Today is the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. On this day, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He did not intend to start a reformation, but God used Luther’s writing to start a fire that would spread over all of Europe.
After 500 years I believe it is helpful and wise to ask where we go from here. Is the Reformation only a past event that we look back on as reformed Christians with nostalgia? Or, should we be continuing the reformation today?
One key phrase that reformed people have used may help us. The phrase is “Reformed and always reforming.” At its best, the phrase reminds us that being reformed means always seeking to be faithful to the Word of God in our theology and practice. At its worse, it has been used by some to argue for radical changes in our theology and practice, apart from the foundation of Scripture.
This morning at Covenant I am beginning a five sermon series on what has been called, The Five Points of Calvinism. Among reformed and non-reformed people there is a great deal of misunderstanding of the background of these five points, as well as the meaning of the five points. I will seek to explain the background in this article.
Looking at the title one could reasonably assume that the Five Points were written by John Calvin. But in actuality, Calvin died fifty-five years prior to these five points being formulated. But they do reflect the teaching of Calvin during his long career in Geneva.
Today Pope Francis will issue an encyclical that will focus on the environment. There will be outcries from some who are opposed to his environmental views. But there will also be negative cries about the Pope getting involved in politics. My response is, “Why not?”
I am not defending the Pope’s positions on the environment. He and I probably disagree on some key areas. But I am defending his speaking out on the issue. I believe that those who want the church to be silent on issues other than religion have mistaken notions about the church and Scripture.
Many Christians today see denominations as a necessary evil or something to avoid. It is more and more popular to change church names to hide one’s denominational association. I want to present another perspective – why I believe being part of a Bible practicing Presbyterian church has great benefits.
I am a pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. But the reasons listed below apply to any church with Presbyterian church government that takes it seriously.
Here are some benefits to being Presbyterian.
Protection from authoritative or tyrannical pastors
We would like to think that all pastors are godly, humble, and seek only that which is best for the flock. But reality and experience tell us that is not always the case. There are pastors who lack wisdom and plow ahead with no accountability. There are pastors who demand their way and will breech no one second guessing them. There are pastors who will drive out of the church anyone who appears to be opposed to them.
As we celebrate the Reformation this coming week, I am reminded of a phrase that I have heard over the years from reformed people – “we are reformed and always reforming.” Early in my ministry I was greatly supportive of the phrase. No church is perfect. There will always be areas that a reformed church needs to reform to become more biblical. This makes sense especially when you understand that one of the hallmarks of the reformation was the absolute authority of the Scriptures to govern the church. Tradition is not to be an authority in a reformed church. Our authority is the Word of God.
But as the years went on I discovered that those who espoused the idea of “always reforming” were often reforming the wrong things.
I got a mailer from another church the other day. The pitch for the church assured me that they were not my parent’s church. The flyer was full of pictures of young adults and families and assured me that both the music and message of the pastor would be relevant. And I was annoyed.
I thought that this kind of pitch was over a while ago. It was very popular in my area for a while and I was glad when it stopped showing up in mailbox. Why am I annoyed? Am I merely a grumpy traditionalist who doesn’t like change? Am I opposed to being relevant? You’ll have to ask Donna to be sure, but I don’t think I’m grumpy or opposed to being relevant.
Here’s why I think their approach is not healthy:
This morning the Supreme Court ruled on two important cases concerning gay marriage. First, they overturned the federal law, The Defense of Marriage Act, which had defined marriage on a federal level as between one man and one woman. Secondly, they punted on ruling on Proposition 8, a California law, which had also defined marriage as between one man and one woman. I say they punted because the justices did not rule on the merits of the proposition but instead ruled that the defenders of the proposition did not have standing. In the end it will eventually mean that gay marriage will be reinstated in California.
How should Christians be responding to these rulings? I believe there are at least three responses that we should keep in mind. If you are a Bible believing Christian you will be disappointed in the rulings. But now what?