The Protestant Reformation: Semper Reformanda!
“The Protestant Reformation: Semper Reformanda!”
Series: 500 Years of Reformation (2 of 2)
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson
**View accompanying slides HERE from Slideshare.
**Source: Much of historical content drawn from Michael Reeves, The Unquenchable Flame.
Take your Bibles and join me in the last chapter of the Book of Galatians, Galatians chapter 6.
We are commemorating 500 years of the Protestant Reformation (SLIDE), last Sunday morning and this Sunday morning, these two messages hitting the highlights of the Reformation—what happened, when it happened, and why it matters. So if you’re visiting, let me say that what we are doing is a little different from our usual Sunday morning preaching where we go through a passage of Scripture, verse-by-verse through the Word. If slides, and pictures, and Christian history isn’t your thing—well, like I said last week, we only do this every 500 years!
We’re going to zero-in on one verse of Scripture, one verse that is the means by which we continue to keep the reformation fires burning, burning within our hearts. And we’ll go ahead and read this verse now and return to it again near the end of the message. Galatians 6, verse 14. Let me invite you to stand in honor of the reading of this verse and then we’ll pray.
14 But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
•Let’s pray: “Lord God we pray that through our study that we may know Christ more fully, see His glory more clearly, and serve Him more faithfully. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
Today is Reformation Sunday. Reformation Sunday occurs every year, not just this year, but every year of the calendar. It is the Sunday either on or before October 31st.
Last week we talked about that particular date being the pivotal event 500 years ago, October 31, 1517; Martin Luther’s nailing his “95 Theses” on the door of All Saints Church, or Castle Church, in Wittenberg, Germany (SLIDE). The 95 Theses were disputations Luther had with the Catholic church, problems he saw within the church, problems in need of reformation.
Luther appeared at the Diet of Worms in 1521, appearing in an assembly meeting of the imperial council, that would determine his fate (SLIDE). Here’s an artist’s rendering of Luther at Worms, defending his writings wherein he called for the reforming of the church. Diet of Worms. Remember: spelled like Worms. It looks like, “Diet of Worms,” as though Luther went on some strange kind of diet (SLIDE).
Not this! It’s spelled like Worms, but pronounced: Verms (SLIDE). By the way, we’ve got snacks for tonight’s movie of Luther. Our creative staff has Reformation-themed candies and snacks. So for Diet of Worms we’ll have some worms, gummy worms, I think. For popcorn, we’ve got “Pope Corn!” And to commemorate Luther’s 95 Theses, we have…wait for it: 95 Reese’s! Back to Worms.
It was at Worms that Luther refused to recant, refusing to take back all he had written about what was wrong with the Catholic Church, and other things he had written, as well. It was at Worms that Luther made his famous “Here I Stand” speech. He was condemned as a heretic, which meant he would be put to death.
But his friend Frederick the Wise had Luther “captured” and him away in Wartburg Castle (SLIDE). It was here Luther translated the Greek New Testament into German. He did this in just 11 weeks; translating the New Testament into the language of the common folks. Translating the Bible into the langue of commoners was forbidden by Roman Catholic law, considered a heresy punishable by death.
Luther’s main contribution is his writings on the doctrine of Justification, or the teaching in the Bible about how man is set right with God. Luther discovered that the Bible plainly teaches that Christians who believe in Christ are at once, or simultaneously, sinner’s at heart, yet righteous in status (SLIDE). We mentioned this beautiful phrase that captures the essence of the Reformation: Simul justus et peccator. By faith in Christ, believers are simultaneously just, or righteous, and sinful. It is not that God makes us righteous, but He sees us righteous, declares us righteous in Christ Jesus, even though we are still sinners. Luther said it was upon this doctrine—justification—that the church either stands or falls. This is the heart of the gospel.
In his commentary on Galatians: “(The truth of the gospel) is…the principle article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consists. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”
One way the “beating of this truth into the heads” of Christians is best accomplished is by embracing and regularly teaching the so-called “5 Solas (SLIDE).” Sola Scripture—it is Scripture alone, Scripture sufficient to reveal and teach this doctrine. It is not that Scripture is merely equal to other authorities; equal to church tradition, the Catholic magisterium, the Pope having highest authority. No, Scripture is itself the highest authority. Church tradition is important to us, but there is no authority higher than Scripture. This was Luther’s point in saying, “My conscience is held captive to the Word of God.” Sola Scriptura.
Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus. By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This is how sinners are saved. Soli Deo Gloria—to the glory of God alone.
When Luther died he was buried beneath his own pulpit, which seems so fitting (SLIDE).
There were other reformers like Ulrich Zwingli (SLIDE), the Swiss reformer who was so excited when he got his hands on Erasmus’ Greek New Testament that he set out to memorize it in its entirety—the 27 books of the New Testament, memorized, in Greek. He shocked his congregation one Sunday when he got into the pulpit and announced he was going to start preaching verse-by-verse all through Matthew’s Gospel. And when he had finished with Matthew, he was going to go through all the other books of the New Testament, verse-by-verse.
This verse-by-verse expository preaching of the Word of God is a hallmark of the Reformation. In fact, Zwingli argued that human beings naturally crave the Word of God because they are created in His image.
And there were other reformers like Zwingli’s successor, Heinrich Bullinger, and the Dutch Reformer and Anabaptist leader, Menno Simons. You can read about these men and others in this book I read in preparation for these two messages: Michael Reeves, The Unquenchable Flame (SLIDE). You can get it on Kindle or check it out of our church library after it is catalogued. It’s a great primer on the Protestant Reformation, just under 200 pages.
As Baptists we trace our history not to the Anabaptist dissenters of Menno Simons, though some of the major beliefs are similar. The name sounds similar, too: Anabaptist. But Baptists trace their roots to the Puritans of England, nearly a century later. We’ll talk more about them in a minute.
Before we do, let’s talk briefly about this Frenchman (SLIDE) named John Calvin. At the age of just 26, Calvin wrote his first edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, a systematic theology, really an introduction to the basics of the Christian faith—that’s what the word ‘Institutes’ means (SLIDE). Here, Institutes is translated “Institution,” but the word means basic instruction, basic instruction on the Christian faith.
It was through this work that Calvin hoped to bring the reformation to France, but we think of him mostly for his influence in Geneva, in Switzerland.
It really is unfortunate that all some people know about Calvin is the term “Calvinism,” a term Calvin himself did not use and, in fact, hated the word. It was people long after Calvin had died who systematized Calvin’s theology into a 5-point acronym (TULIP) with an emphasis on the doctrine of election. And they did so largely in response to some new teachings (namely by Jacobus Arminius) they believed upended the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ alone.
But for this reason, many people today think of Calvin as some dark character, maniacally preoccupied with predestination and election. In point of fact, Calvin’s treatment of the doctrine of election in his Institutes does not occur until page 920. And out of over 1500 pages, Calvin’s treatment of the biblical doctrine of election occurs in just 67 of them. Only 67 pages out of the 1,521 pages.
I mention this because far too many Christians today know only what someone else has told them about Calvin’s writings. Too often fear and ignorance define those who are opposed to a scholar’s contributions—and often based upon someone else’s mischaracterizations. It takes a wise person to sit down and read a primary source, reading himself. I commend the Institutes to your reading, especially the section on the Biblical doctrine of providence, some of the most beautiful, life-giving, Bible-saturated teachings that will bless your soul.
Well, we leave Calvin and go into England finally to learn of a man named William Tyndale (SLIDE).
It was Tyndale who said, “I defy the pope, and all his laws.” He translated the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into the English language. He is also known for saying to one scholar, “If God spare my life, [before] many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough [to] know more Scripture than thou does.”
And just five years after Luther’s infamous, “Here I Stand Speech” before the emperor, Tyndale had translated and published his complete New Testament in English. Because of the recent invention of the printing press (which was a communication marvel like our modern internet), Tyndale was able to print thousands of copies of the English Bible and smuggle them into England so that the common ploughboy might know more Scripture than the most erudite Greek scholar.
When Tyndale was finally caught he was predictably killed. Remember it was a crime to translate the Bible into the language of commoners. Here’s an engraving (SLIDE) from a classic book, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (more about that in a moment). But here’s a picture of Tyndale being killed. Just before being burned to death, his last words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!” And not long afterwards that king—King Henry VIII—would transform England from Catholicism to a country where the Bible was read publicly, discussed, and and preached in English.
For the rest of the history—including John Knox in Scotland, and England’s back-and-forth with Catholicism; King Henry the VIII’s many wives, the horrific reign of Bloody Mary—you can read the events as they interest you.
