Ten Lasting Fruits of the Reformation

Article by Dr. Joel Beeke (original source here)

God sent forth the power of his Word in the Reformation of the sixteenth century. The Reformation served as a dynamic motivation and catalyst for change and progress wherever its influence reached. Many would credit Martin Luther as the driving engine that propelled the Reformation, but Luther said, “I did nothing; the Word did everything.” John Knox said, “God did so multiply our number that it appeared as if men had rained from the clouds.” How did the Reformation change the church and the world? Here are ten lasting fruits in which the Reformation made a significant difference.

1. The Word of God
The Reformers recognized the Bible as God’s written Word, and the supreme rule of faith and life for both the individual believer and for the life of the church. Here is the great starting point for understanding the aims, dynamism, and achievements of the Reformation. As part of the revival of learning connected with the Renaissance, the Western church recovered the knowledge of the original languages of the Bible. For the first time in many centuries, her scholars and teachers were able to read the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, and examine the extant Latin translations of the Bible in the light of the original. If you want to call yourself an heir of the Reformation, then you must be a student of the Bible. Read the Word of God and meditate on it daily. Cultivate a systematic understanding of the Bible’s teachings. Compare Scripture with Scripture. Never walk away from private devotions, family worship, or a sermon without taking hold of some particular truth and applying it to your soul.

2. The Gospel of Grace
The Reformers recovered the authentic gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, and proclaiming it to the ends of the earth through zealous evangelism. They taught that sinners are saved as Christ graciously works in them by His Word and Holy Spirit, convincing them of their sin and misery, and leading them to faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, offered once for all, as the only ground of their salvation. Justification from the guilt of sin is not the distant goal, but the beginning of life in Christ. Good works are fruits that accompany justification, and only serve to confirm it. Justification is by faith alone, through Christ alone. Salvation is the gracious, free gift of God, “not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:9). What Luther and the other Reformers discovered was that Rome had exchanged the true gospel for a false one. According to Rome, salvation was achieved by slow degrees and hard work, by receiving the sacraments and by doing such good works as the church required or directed. Sinners must atone for their sins by doing penance in this life and suffering the fires of purgatory in the next, calling on saints and angels for help, and cherishing the hope of full salvation only in the far distant future. Some degree of comfort was afforded to the faithful by the sale of “indulgences,” promissory notes issued by the church forgiving or “indulging” some part of the debt of sin owed to God. This “gospel according to Rome” was a message to inspire fear of wrath, not faith in Christ.

3. Experiential Piety
The Reformers enlivened the church worldwide with a deep conviction of the fatherly sovereignty of God through Christ, which results in a deep, warm, sanctifying, experiential piety or godliness that moves believers to commit their entire lives to His praise. One of the most compelling proofs of this assertion is the Heidelberg Catechism. Nothing is stated in an abstract or purely theoretical way. The very first question is intensely personal and experiential: “What is thy only comfort in live and in death?” Time and again the practical use or personal benefit is pressed: “What doth it profit thee now that thou believest all this?” (Q. 59).

This pressure persists to the last sentence of the Catechism: “Amen”––that is, the “Amen” of the Lord’s Prayer—“signifies that it shall truly and certainly be, for my prayer is more assuredly heard of God than I feel in my heart that I desire these things of Him” (Q. 129).

Subsequent generations of Reformed pastors and teachers took up this concern and developed it, as Christian experience and the strengths and weaknesses connected with it, received close scrutiny, careful analysis, and thorough exposition.

4. Old Paths
The Reformers preserved, exposited, and defended the ancient Christian faith through preaching and sound literature as the system of doctrine taught in God’s Word. The Reformers found support for their formulations of the Christian faith in the writings of the ancient church fathers. They saw themselves as the true heirs of historic Christianity. The Roman church had added to the biblical faith and obscured the gospel of justification, but there remained many essential truths of true Christianity as summarized in the Ecumenical Creeds. Though mired in layers of corruption, the gold of apostolic Christianity had not been utterly lost.

