Reformation Day 2006

Last year I presented a six-part series on the key doctrines of the Reformation. It is not always easy to measure the effectiveness of a sermon or sermon series (and you hate people telling you, "That was such a nice sermon!"), but as near as I could tell, it was both edifying and educational, which was what I hoped for.

I have spent my life in non-denominational churches, and one of the flaws of being an independent church or coming from an independent church background is that it can create a sense of independence on a variety of levels, one of which is a sense of independence from Christian history. I suspect that most Christians have an awareness of the early church that comes from the study of Acts and the NT epistles. But any sense of history ends there. As a result, "our" way of doing things is the only way of doing things right. "Our" kind of music is representative of how music ought to be done in Church.

My teaching through the five Solas of the Reformation last year made me realize several things afresh, and these have continued to motivate my ministry this year.

  1. The doctrinal issues that the Reformers fought for remain the main issues theologically and are at the root of a lot of practical issues that the church continues to face nearly 500 years later.
  2. Our people need to understand the significance of the things we believe. What does it mean, for example, to not believe in justification by faith alone? What are the implications of rejecting Sola Scriptura? I think it is easy for a layperson to assume that these things are often trivialities that have no bearing on "real life" but that theologians and scholars bandy about. Not so!
  3. Our people, especially those who were raised in an "salvation by grace through faith shown by a raised hand and then coming forward" environment need to hear these doctrines taught and taught and re-taught. And we don't need to go outside of the realm of regular systematic exposition of Scripture to cover them. They fill the pages of the New Testament letters.
  4. That teaching doctrine does in fact relate to life. The division between "doctrinal" and "practical" is artificial, misleading, thoughtless and . . . irrelevant.

I have deliberately exposed our people to more church history in the last year and plan to do so as an ongoing part of pastoral ministry. Who can listen to John Piper's sermon/lecture on William Tyndale and not be moved? Who can hear that believers were put to death for teaching their children to pray the Lord's Prayer in English - and not come to the conclusion that holy things have become too common for us and that we take for granted the rich privileges we have, even for things so simple as owning our own copy (in reality copies) of the Bible?

The Reformers were not perfect people, but that is not the point. We owe much to them, and much of what they worked for has been so watered down in our day that it needs to be regularly reviewed and taught afresh.

It is the clarity of the Gospel and its implications that will secure the church, not methods, visuals, skits, or attempts to be culturally relevant (while lacking clear biblical conviction). So to Martin, John, and the rest of you faithful men, here is one 21st century pastor's thanks. And thank you, Lord, for your grace which was shown to them, and through them to us.