500th Anniversary of the Christian Reformation
Jan 14, 2017
Understanding the context surrounding the origins of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago.
500th Anniversary of the Christian Reformation
Jan 14, 2017
Understanding the context surrounding the origins of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago.
In every generation, the church takes some steps forward and some steps backward. Some old truths are rediscovered, but other foundational teachings are forgotten; some scriptural emphases are recovered, while basic gospel practices are abandoned. What are some critical, fundamental areas that need reformation today?
1) We must re-emphasize the centrality of the cross with all its implications. So much of our preaching today is tangential, focusing on everything but the death and resurrection of Jesus and emphasizing everything but the cross and the blood and the exaltation of the Son of God. Not only so, but we have all but ignored the implication of the cross, namely, that Jesus died for us so that from here on we would live for Him. That’s why we have produced consumers more than disciples: We have failed to preach the cross and we have failed to take up the cross, and so the Gospel has become all about us rather than all about Him. Recovering the centrality of the cross helps us regain our spiritual equilibrium, also producing a hatred of sin and a love for holiness. It also jars us back into reality: We have been bought with a price and we now live to do God’s will (1 Corinthians 6:20).
2) We must reconnect to the Jewish roots of the faith. Why do we have two separate holidays, Passover and Easter? Why do so many think that when a Jewish person becomes a follower of Jesus, he or she is no longer Jewish? Why is it commonly taught that the church is the new Israel and that God is finished with the old Israel? It’s because the church has boasted against the (original) Jewish branches (to use the language of Paul in Romans 11:17-25) and cut itself off from its Jewish roots. It’s because Jesus has been turned into the founder of a new, predominantly Gentile religion rather than embraced as the Jewish Messiah who came to fulfill what was written in Moses and the Prophets, thereby bringing salvation to the Gentiles. This does not mean that saved Gentiles should become Jews and submit to the Sinai Covenant, but it does mean we should build on the Old Testament rather than discard it, that we should recognize God’s ongoing purposes for Israel, and that we should prioritize Jewish evangelism (as per Romans 1:16).
3) We must live out the reality of the priesthood of all believers. Although the Reformation emphasized that every believer was a priest, it did not fully implement this concept, because of which the clergy-laity contrast remains to this day. Luther wrote that “all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone. … A cobbler, a smith, a peasant, every man has the office and function of his calling, and yet all alike are consecrated priests and bishops, and every man should by his office or function be useful and beneficial to the rest, so that various kinds of work may all be united for the furtherance of body and soul, just as the members of the body all serve one another.”
Unfortunately, many believers do not recognize the divine calling on their own lives, because of which (in the words of Wolfgang Simson), “The image of much of contemporary Christianity can be summarized, a bit euphemistically, as holy people coming regularly to a holy place at a holy day at a holy hour to participate in a holy ritual lead by a holy man dressed in holy clothes [for] a holy fee.” This has had a crippling effect on our mission, resulting in a tiny portion of believers doing the great majority of Gospel work. And while the New Testament certainly teaches the important role played by leaders in the body, every believer is equally a child of God, a member of the body, a branch of the Vine, and a priest to God, called to serve Him and touch the world.
4) We must embrace the fullness of the Spirit and His power. It is true that “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” proclaims that “the Spirit and the gifts are ours” (this is not far from Luther’s original German), and it is true that there are examples of divine healing and deliverance in the writings of the Reformers, but there was certainly not a full embrace of the Spirit’s gifts and power outside of the Spirit’s work in conversion. Because of this, practices that were foundational to the early believers (see Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 14:1, 39-40; James 5:13-16) became foreign to the later church. Thankfully, while there has been a great restoration of the Spirit’s power in the last 100 years, especially in the growing church in the developing world, there is still great resistance to key aspects of the Spirit’s work in much of the West. Regaining the fullness of the Spirit is essential if we are to make the maximum impact on the world and bring maximum glory to the risen Savior.
5) We must become Great Commission believers. In our materialistically rich culture, with so much competing for our attention, from entertainment to sports to news to worldly pursuits, we have lost sight of eternal issues and, consequently, lost the burden to go into all the world to make disciples. Political issues inflame us, sporting events excite us, movies and TV and the Internet consume us, but our hearts have grown cold when it comes to reaching the lost. Do we even believe that people are perishing without Jesus? True love for God means true love for our neighbor, not only materially but spiritually as well. And as we give ourselves to win the lost, we experience revival ourselves, as new souls are the life of the church.