The Reformed faith was given to the world not as something new, but only a return of the faith, worship, and order of the apostolic church. It is popular today to cast off all tradition in order to cultivate a religion based on “me and my Bible.” Much contemporary Christianity is superficial and without deep foundations, and so very unstable. However, this is not the Reformation principle of Scripture alone, but a corruption of it. We do not reject tradition in itself, but tradition that is not subordinate to the Bible.

5. The Head of the Church
The Reformers reasserted the crown rights of Christ as King over the nations and the only Head of the church. This resulted in a church where all is done in subjection to God’s Word and in relation to the triune God rather than in subjection to man’s desires. The Reformers soon found themselves at odds with the hierarchy of the church, and in particular with the Pope. Over the centuries, the Papacy had advanced its claim to dominion over the worldwide church and over the kings and princes of Christian Europe. In a similar way, these kings and princes often claimed dominion over the church within their realms. Not infrequently, these divergent views led to fierce and bloody conflicts.

The Reformers found themselves fighting a two-front war, as the Pope used all his power to suppress the Reformation, and hostile kings and princes resisted and punished attempts to reform the church in their territories. Against both, the Reformers exalted Christ as the only Head of the church in heaven and on earth. Where they prevailed, the church was delivered from the twofold tyranny of the Papacy and the state.

6. Christian Freedom
The Reformers established the freedom of the Christian from tyranny in the church, the rights of citizens under the rule of law, curbing the powers of kings and nobles, and enabling the rise of representative democracy in the form of constitutional monarchies and republics. Upholding the supreme authority of Scripture, they dealt a deathblow to the medieval theory of the divine right of kings. All estates of the nation, including the king, are subject to the law of God and the laws of the state. Each citizen lives under the law’s protection, enjoying the liberty secured by subjection to God and to Christ. None but God has power over the conscience, and the calling of magistrates is to “do justice for the helpless, the orphan’s cause maintain; defend the poor and needy, oppressed and wronged for gain.”

This idea of kingship broke upon sixteenth century Europe as a revolutionary thunderbolt. A long struggle ensued to curb the excesses and abuses of kings, free the church from interference by the state, and establish the rule of law in Protestant Europe. It is no coincidence that representative democracy flourished best in lands and nations where the Reformed faith was most deeply rooted. The habits of democratic self-government were acquired by many citizens in meetings of congregations, consistories, classes, sessions, presbyteries, and synods.

The modern deliberative assembly is the brainchild of Presbyterianism. We should cherish our political freedoms and use all lawful means to preserve them. The rule of law, rights of all human beings, and covenantal accountability of leaders to God and the people are precious biblical principles. However, we should also remember that no political freedom has a stable foundation unless the church remains grounded in its freedom in Christ. Unless Christians walk in our blood-bought freedom from the dominion of sin, we cannot expect society around us to preserve civil liberty. Moral degeneration corrupts political freedom into a mask for any tyranny that promises to gratify a people’s passions.

7. Vocations for the Common Good
The Reformers recast the state as a commonwealth, promoting the dignity of labor, encouraging commerce, and increasing wealth among all classes, while curbing the excesses of unregulated capitalism and providing for the care of the sick and the poor. In the view of the Reformers, a well-regulated state ought to provide for the common good. All should thrive together, walking agreeably in decency and good order. Everyone has a stake in the life and well-being of the nation. No man is granted freedom to do as he pleases, without regard to the laws of God and the state. Such is the idea of the state as a commonwealth.

Reformed Christianity played a major role in the eradication of serfdom and the abolition of slavery, though, sadly, for some Reformed Christians these measures seemed too radical to be endorsed. According to the Reformed idea of vocation or calling, the common laborer came into his own as an image-bearing servant of God. Reformed doctrine sanctifies all of life, and resists attempts both ancient and modern to draw a line between the sacred and the secular. Men of wealth are called to use their wealth for the good of others and for the cause of Christ.

The restoration of the office of deacon meant that measures were taken in hand to care for the sick and lighten the burden of poverty on the poor. The communion of saints, each one employing his gifts for the advantage and salvation of the others, welded Reformed communities together as forces for benevolence, civic improvement and social progress.