To speak broadly, England eventually and officially became Protestant. But that does not mean that everyone was in agreement. Even today Catholics and Protestants disagree on a number of teachings, certainly the primary Reformation understanding of justification by faith. Even though declarations have been drawn up in recent history and signed by various adherents who insist that Catholics and Protestants are in agreement, the fact is, of course, that they are not.
As Baptists we continue to believe with the Reformers that man is saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Christ plus nothing. No works. Works are performed as a consequence of one’s salvation, not as the cause of one’s salvation. Good works are in now way any part of justification. Rather, good works flow naturally as the result of justification, flowing out of our lives as a “thank you note” to God for His grace.
So while England had eventually and officially become Protestant, the reformation was not over—nor is it over today. Reformation externally does not mean reformation internally. King Henry embraced the Reformation mainly for political reasons. The Reformers embraced the Reformation for theological reasons.
And this is where we hang our hat for the remainder of our study. I speak finally of the Puritans (SLIDE). The English Puritans—from whence we Baptists came. Our roots are traced to the Puritans of England. Something to be proud of! It is this background that gave rise to the pilgrims, early European settlers wishing to retain their English separatist beliefs in the new world of America.
The Puritans who remained in England worked to carry on the Reformation in the English state church, and many gave their lives for that hope. This term (SLIDE) Semper Reformanda, is a catch-phrase that means “always reforming.” The reformers believed the church must always be reforming herself. And it is the Puritans, I believe, who taught best exactly how that kind of ongoing reformation is possible.
Puritans are wrongly thought of as stoic, dour, killjoys walking around with stern expressions, unable to find joy in anything. Quite the opposite! The Puritans just honestly believed that reformation was more than outward, external conformance to teachings. They believed it had to be inward, and internal.
The Puritans wanted the Reformation to be not just about the changing of political structures in England—mere formalism—but believed the Reformation should touch the heart, the soul, the inner man. Only then could the Reformation bring about lasting change.
It’s the very thing Jesus warned about centuries earlier when he spoke of the religious people of His day as did the Prophet Isaiah in his day, Matthew 15:8: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”
So Puritans like John Foxe, wrote Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (SLIDE), an account of those who died as martyrs for Christ, especially those who suffered as English Protestants from the 1300s up through the reign of Queen Mary I of England, “Bloody Mary,” as she is infamously remembered.
Other Puritans like John Owen wrote works such as this (BOOK): the Glory of Christ. By the way, let me say again how helpful these little paperbacks are for devotional reading. They are from the series called “Puritan Paperbacks.” We have a dozen or so of these in our church library; so helpful to growing your heart in greater love for Jesus.
Other Puritans wrote during this time, Richard Baxter, Richard Sibbes, and perhaps the most popular Puritan: John Bunyan, who wrote a great autobiography entitled, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, a book especially helpful to me in my struggle with salvation. But Bunyan is most widely known for writing, The Pilgrim’s Progress (SLIDE), a Christian classic, also in our church library. Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory about one man’s journey from “The City of Destruction,” which is the world, to “The Celestial City,” which is heaven.
Pilgrim’s Progress is arguably the greatest work of English literature, the first novel written in English, translated in more than 200 languages and never once out of print. It was written during Bunyan’s imprisonment—12 years for preaching without a license—and during this time, providentially, he wrote this fantastic allegory. You simply must read this book if you have not already. We have it in our church library, too.
In all of their writings and all of their preaching, the great Puritan concern was that Reformation touch the whole heart. It was not enough to have all the religious stuff in place. One needed to be transformed from the inside out. This is the point of the phrase Semper Reformanda (SLIDE).
It’s the same concern we have today. Being a church member does not itself mean a heart has changed. Attending worship, Sunday school, giving attention to, or conforming to, mere external structures does not mean we are true believers in Christ. Having a Bible does not guarantee the one holding it loves Jesus.
This was the concern of our Puritan predecessors. We can have all the externals in place—Protestant churches are on nearly ever corner of every city in America. We have Bibles everywhere, stores, hotels, homes, the internet.
In our sanctuaries altars upon which the Mass was observed have been exchanged for pulpits with a focus upon the Word of God. The seven sacraments have been reduced to two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper, because only these two sacraments—or ordinances—are supported by Scripture. Verse-by-verse expository preaching carries on the spirit of the Reformers. Evangelical churches have lots of external, outward, structure—good structure, at that—but this is no guarantee of inward, heart change.
