Always reforming, a motto I personally hold very dearly. It reminds me that I’m not perfect in my theology and that I never will be. See, there’s a difference in knowing our theology and believing our theology. I think of theology much like a french press. We let our theology steep in our minds and God presses the theology down to the very depths of our soul, only to be poured out for whatever reason God chooses. When we start believing our theology, we will naturally proclaim the excellencies of the one who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We will begin to live life filled with joy in the face of adversity. We will boldly and confidently rebuke, teach, and correct in love and kindness towards another for their joy. We will also know that we truly are beloved children of God.
If we believe that our theology stems from the gospel, then we must defend the very gospel that brings us life. This gospel has been attacked ever since the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It’s nothing new, it’s been happening for nearly 2000 years. If one were to dig through church history, one particular instance of this they would come upon is the story of Martin Luther.
Martin Luther is whom many credit to be the one to start the reformation. But how did this even happen? 500 years ago, on October 31st 1517, Luther nailed 95 thesis onto a church door in Wittenberg Germany. At the time, these thesis brought many of the roman catholic church’s practices into question. Namely indulgences. Indulgences are the practice that if you pay money, the church can grant you merit for you or a loved one to escape/lessen your time in purgatory. Indulgences were used to build new and bigger facilities for rome. At the time, Luther’s goal was not to start a war against the church, however, it was to start a healthy dialogue. When a couple of Luther’s students found the 95 thesis, they published copies of it throughout Germany using the printing press. What began was a call to reformation.
But why reformation? Luther had seen many of the churches practices as the direct antithesis to the gospel. The german reformer not only realized that many of the churches practices directly went against scripture, but he found that scripture should and is the upmost authority in a Christians life. Much like men such as William Tyndall and Jan Hus before him, he desired to get the Word of God to the common man. So that they may see and discern the truth of the gospel for themselves.
Much like 500 years ago, the Gospel is still at stake. In fact, I would argue that there is more wrong with our understanding of the gospel today than there was 500 years ago. We still have indulgences, the end of indulgences is different. Rather than promising freedom from purgatory, we just promise wealth and health instead. We still teach that we are saved by our works. Whether that comes that salvation is by being a republican, democrat, or just a good enough person. We have people saying that unless you can speak in angelic tongues, you can’t be saved. there are churches saying that unless you’re a part of our church, you aren’t a part of the one true church. We also have the sinners prayer. The most destructive form of “soul winning” out there that teaches the heresy of antinomianism. We have preaches who refuse to preach against sin because that is hate speech. We have preachers refusing to preach the love of God because the fires of hell are a more compelling evangelism tool than the work of Christ. It’s not a religion it’s a relationship errors are plaguing millennials because it feels good. Furthermore, we have many cults that we constantly have to fend and separate ourselves from. Such as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, Scientology, Church of Christ Scientist, etc. Above all, the roman catholic church has refused to repent of various unbiblical practices. In fact, they have doubled down on such practices since the start of the reformation.
The point I’m trying to make is that we must still be in protest. We must continue to teach and preach that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone and the scripture alone teaches this. If we truly understand the depth of these truths (commonly known as the 5 solas) then we understand our fight. The very gospel is at stake. But what does that even mean?
Grace alone. A term commonly misunderstood. Is grace given to us as we go through seven sacraments? Do we get more grace if we live better lives? Do we get more grace as we sin more? None of these make sense when we understand what grace is. Grace is simply a gift. This gift is not earned because we are good or we go through sacraments, but because God chose us to give this gift to. We are dead in our sins (Eph 2:1-7) we can do nothing more than a dead man can. (Which is nothing as we rot in our graves.) There isn’t even a condition that God chooses us, it is simply his work that he gives a dead man life. He gives us all the gifts necessary for salvation. A new heart, faith, Christ’s righteousness, freedom, the Holy Spirit, an inheritance, and every spiritual blessing we ever need (Eph 1). This is the gift of grace.
