The Reformation Continues To Reverberate
Coming just around the corner is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Occurring across the Atlantic on October 31, 1517, the nailing of the 95 Theses on the Castle Church door of Wittenberg, Germany reverberated worldwide. Years before, though, faithful forerunners to the Reformation remained true to the Word of God no matter the cost. John Huss, beloved professor and Bible scholar, let it be known while being burned at the stake, “My goose is cooked, but a swan will arise 100 years from now whose voice the pope will not be able to silence.” Those prophetic words in the early 1400’s cracked wide open a century later in the irrepressible voice of Martin Luther, followed by others like John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, John Knox and Thomas Cranmer, to name of few.
Simply put, the Reformation spotlighted that salvation was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to God be the glory alone based on Scripture alone. The Reformers were more concerned about what was right and true than how it made you feel or if it worked for you. Justification by faith stood out as the major issue to settle. Luther, Calvin and others stood firm on the testimony of Scripture as to what makes man right before God.
On the authority of the Bible, they preached that sinful man is declared justified before God through faith solely on the basis of what Christ accomplished in his perfect obedience to the law and his life laid down as a perfect sacrifice once for all which absorbed God’s wrath for sin in our place.
Today that historic Reformation theme is being substituted with softer-sounding socialistic social justice themes in mainline denominations which blur and obscure the extraordinary, exceptional and exclusive work of the gospel which distinguished the Reformation from the grotesque spiritual errors of that day. Adding to the indistinctiveness, others play an ear-tickling version of peacefully co-exist patty-cake.
For example, after badly botching the history of how we got the Bible, Dan Brown of the Da Vinci Code claptrap dished up a plate full of squishy liberalism recently by saying, “Christianity, Judaism and Islam all share a gospel, loosely, and it’s important that we all realize that,” he said. “Our religions are much more similar than they are different.”
Justification by faith alone is as far apart from Islam as Operation Christmas Child of Samaritan’s Purse is from the suicide bombings by ISIS and both faiths share a gospel about as loosely as the Taliban and the Little Sisters of the Poor are tied together.
The very grounds for our justification being in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ are the very grounds both Islam and Judaism deny. Embracing the biblical doctrine of justification articulated during the Reformation denounces the delusion of Dan Brown’s idea of the three faiths sharing a gospel, blowing up the popular politically-correct misconception that all three faiths are more similar than different.
Even if you reject the theology of the Reformation, you cannot dismiss the impact the Reformation had on forming America. First and foremost a prolific theologian and expositor of the Bible, John Calvin, the most notable figure of the Reformation next to Luther, spearheaded efforts for broad-based education for all citizens breaking with the norm of education only for the elites. Harvard Professor George Bancroft called Calvin “the father of America” in laying out the basics for a republican form of government with democratic principles. The “free institutions of America” owe a debt of gratitude to Calvin. His work launched improvements in the church and society for ministering to the poor. Bancroft concluded: “He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty.”
Yet, to miss the spiritual significance of the Reformation for the impact on America’s founding misses the Reformation at its heart. The challenge before us lies in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, martyred by the Nazis, wrote, “God has granted American Christianity no Reformation. He has given it strong revivalist preachers, churchmen and theologians, but no Reformation of the church of Jesus Christ by the Word of God. Anything of the churches of the Reformation which has come to America either stands in conscious seclusion and detachment from the general life of the church or has fallen victim to Protestantism without Reformation … The decisive task for today is the dialogue between Protestantism without Reformation and the churches of the Reformation.”
The Rev. Mel McGinnis is a Frewsburg resident.