8. Marriage and Child-rearing
The Reformers established the Christian home on the principles of Scripture, in which marriage is understood as a reflection of the Christ/church relationship; where husband and wife covenant with each other to walk in God’s ways; and parents, to rear their children, who are loaned to them by God. Casting out the medieval cult of celibacy, the Reformers embraced and exalted marriage in the Lord as the norm for the Christian life.

The Christian family is counted as the basic unit of the church and the foundation of society. In no better way can the mystery of Christ and His church be honored and enacted before the world. The children of believers once more became the heritage of the Lord, loved and nurtured, called to faith and repentance, confronted with Christ’s claims upon their faith and obedience, and schooled in the “true and perfect doctrine of salvation” taught in the Reformed churches.

9. Arts and Sciences
The Reformers rekindled the spirit of inquiry, founding schools, academies, and universities; disseminating knowledge; encouraging research and exploration; enabling many discoveries and producing many valuable inventions. Exalting God as Maker of heaven and earth, believing that man was created in God’s image, and valuing the creation as God’s handiwork, Reformed Christians have been stirred to seek out the laws of the universe and to realize much of the great potential built into the world as God created it. Believing that knowledge is essential to life and happiness, Reformed Christianity fostered the development of universal education.

A large chapter in the history of Reformed Christianity in the United States is the history of the founding of schools, school systems, and institutions of higher learning wherever Presbyterian and Reformed immigrants and settlers established their new homes and churches. The need for a well-educated ministry lay at the heart of this enterprise, but side by side lay the concern for an educated laity, that all might profit from the ministry of the Word.

10. The True Worship of God
Perhaps, above all, the Reformation promoted true worship. For them to worship God, whether privately or publicly, was to bow down before His majestic glory, and in spirit and in truth to bring Him, in and through Jesus Christ and in accord with Scripture, the honor and praise that belong to Him alone. Calvin said that the Christian faith turns on two main hinges: how we are saved, and how we should worship God.

Reformation worship turns away from the saints as heavenly mediators and encourages people to draw near to God the Father through the sole mediation of God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit. It simplifies the sacraments (from seven to two), purges the service of unbiblical rituals and imagined sacred objects, and restores the people to their function as a holy priesthood. It makes the Holy Scriptures both the rule of worship and its content as the church reads the Word, prays the Word, sings the Word, preaches the Word, and sees the Word in baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Conclusion: Soli Deo Gloria
Here then, we have ten crucial ways that the Reformation—contra Rome—has blessed our world. What is the one great reality that all these things reflect? The diamond of the Reformation is the glory of God. The Reformation was about the centrality of God—the supremacy, sovereignty, holiness, goodness, and mercy of God in His triune being. The spirit of the Reformation, if you boil it down to its distilled essence, is to love God by faith in the grace of Christ, as He is revealed in the Scriptures.

Understanding the Reformation

Lectures by Erwin Lutzer:

(1) John Hus: The Goose Who Became a Swan

(2) Martin Luther: The Wild Boar

(3) John Calvin & Ulrich Zwingli and the Drowning of the Anabaptists

(4) Sola Fide: Justification by Faith Alone, a Gospel that Saves

(5) Questions & Answers on the Reformation

(6) Rescuing the Gospel in America: The Book of Jude

Further Material:

Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and the Relevance of the Reformation

Rescuing the Gospel in America

Is the Reformation Over?

2017 marks the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation. Many believe that the issues that began the reformation have been resolved and are declaring the reformation over. But is this true?

Gregg Allison and Michael Reeves

Ligon Duncan: Why the Reformation is Not Over: The Continuing Need for Biblical Fidelity and Reform in Worship, Salvation, Sacraments and the Church:

Albert Mohler: We Have Only One Priest: The Reformation as a Revolution in Ministry:

Calvin on the Necessity for Reforming the Church

Article by Dr. Robert Godfrey (original source here)

More than 450 years ago, a request came to John Calvin to write on the character of and need for reform in the Church. The circumstances were quite different from those that inspired other writings of Calvin, and enable us to see other dimensions of his defense of the Reformation. The Emperor Charles V was calling the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire to meet in the city of Speyer in 1544. Martin Bucer, the great reformer of Strassburg, appealed to Calvin to draft a statement of the doctrines of and necessity for the Reformation. The result was remarkable. Theodore Beza, Calvin’s friend and successor in Geneva, called “The Necessity for Reforming the Church” the most powerful work of his time.