Faith alone. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1) We are justified by faith alone. We are made righteousness by the conviction that our sins have been bought and killed by the blood of Christ. With this conviction and assurance that we will gain our inheritance, we will walk in the law and seek holiness. I am not saying that we can earn our salvation, rather I’m saying the opposite. If grace gives us a new life and new desires, then faith is the very action in which we exercise these new acts and desires. That is why the book of James says that faith without works is dead. Faith without the consistent working out of killing your sin through repentance, prayer, preaching the word to yourself, being in corporate worship, etc. We do not do these things because we believe they will make us a better than thou Christian, but because we believe God when He says that these are good and beneficial things to us. By faith alone we are justified, but by faith we also walk in our salvation being continuously saved from our sin.
Christ Alone. Christ alone is a doctrine that many people sing on any given sunday. It’s a favorite hymn of mine. In Christ alone, my hope is found. What hope is this referring to? This is referring to the fact that the precious blood of Christ is sufficient to cover our sin. But more so than that his perfect life that earned right standing with God, is freely gifted to us, through grace and faith. That Christ rose again to give us freely a new life and to know that we have been united in his life, death, and resurrection. That now he stands, praying and interceding on our behalf in the very throne room of heaven. This is the doctrine of Christ alone put very cleanly and plainly.
Scripture alone. Scripture alone does not mean that we neglect or reject the nicene, apostles, or athanasian creeds. But these creeds and many other confessions all are based in scripture. We believe that scripture alone is the authority to validate or reject various doctrines found within the christian faith. We also believe that scripture interprets scripture. Meaning that when we come to specific teachings, we must realize the context of such teachings. We cannot allow various men to interpret the scripture for us, rather we allow scripture, and the work of the Holy Spirit to convict us of biblical truths.
Glory to God alone. The four other sola’s pour into this final sola. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q1) God created everything as a reflection of his character. He demands himself to be praised and glorified. We are reminded that God’s goodness to us is not because He desires nothing more than a relationship to his creatures, rather it’s to show His kindness, and mercy to us. To make His name not only known but loved and adored. To be the center of all of our affections and praise. To know that He is sovereign and in control of everything. To show that he is not only near, but to show His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. To put it simply, God will act to make himself known how great He is.
These five pillars of the Christian faith are continuously being attacked. We are not the first generation to experience this nor are we the last. The gospel should be our upmost authority. We should be quick, gracious, faithful, to present Christ in the scriptures in our rebuking and teaching for the glory of God.
But how should we go about this? Especially in a post-truth era that is plaguing the church. I propose that reformation must start within ourselves. We must be willing to allow the doctrinal truths uncovered in the reformation to reach the depths of our soul. We must realize that we stand on the shoulders of many great church fathers, and reformers. But ultimately, we must realize that theses solas are uncompromisable. We must live out the truths of the five solas. We must be abiding in Christ, living out our faith, resting in grace, dying to the word, and realizing that we get any glory in any of it.
This will transform our daily lives. This will naturally flow into the conversations and discussions we have with our neighbors. We can love our neighbors by proclaiming the truths that we hold so dearly. We can begin to reform their poor theology by giving them the greatness of the gospel. We can lead them in gentleness, patience, love, joy, peace, kindness, and self control. these interactions help fulfill the great commission as every interaction is one of discipleship. We must train up fellow brothers to care, enjoy, and love the freedom that these doctrines teach so they can do the same.
Lastly, I propose that we continue to encourage and pray for the pastors and elders that are willing to fight and reform the church through local congregations. That our local pastors aren’t afraid to meet and correct each other over these issues. We must come together to ensure that the same gospel is being taught and proclaimed throughout the universal church.
This is what semper reformanda truly entails. The previous 500 years, God has preserved the truths of the gospel through many great men during that time. Over the next 500, we have many more challenges ahead of us. But the gospel never changes. Our God never changes, and over the next 500 years God will preserve his church and protect it against the gates of hell. Let us rejoice and celebrate until Jesus comes back and let us earnestly contend for the gospel until then.