Reformation Sunday: The God the Reformers Believed!

People of God, this is the Sunday when we consider the Protestant Reformation. It would be easy this morning to use our code words, the famous Latin Solas of the Reformation[1] that shaped the Western Christian world, we could emphasize our distinct doctrines of the Reformation like predestination, or the covenant of grace, we could oppose the Ana-Baptists, we could talk about how the Revolutionary War was actually a Calvinistic War, we could talk about the influence of the Reformation in the early colonies in this country, we could talk about the boldness of John Knox, the genius of John Calvin, the titanic might of Martin Luther, the rescuing of the Lord’s Supper from the abuses of the mass, the effects of Protestantism in shaping education, economics, law, and politics. Yes, we could talk about all these things, and all of them would be worth pursuing. Providence Church would not exist today were it not for the Protestant Reformation. We boldly affirm our connection and continuation with the 16th century Reformation.

Those 95 theses posted on the Wittenburg Door for discussion ended up changing the make-up of the entire Western World. But I want to go even deeper this morning to the source of the Reformation: God Himself. I want to describe the God the Reformers believed in; the God we believe in: the only, true and wise God, maker of heaven and earth.

The Reformers believed in the Covenant-Keeping God who pictured for us redemption in His covenant with Abraham. This is the  God who pursued Adam’s fallen race and who through Abraham promised an everlasting covenant with you and your children unto a thousand generations.[2] He is the Deliverer of Israel from Egyptian bondage. He is the deliverer of innocent baby boys from the barbaric practices of the Egyptian king. Our God is a life-affirming God.[3] He is the Holy God. The One whose laws are perfect and just because they reflect His own character which is perfect and just. With God there is only holiness. There is no impurity with Him. He commands His people to live pure lives in the presence of the nations.[4] The God the Reformers believed was a God who is not a man that he should lie or change his mind.[5] He is the God of blessings and curses: who honors righteousness and curses those who dwell in sin. He is the God whose secrets remain with Him alone, but who reveals to us and our children what is necessary for godliness and dominion.[6]

This is the God who made a covenant with the people of Israel at Shechem and said “Put away all the foreign gods,”[7] because He is a jealous God. He is the God who provides deliver after deliver in Judges when the people are doing that which is good in their own eyes.[8] He is the God who sends a kinsman redeemer when all hope is gone and when life is bitter.[9] He is the rock of Israel even though the Glory has departed and the Philistines have taken the ark. He is the one whom David trusted to crush the head of the big serpent, Goliath.[10]  He is the God who rebukes and punishes even kings; the God who hates David’s adultery and murder, but the God whom David seeks for forgiveness.[11] He is the God who is still God in good times and in times of civil war when the kingdoms were divided. A God who in the midst of chaos, idolatry, and bloodshed still executes perfect judgment. He is the God who raises up His house, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem. This is same Triune God who re-builds the walls through His servant Nehemiah. He is the Mighty Fortress who calls Esther to save her people in such a time. He was the bulwark never failing to Job who suffered for the sake of the God he loved and who received a double blessing.  He is the God who sings Psalms against our ancient foe who seeks to work us woe.[12]

John Calvin writes: “There is no knowing that does not begin with knowing God.”[13] The Reformers believed that true knowledge comes from knowing the true God. This is the God of the Reformers. And we could go on and on describing this God. We could speak of His unending love for His people; how He sent His only-begotten Son to die for sinners,[14] to be raised for our justification,[15] and to give us new life.[16] Yes, this is the God of the Reformation! It is true that other traditions embrace this same God, but the Reformers were not ashamed of this God. They did not seek to conform the Word of God to modern perceptions of God. They did not change his character to appease the philosophies of men, rather the Reformers  preached this God without fear. They were persecuted for the sake of this great God. For the Reformers, God was worth every song of praise, every confession, every prayer, every act of pure worship. For the Reformers, on earth there is not His equal.

So we rejoice in the Reformation! We rejoice in the tradition that gave us a high view of God and His Holiness. A tradition that exalted Father, Son, and Spirit and made men dependent on the grace of God, not God dependent on the grace and will of men.

How Shall We Then Live?

We learn that even the very best intentions to defend a tradition can fail if we forget the roots of our tradition. To be more direct, if we defend the Reformed tradition while forgetting what the tradition was pointing us to—Christ alone—then we are prone to falling for the same arrogance of the Jews in the first century and the errors of the Church in the 16th century. If we exist to defend a 16th century event—however noble that may be—while not looking to Jesus, resting in Jesus, and honoring Jesus with our lives, then our tradition is nothing more than dead man’s bones. Can we take joy in the great Reformation leaders? Can we listen to their words and embrace their ideas while exalting Christ and loving one another? I believe this was their intention all along. But when we rest in the end of the day, whose name is made known most clearly in our lives? Does someone who meets you say, “that’s the Christ-model I want to follow” or are they more enamored in the theological secret handshakes that accompanies your persona?

The Jews in the first century had nationalistic zeal; in fact, so much zeal that they failed to see that the goal of their tradition was to worship the Messiah. Those of us who are heirs of the Reformation need to have a healthy skepticism. I believe the Reformation is far superior to any other movement in history, but the key word is history. History is not untouched by sin. We need to listen to the word of our forefathers and then find every reason to affirm what they say by the testimony of God’s Word. This is not just something 21st century Reformed people are saying. Even John Calvin had a healthy skepticism. He realized that his own words were not inspired. He said that the “Scriptural Church must ever be Reformed and ever reforming.”[17]

There have been numerous books written asking the question: “Is the Reformation is dead?” My response is a resounding No! We believe as a Church that the achievements of the Reformation are still worth defending and worth preserving. The Reformation recovered truths that had been buried in late medieval Catholicism.[18] But there is another side to this story that is equally important. Does defending the Reformation simply mean repeating slogans, blind allegiance to the confessions, and glorying in the 16th century without thinking about the future of the Church? God forbid. We cherish our tradition, but we despise traditionalism. The Reformers called the Church to reform the world, and they also knew that this work would not end in their generation. Reformation is an on-going work.

The Reformation means that God is tearing down the old and building something new. We are that something new. We are a new generation of Reformers. The Reformation calls us today to embrace a new culture that is asking us new questions. Will the Reformed Church today repeat old slogans in hope that they will answer society’s deep questions? Will she be speechless and say this is not the business of the Church? Or will she be bold and courageous and confront new questions with the wisdom of the past and the wisdom gained up to this point in history? God created this world to move. He did not create a world with a pause button. We do not have to begin from scratch. We have already a strong foundation laid for us. The Reformation was difficult and painful, but it was a necessary decision. Today we celebrate the joys and sorrows of the 16th century waiting and praying that God would bring new and even more glorious reformations in our world today. This we know: The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[1] A reference to the glorious Sola’s of the Reformation.

[2] Genesis.

[3] Exodus.

[4] Leviticus.

[5] Numbers.

[6] Deuteronomy.

[7] Joshua.

[8] Judges.

[9] Ruth.

[10] I Samuel.

[11] II Samuel. See Psalm 51.

[12] Quotation from AMighty Fortress is Our God,

[13] Quotation found in goodreads.

[14] John 3:16.

[15] Romans 4:25.

[16] II Corinthians 5:17

[17] Quotation from George Grant.

[18] Gleaned from Peter Leithart’s article: Excerpt from Reformation Day Sermon.

 

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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