Reformation (not Deformation or De-formation)

Today we celebrate Reformation Sunday – 500 years ago, October 31, 1517, Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church…

On this occasion I have two things to say… 1) The Reformation was Unfortunate & 2) The Reformation was Necessary.

Unfortunate: Reformation not De-formation

·      Ephesians 4:4-5 – There is one body and one Spirit—just

as   you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—

               one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father

               of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

The goal of the Reformers, represented historically by Martin Luther, originally was to reform the One Church… This church in its human expression on earth had become “Deformed,” bearing too little resemblance to what was founded by God the Holy Spirit at Pentecost… It needed to be “reformed,” but the Roman Catholic leadership, having grown fat and happy on the power they wielded largely through the fear produced by the unholy union of Biblical doctrines with oppressive superstition, would have none of it.

Prior to Martin Luther and in places outside Germany, the realities of history offered no protection and would-be reformers (like John Hus – d. 1415 & William Tyndale d. 1536) were executed by the Church.

And it is worth noting that following the Protestant Reformation there was what is called the Counter-Reformation in which the Roman church did in fact enact many reforming measures (like having seminaries so priests would actually be trained in the Scriptures and the doctrines of the Church rather than simply being occupants of positions of power granted them by a corrupt power-based church because of their wealth or aristocratic status.)

The sad legacy of the Reformation includes elements we might call De-formation

The Protestant Reformation was about a Reformed Church, not a Deformed or a De-formed Church. It was properly intended to make the Church’s authority Biblical and authentic. It unintentionally opened the way for all authority, within the church and without, to appear to become more a matter of the force of the current will of men rather than of the eternal revelation of God to and through His One, Holy, Universal and Apostolic Church.

When we talk about the Authentic Church, we are talking about the people belonging to God who manifest these characteristics:

1.     ONE… The Authentic Church exists across all racial, socio-economic, cultural, national, and denominational boundaries put up by men.

2.     HOLY… It is always striving toward truth and purity in belief, proclamation and action… It is set apart for God Almighty and His redemptive purposes… but most of all the Authentic Church is a universal family of people miraculously made pure—saints!–blameless in the eyes of God, through the sacrifice of Christ received by faith.

3.     CATHOLIC/UNIVERSAL… The one Authentic Church is recognizably similar, by its worship of Jesus Christ and ultimate loyalty to Him, in all of its cultural and denominational expressions.

4.     APOSTOLIC… It is rooted in real history!… It exists in continuity with the lives and ministries of all the New Testament Apostles, all the Old Testament Prophets and especially of Jesus Christ our Lord Himself.

Today there is a dangerous trend of churches multiplying based on “cult of personality” dynamics… If you are a strong willed person with a cursory understanding of Christian doctrine, a willingness to claim “God has called me” and an ability to get people to follow you, you can start your own church. And you won’t have to bow to any outside authority. Your only accountability will be to yourself and perhaps some sort of board that you form (which will be populated by people who agree with God and you—not necessarily in that order—or else they are removed and cast out)… And with any luck, your church can become one of the largest ones in the area, proving that you are the real deal unlike those old, stuffy, slow-moving main line churches… And it’s all good until some newer, stronger personality comes along and takes over your kingdom to the glory of his God and himself (not necessarily in that order)…

I am pretty sure this is not what Martin Luther had in mind… Some historians claim that it was the Protestant Reformation that actually paved the way, by breaking down the dominant authority of the Roman Catholic Church, for the Radically Secular and Humanistic Culture in which we live today!

Necessary: The Reformation was necessary for a “Deformed” Church …

The Church institution had grown powerful and had been terribly corrupted by its power (many trace this problem back to Emperor Constantine who at the beginning of 4th century A.D. made Christianity the official religion of his Roman empire…)… It had become badly “Deformed.”

The Church, like most institutions that are both corrupt and powerful, was extremely resistant to change and tended to punish and exterminate anyone who worked or even called for reforms.

The Church, as an institution, had ceased in many ways to be the Church at all… The Gospel of God’s grace had been replaced by empty religious rituals, un-Biblical doctrines and man-centered rules… The work of compassionate self-giving by Church leaders had given way to the work of acquisition and maintenance of temporal power… The work of building God’s kingdom of love had grown hard to find under the enormous edifice of huge buildings and opulent trappings signifying the strength of the religious-political kingdoms of men…

A good way of summarizing the corrections that needed to be made and were identified and implemented by the Protestant Reformation led by Hus, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and others is found in what are called the “Five Solas” of the Reformation… [Sola Gratia… Sola Fide… Solus Christus … Sola Scriptura … Soli Deo Gloria…]

The Five Solas of the Reformation


1.    Grace alone (Sola Gratia)

The words sola gratia mean that human beings have no claim upon God. That is, God owes us nothing except just punishment for our many and very willful sins. Therefore, if he does save sinners, which he does in the case of some but not all, it is only because it pleases him to do it. Indeed, apart from this grace and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit that flows from it, no one would be saved, since in our lost condition, human beings are not capable of winning, seeking out, or even cooperating with God’s grace. By insisting on “grace alone” the Reformers were denying that human methods, techniques, or strategies in themselves could ever bring anyone to faith. It is grace alone expressed through the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ, releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from death to spiritual life.

2.    Faith alone (Sola Fide) 

The Reformers never tired of saying that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. When put into theological shorthand the doctrine was expressed as justification by faith alone, the article by which the church stands or falls, according to Martin Luther. The Reformers called justification by faith Christianity’s material principle, because it involves the very matter or substance of what a person must understand and believe to be saved. Justification is a declaration of God based on the work of Christ. It flows from God’s grace and it comes to the individual not by anything he or she might do but by “faith alone” (sola fide). We may state the full doctrine as: Justification is the act of God by which he declares sinners to be righteous because of Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.

3.    Christ alone (Solus Christus)

The church of the Middle Ages spoke about Christ. A church that failed to do that could hardly claim to be Christian. But the medieval church had added many human achievements to Christ’s work, so that it was no longer possible to say that salvation was entirely by Christ and his atonement. This was the most basic of all heresies, as the Reformers rightly perceived. It was the work of God plus our own righteousness. The Reformation motto solus Christus was formed to repudiate this error. It affirmed that salvation has been accomplished once for all by the mediatorial work of the historical Jesus Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification, and any “gospel” that fails to acknowledge that or denies it is a false gospel that will save no one.

4.    Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura)

When the Reformers used the words sola Scriptura they were expressing their concern for the Bible’s authority, and what they meant is that the Bible alone is our ultimate authority not the pope, not the church, not the traditions of the church or church councils, still less personal intimations or subjective feelings, but Scripture only. Other sources of authority may have an important role to play. Some are even established by God such as the authority of church elders, the authority of the state, or the authority of parents over children. But Scripture alone is truly ultimate. Therefore, if any of these other authorities depart from Bible teaching, they are to be judged by the Bible and rejected.

5.    Glory to God alone (Soli Deo Gloria)

Each of the great solas is summed up in the fifth Reformation motto: soli Deo gloria, meaning to God alone be the glory. It is what the apostle Paul expressed in Romans 11:36 when he wrote, “to Him be the glory forever! Amen.”These words follow naturally from the preceding words, “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (v. 36), since it is because all things really are from God, and to God, that we say, “to God alone be the glory.”

·    Romans 11:33-36 – 33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

               34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,

                     or who has been his counselor?”

               35    “Or who has given a gift to him

                     that he might be repaid?”

              36 For from him and through him and to him are all things.

               To him be glory forever. Amen.