6) We must abandon the performance mentality. Pastors and worship leaders are not professionals performing for an audience. They are servant leaders helping believers grow in God and encounter His presence. But in our zeal to be relevant and do all things with excellence, we have become talented performers, putting more emphasis on outward appearance than on inward encounter and measuring success by the praise of people more than the praise of God. In the same way, many believers have become accustomed to being entertained rather than edified and coddled rather than challenged. We must change our mentality and our focus if we are to become true disciples of the Lord. Certainly, it is commendable to do God’s work with excellence and diligence, but we must remember that it is only the Spirit who can save and transform and that He is looking for faithfulness more than talent and for a yielded heart more than outward response. Spending quality time in the secret place with God is infinitely more valuable than consulting with church-growth experts and keeping up with the latest Twitter trends.
7) We must learn to practice transformational inclusion. So-called progressive Christians and LGBT leaders have rightly emphasized that the church must be a welcoming place for the marginalized and the hurting, for the outcasts and for those who are different. But they have wrongly claimed that Jesus practiced affirmational inclusion, as if He reached out to sinners where they were to affirm them in their sin. Rather, Jesus practiced transformational inclusion, reaching out to lost sinners in order to change them, not affirm them. If we are to follow His example, we need hearts of compassion and backbones of steel. This will enable us to open our hearts and our homes and our meeting places to those who are different than us without compromising God’s standards. Compassion does not require compromise.
8) We must become biblically literate again. Through the Reformation, the Bible became available to anyone who could read. New translations were made in the languages of the people and then distributed in mass through the newly invented printing press. Now, 500 years later, we have more access to the Scriptures than any generation in history, with a multitude of translations to pick from and instant access to those translations on our smartphones and laptops and tablets. Despite all this, we are losing our biblical literacy to the point that some of the most fundamental biblical truths are barely known to professing believers. If ever a post-Reformation generation needed to get back to the Bible, it is our generation. We must recover our love for the Word.
9) We must regain a healthy fear of the Lord. In past centuries, the church often overemphasized the doctrines of hell and final judgment, producing an unhealthy and even servile fear of the Lord, depicting Him as a cruel tyrant rather than a loving Father who is also a righteous Judge. Today, we preach a happy gospel about a happy God who wants to make everyone happy, with nary a word about divine judgment. God has now become the great big Genie in the sky, here to do our bidding. This represents a dangerous shift in emphasis, resulting in counterfeit conversions and skin-deep believers. To restore our balance, we must regain a healthy reverence of God, remembering that Jesus taught us to fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28) and recognizing that our gracious, compassionate Father, the one we call Abba, remains a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). We can love and enjoy Him without diminishing His holiness or justice. We can adore Him while also reverencing Him.
10) We must recover the organic, relational dimensions of the Body. While God is moving today inside denominations and within the confines of our congregational buildings, He is certainly not limited to moving there. That’s because the church is a body, not a building, a family, not a structure, an organism, not an organization. That’s why the Spirit is at work in mega-churches as well as house churches, in “mainstream” denominations as well as “independent” congregations. And that’s why, even though our gathering together as believers is vitally important and should not be neglected (Hebrews 10:25), we should focus on being the church more than going to church, on cultivating lasting relationships more than attending services, and on being intimate with God more than being informed about God. As we deepen our relationships with the Lord and with one another, we will fulfill our spiritual destiny and become what the world so desperately needs us to be. And in that place, we will find true unity.
By Michael Brown
Scripture proclaims God’s great power and majesty while also revealing His deep mercy and love. He is worthy of wholehearted, passionate submission but doesn’t often get it. Are you among the few who offer themselves to Him without reservation?
Complete obedience is a choice to follow God regardless of the consequences. This means that we obey the Lord even if our friends choose a different path or when suffering and embarrassment are guaranteed. Seeing His will done is more important than our own comfort or personal ambition. We commit the consequences to God and cling to His promises: He will never leave us (Deut. 31:6), and He makes good out of every situation (Rom. 8:28).
Notice the word commitment in the title of today’s devotion. I’m not writing about obedience that is born of the moment (as in, I choose to follow God in this instance) but about total submission as a way of life. Setting restrictions on compliance is so tempting—we want to be able to change our mind when obeying upsets our lifestyle, the final result is unclear, or we’re just plain scared. But let me ask you this one sobering question: If Jesus Christ is the Lord of your life, what right do you have to limit how and when you’ll do His will?
Believers have no right to set their own limits; their one criterion for making decisions should be, What does God want me to do? The answer at times may cause suffering, but obedience is always right. And following God in all things is the surest path to favor and spiritual growth.
“If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.” (1 John 2:29)
This is the first of seven occurrences of the phrase “born of God,” or “born of him,” in the little epistle of 1 John. If anyone wishes to know how to recognize one who has truly been “born again,” these seven descriptors are available for that purpose.
The first such test, in our text, is that such a person is one “that doeth righteousness.” The second and third are found in 1 John 3:9: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” That is, he will not practice sin because God’s own nature has been implanted in him.