Semper reformanda, always reforming (SLIDE), is what the heart needs. We must have it! Without it, we will fall back into the old works of the flesh and the pull of the world. This is where we look again at Galatians 6, verse 14. See it there in your Bibles, Galatians 6:14:
14 But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
The cross was Paul’s “boast.” That is, he delighted in the cross, rejoiced in the cross, found strength in the cross, found courage, confidence, life in the cross. That’s what he’s driving at by using this term “boast.”
The key to “always reforming” the heart is found in the cross. Why? Because the cross is the emblem, the object, the symbol of all that Jesus Christ has done for sinners. The cross is about life, death, and resurrection. Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience for us—for which we can receive credit. He lived for us. And He died on the cross—He died to take upon Himself our punishment for sin, our disobedience. He lived for us, He died for us. And He arose. He was raised from the dead for our justification (Romans 4:25). Raised so we may be declared righteous, raised so that we may have life in Him!
On the cross the great exchange took place: our sins imputed—or transferred—to Him, His righteousness imputed—or transferred, credited—to us. We gave to Him what was ours (sin), He gave to us what was His (righteousness) and He died, and He arose so that we who have died may now have life through His name—saved by grace, through faith, in Christ, alone! To the glory of God alone!
So “God forbid that I should boast in anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
The world! Sin is largely allowing our hearts to chase after the world, temporary things, often dangerous things, allowing our hearts to be conformed to the world, rather than transformed by the Lord, and continually reformed as we give our heart to Jesus Christ regularly through the ongoing application of the gospel.
The gospel applies to the Christian not only at the point of salvation, but at every point thereafter. The gospel is ongoing in its blessing for Christians. We locate our sense of worth, purpose, identity, and meaning in the cross of Christ through the power of the gospel.
Paul does not locate his sense of identity or purpose in his good works, mere external religious performance, mere outward reformation. He doesn’t glory in that. He doesn’t boast in that. He doesn’t find life in that, rejoice in that. No, he boasts in the cross! He boasts in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Why? Because it is in the cross of Christ we are accepted perfectly by God! God loves us in Christ Jesus. Though we are sinners still, we are positionally “in Him,” we have all the acceptance and approval that matters. We have God’s smile upon our lives! This is not boasting in self-confidence or positive thinking—the false gospel of today, “You can do it,” and, “Turn that smile upside down” and so on. These false gospels need to be burned by the Reformation fires that bring life and validation and purpose and meaning in Jesus Christ alone!
The world is a dead thing to us and we are a dead person to the world.
It’s not that we cannot enjoy the world. God created the world and all we have is a gift from Him. It’s that we don’t need the things of the world. We don’t need the world’s approval. We don’t need to be validated by others. We don’t find acceptance or identity in the things that the world seeks to find acceptance or identity in. We don’t locate self-worth in our gender, ethnicity, race, achievements, successes, or failures. Our identity is in Christ Jesus!
Because of the cross, we are free! Do you hear the freedom in verse 14: “I have been crucified to the world and the world to me!” How? “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That’s how. Because of Jesus, the world has lost it’s attraction. The more we look at Christ, the less we see the world. The more we look at Christ, the less we see the world.
Don’t substitute life in Jesus Christ with anything the world offers. Remember that sin is largely what happens when we do that: whether it’s trying to find life in substances, drink, drugs, entertainment, or trying to earn God’s approval or the approval of others, finding life in the performance of your deeds, your work, your school, your education, your religion, your philosophy, your relationships—Jesus is your greatest relationship; the love of your life!
How can you be “always reforming” your heart? By continually boasting in the cross. By singing every day, “The world behind me, the cross before me. No turning back, no turning back.”
If you have given your heart to something or someone other than Jesus, and you’ve turned away from Him, repent. Turn back to Christ. You were made to treasure Him more than anyone or anything. Have you been saved? Come to Jesus. He is the only name by which we can be saved from sin, death, and hell. Repent, turn, to Christ.
We’re going to pray in a moment and then we’re going to respond in song. Congregational singing was also a hallmark of the Reformation. All of God’s people singing together. Not just someone up front while everyone else watched or listened, but all of God’s people singing together as the body of Christ.
While we sing, repent. Turn to Jesus. You have spiritual questions, you can come forward this morning and we’ll pray with you after the service. Want to be baptized? Come during this time of response. Want to join the church? Come in a moment as we sing.
Now stand and sing. Respond however you need to respond.
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