational amnesia is manifested in the impotence and ineffectiveness of the contemporary church to impact our culture and shepherd our people. Our generation's ignorance and neglect of the convictions that forged the Protestant Reformation are at the heart of our church's greatest problems and the believer's greatest struggles. It is past time for a modern-day Reformation.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful