If I have done the math right, Monday Oct. 31, 2005 marks the 488th anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the chapel at Wittenburg, igniting what would come to be known as the Reformation.
And while this is the season of the year when Christians get all worked up about, and involved in, debates about Halloween, I think the most unfortunate thing about Halloween is that it has eclipsed our celebration of the Reformation.
True, not everyone in our country is from the protestant tradition and if you are not of this tradition it will mean little to you. If you are not of the Christian faith it will mean less.
But even the vast majority of those from protestant traditions, who believe that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ alone, have little, if any, appreciation for the Reformation. Here in America these same folks will celebrate national holidays like the 4th of July or Memorial Day or Veterans Day with the gusto they deserve while neglecting to remember the Reformation. This is a shame because the things that transpired at the time of the Reformation were world shaping events, whereas the national holidays that people from countries around the world usually have particular significance to particular nations and peoples. The Reformation has a significance that transcends national concerns.
But more importantly, the Reformation has a spiritual significance which transcends these lesser matters of life, like the affairs of nations. This is because the Reformation marked the recovery of the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. It marked the recovery of the gospel. While it is true that these things are taught in the Scriptures and that no reformer or other human being should be given credit for the doctrines themselves, it is also true that these precious truths had been all but lost before the time of the Reformation. In His providence, God chose certain men at a certain time in history to recover the very gospel itself. It is this gospel by which we are saved. And we who confess the evangelical faith in our day are remiss in forgetting this important aspect of our history.
I am well aware of the dangers that come from loving a tradition, not the least of which is the danger of loving the tradition more than Christ. And yet I confess unashamedly that I love the Reformed tradition because it gave Christ back to me.
If I am asked to give a short explanation of what the Reformed tradition is all about I always say that the unique thing about the this tradition is that it puts the focus on what God has done for man in Christ, rather than what man must do for God or Christ.
We can talk about the five solas or the five points of calvinism and those are important aspects of the reformed tradition, but they are really markers along the way to a more important point. The most important point of the Reformed traditon is that in all things Christ must have the preeminence (Colossians 1:17).
You may say that all Christian traditions emphasize the preeminence of Christ, and in that I would agree. But I would ask, "in what way is Christ preeminent?" In the early days of my Christian life Christ was preeminent in that the focus of my life was on pleasing Him, working for Him and doing all that I could for Him. While the gospel was present in those days, especially as a means of entering the household of faith, I found that once I came into the household the focus was on living for Christ, learning Christian principles and doing all I could for Him. In my short time as a Christian I have learned enough principles of Christian living to choke a horse. In those days, Christ was preeminent, but He was preeminent in a way that the focus of my Christian life was on what I could and should do for Him.
The thing I love the most about the reformed tradition is that Christ is preeminent in that the focus is always on what He has done for me. The fact of the matter is that Romans 7 is the story of my life and while I lived with a focus on what I must do for Christ I slowly lost the joy of my salvation because such a focus can't respond effectively to the Romans 7 struggle. It can only tell you to try harder.
The reformed tradition reminded me that no amount of self-striving on my part could enable me to win the battle against indwelling sin. Salvation and sanctification are by grace, through faith, because of Christ from first to last.
David Powlison says that if we were to take a yellow highlighter and go through the Bible and highlight every command, every verse that says tells us something that we must do, we might highlight 15-20% of the Bible. He admits that he has not done a scientific study of this, he is just estimating. But his point is that he thinks that 80-85% of the Bible is simply story, the story of the great acts of God on behalf of His people. Powlison says that God seems to have the idea that if His people can just know who He is, it will make all the difference in the world in their lives.
This what I think is the beauty of the reformed tradition. It
reminds us that the focus is always on Christ, we always proclaim what
Christ has done for man, not what man must do for Christ. And we
understand that this simple proclamation is sufficient to make all the
difference in the world.
Happily, there are many who claim no allegiance to the reformed
tradition who do this and unhappily there are many in the reformed
tradition who don't. I have often lamented that the reformed are the
only people in the world who can make grace sound like bad news.
And though I love this tradition and am happy to use an occasion
like the anniversary of the birth of the reformation to sing its
praises, I really could care less if the reformed tradition or the
reformers get any credit. Since I have studied this period of history
a bit and the theology that came out of it I have fallen in love with
the tradition and its representatives and think you could also benefit
from learning about it. But I don't care what you call it as long as
you keep the focus of your Christian life on what Christ has done for
you instead of what you must do for Him.
I think this could revolutionize not only individual Christians but
the church as a whole. Over 100 years ago E. M. Bounds said some words
that may be more true today than when he uttered them:
For Bounds, the solution to such a focus was to switch the focus from methods to men, more particularly men of prayer. I would differ with him and say the alternative to the problem he raised is simply a renewed focus on Christ. Even his proper desire to elevate prayer above methods still makes the Christian faith dependent on the work of men.
What we need is a renewed focus on Christ. If we will but tell people of all that Christ has done, that will make all the difference in the world.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 . Standard Bible Society: Wheaton
Happy Reformation Day!