Another evidence is genuine love. “Love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (1 John 4:7). Still another is genuine faith in Christ, which in turn produces genuine love. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him” (1 John 5:1).
Those who are truly born again will not be permanently defeated by the world. “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5).
Finally, “we know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not” (1 John 5:18).
The term “born again” is being used very loosely these days, and we need to realize that true regeneration is a permanent, life-transforming miracle accomplished by God Himself in a believer’s life. HMM
Solomon gives a description of the ways in which he sought vainly after the chief good. He was placed at a great advantage, for he had a great mind, and vast resources at command: if he found no satisfaction when he had the whole world to ransack, how much less can common men hope to find it in their far narrower estates, and much more limited knowledge? There is no satisfaction apart from God.
He did not confine his researches to graver studies, but gathered all he could from the frivolities and insanities of human nature. We may consider him as devouring the lighter as well as the heavier literature of his times, and studying the comic side of things; yet the result was the same, the hunger of the soul was not satisfied with laughter any more than with hard study. So it ever must be. The library is not heaven, nor is the theatre of broad farce a Paradise.
In his mental fever he tossed from side to side, from grave to gay, sobriety to exhilaration, but found no rest, and how could he? for rest is in God alone.
But in wine there is madness and not happiness, as drunkards prove.
He had a fit of building, and it amused him till the works were completed, and then he was as discontented as before. Had he built high as Babel’s tower he would not have reached heaven.
But in all his gardens he could not grow the tree of life or the plant of content, and therefore he failed here also.
Ecclesiastes 2:7, 8
But in all his treasure houses, and halls of music, he could neither lay up the pearl of great price, nor hear the song of sweet peace. The poorest man of faith in his kingdom was happier far than he. Alas, poor rich Solomon!
But it remained only to make him more deeply feel the hollowness of earthly joys; it made the void in his heart the more manifest, and by its light he saw the more clearly the “darkness visible” in which he groped.
The little joy he felt in the pursuit of any one of his various objects vanished when he had realized it. He became a worn out man, jaded, yet altogether unable to take rest. He went round and round like a mill horse, harnessed to his toil, but never advancing beyond the weary circle of unrest. To know Jesus, to love God, to find satisfaction in heavenly things, this is wisdom, and the follies of Solomon should drive us thither. God grant it may be so.
1 Timothy 3:1
One time many years ago, Denise and I were driving down the street, discussing our concern for certain church members who reflected no desire for excellence in the way they lived. As we discussed our desire to see the people in our church display a greater desire for excellence in their lives, we happened to look out the car window. There we saw one of our church members, an older woman, walking down the sidewalk. This elderly lady was extremely poor and had suffered miserable hardships in her life; yet every time we saw her, she always wore a beautiful smile on her face. My wife and I had commented to each other on many occasions about this woman’s “never-give-up” attitude.
Like millions of other people living in the wreckage of the former Soviet Union, this woman had lost her money, her job, and even her national identity when the Soviet Union collapsed. As a pensioner, she existed on a salary so low that we didn’t know how she even survived from day to day. Her monthly pension was barely enough to buy bread and milk. (This sad situation has happened to many people in the former Soviet Union. It’s heartbreaking to see so many who live in despair, having lost all hope and sense of purpose in life.)
But on this particular day, this elderly lady’s hair was beautifully combed and her face was prepared for the day. She had put on her best dress jacket, and she was holding her head high as she walked down the street. She looked as if she were a queen!
Then we noticed that the woman wobbled as she walked. Looking at her feet, we saw that her shoes were almost completely worn out and were surely causing her great pain as she slowly strolled along. When I saw how this little old woman hobbled along in old, worn-out shoes with her head held so high, it both blessed and saddened me. I felt sorry that her financial situation was so bleak and that she had to walk in such a decrepit pair of shoes. But her spirit and her mental attitude were so strong that she refused to let life get her down—and that blessed me!
I thought of all the people we knew who faced much less challenging situations, yet who sat around griping and complaining about everything. Because they didn’t have the same desire this woman had to keep pressing toward excellence regardless of the obstacles, they were much more prone to give up and quit. But this little woman put on the best she had in an effort to look as excellent as possible in the midst of her very difficult circumstances.
It is sadly true that many believers live low-level lives simply because they have no ambition, passion, or desire to do anything to improve themselves. Their complacent attitude prevents them from ever doing anything better with their lives.
Considering the fact that the Spirit of God lives in believers and wants to take them higher, it is hard to understand any believer who:
It is very important for you to understand that God doesn’t choose passionless people to do mighty works. He carefully observes a person’s attitude and desire before He lays His hand upon him and calls him to do something historic and monumental. Attitude and desire are very important to God; in fact, Paul wrote, “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.”
As noted earlier (see May 25), the word “desire” is the Greek word orego. This word pictures a person who wants something so badly that he stretches forward to obtain what he wants. It literally means to be outstretched or to stretch forward. The idea is of a fierce, unyielding desire to have or to be something. It refers to a person’s inward attitude and determination to always do the best he can with what he is and to become the best he can be.
You see, when a person has loads of talent and potential but never combs his hair, irons his clothes, makes his bed, washes his car, or cleans his pigpen of a home, it should deeply disturb us. It should especially concern us if that person has money to improve himself but never does it because he doesn’t care.
A person who never attempts to make improvements in his living conditions is not someone I want to serve alongside me in my ministry. I know from the way he lives that he isn’t a person with high standards of excellence. Likewise, an individual who is content to remain at his current level of proficiency at work, never striving for greater results, demonstrates a low level of desire to attain excellence.
This is probably not the kind of person God can trust to do great things for His Kingdom! A person’s “take-it-easy, don’t-rock-the-boat, never-achieve-anything-special” attitude reveals a lack of the passion and desire needed to be a mover and a shaker in life. This person could be developing his mind. He could be striving for excellence in his work. He could be reading books and developing skills of professionalism in his chosen field. Instead, he sits around in a puddle of mediocrity, satisfied with the status quo.
If you know someone who is called of God and loaded with gifts and talents but who is lazy in his approach to life, let me encourage you to speak correction to this person in love. God will never select that person to do anything great until he becomes willing to change. Why would God trust this kind of person with an important task when he can’t even make his bed or comb his hair? Regardless of the talent or gifts this person possesses, he is eliminated by his own lack of desire.
This issue of desire is not a second-rate issue. It is right at the top of the list of requirements for excellence! It’s so critical to advancement in life that when the apostle Paul gave Timothy his list of character requirements for Christian leaders, the first thing he put on the list was desire (1 Timothy 3:1).
When God observes your life, does He see the kind of desire that is essential for leaders? If not, what are you going to do to change this in your life—starting today?
Lord, please help me stir up my desire to make significant changes in my life. I am so sorry for the times I’ve allowed complacency to keep me stuck in the same ol’ place for such a long time. I want to change. I want to grow. I want to be different. I am asking You to supernaturally fill me with so much desire that no power on earth and no force in hell can stop me from becoming everything You want me to be!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
I confess that I am filled with enough desire to make significant leaps forward in my life. I am not going to stay the same as I have been in the past. I am getting up and moving forward. I’m stretched out toward the goal and completely committed to achieving the dream God has for me. I will not stop, nor will I allow anything to distract me from reaching out to become ALL that God has planned for me to be!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
George, an upwardly mobile, fast track yuppie – and a professed follower of Christ, made the mistake of becoming the chief operations officer of a company owned by a wheeler-dealer with a reputation around town as a “Slime Ball”. But the six digit income and the numerous perks proved irresistible. Aware of Solomon’s warning, I watched at a distance, wondering if he could survive the association.
“My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them. If they say, ‘Come along with us… let‘s waylay some harmless soul; we will get all sorts of valuable things… Throw in your lot with us, and we will share a common purse‘— my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths.” (Proverbs 1:10, 11a,c, 13a, 14, 15)
At one point, I remember asking, “George, how can you stay clean in that environment?” But he readily assured me that he had it “under control.”
I am reminded of King Rehoboam who rejected the sage advice of his father’s advisors for that of his brash peers. Soon thereafter his career ended in disgrace. (1 Kings 12-14; 2 Chronicles 10:1-11:4)
Or King Jehosophat, who ignored a godly prophet’s counsel, while aligning himself in battle with a godless king. He too experienced ignominious defeat. (1 Kings 22; 2 Chronicles 18:1-34)
Recently I learned that the company owned by the “Slime Ball” had dissolved, leaving scores of investors in crisis. Both George (who had also borrowed heavily to invest in the stock market – which crashed shortly thereafter) and his boss have fled the country to avoid prosecution and angry creditors and investors.
How applicable is Proverbs 13:20, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm“?
To put this issue into perspective, I think it is important for us to understand that we, as Christ’s disciples, are to mix it up with the lost rather than retreat into a monastery. (Matthew 9:10-13; 1 Corinthians 1:5, 9-11) But, we are not to become unequally yoked with them. (1 Corinthians 6:14-18) In other words,
WE ARE TO BE IN THE WORLD, BUT NOT BE OF THE WORLD:
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:15, 16)
QUESTION: Are you making business alliances with people whose values are not centered in Biblical truth? Do you, like George, believe God need not be taken seriously when He states, “Bad company corrupts good morals“? If so, are you prepared to live with the inevitable consequences?