Calvin organizes the work into three large sections. The first section is devoted to the evils in the church that required reformation. The second details the particular remedies to those evils adopted by the reformers. The third shows why reform could not be delayed, but rather how the situation demanded “instant amendment.”

In each of these three sections Calvin focuses on four topics, which he calls the soul and body of the church. The soul of the church is worship and salvation. The body is sacraments and church government. The great cause of reform for Calvin centers in these topics. The evils, remedies and necessity for prompt action all relate to worship, salvation, sacraments and church government.

The great cause of reform for Calvin centers in these topics. The importance of these topics for Calvin is highlighted when we remember that he was not responding to attacks in these four areas, but chose them himself as the most important aspects of the Reformation. Proper worship is Calvin’s first concern.

Worship

Calvin stresses the importance of worship because human beings so easily worship according to their own wisdom rather than God’s. He insists that worship must be regulated by the Word of God alone: “I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by His Word. The opposite persuasion which cleaves to them, being seated, as it were, in their very bones and marrow, is, that whatever they do has in itself a sufficient sanction, provided it exhibits some kind of zeal for the honour of God. But since God not only regards as fruitless, but also plainly abominates, whatever we undertake from zeal to His worship, if at variance with His command what do we gain by a contrary course? The words of God are clear and distinct, ‘Obedience is better than sacrifice.’” This conviction is one of the reasons that reform was required: “. . . since . . . God in many passages forbids any new worship unsanctioned by his Word; since he declares that he is grievously offended with the presumption which invents such worship, and threatens it with severe punishment, it is clear that the reformation which we have introduced was demanded by a strong necessity.” By the standard of God’s Word Calvin concludes of the Roman Catholic Church that “the whole form of divine worship in general use in the present day is nothing but mere corruption.”

For Calvin the worship of the medieval church had become “gross idolatry.” The issue of idolatry was for him as serious as the issue of works righteousness in justification. Both represented human wisdom replacing divine revelation. Both represented a pandering to human proclivities, rather than desiring to please and obey God. Calvin insists that no unity can exist in worship with idolaters: “But it will be said, that, though the prophets and apostles dissented from wicked priests in doctrine, they still cultivated communion with them in sacrifices and prayers. I admit they did, provided they were not forced into idolatry. But which of the prophets do we read of as having ever sacrificed in Bethel?” Continue reading

The Need of the Hour

Big-Ben-3By Dr. Michael Reeves

In 1516, planting the seed of the Reformation. It was there that Martin Luther would discover the astonishing news of a gracious God and his free gift of righteousness.

The astonishing refreshment of the church in the years that followed was therefore the fruit, not of one man’s ingenuity, but the word of God. The Bible was why the church – and, indeed, all Europe – was turned upside down.

In the years that followed, Luther would become clearer and clearer on this. After getting the Reformation ball rolling in 1517 with his 95 theses, Luther found himself debating a number of Roman Catholic theologians. And more and more, the question of how the Bible relates to the church kept coming up. Luther’s first sparring partner, Sylvester Prierias, argued that the Scriptures ‘draw their strength and authority” from the Church of Rome, and in particular the Pope. Next, Cardinal Cajetan weighed in, claiming that Scripture must be interpreted for us by the Pope, who is an authority above Scripture.

As they saw it, the Bible was written by the church, and therefore the church is a higher authority that the Bible. As Luther saw it, the Bible is the word of God. The church is not its ultimate author. Quite the opposite: the church was created by the word.

As in the beginning God brought light, life and creation into being through his word, so through his word he brings his new creation into being (2 Cor. 4:6). The church has come into being because God has spoken.

The point became basic for the Reformers: the church is born of the word of God, and grows in both size and health by the word of God (Eph. 4:11-13). Indeed, wrote John Calvin, ‘wherever we see the word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists.’

Five hundred years later, this is a truth that needs to be heard loud and clear: the church receives its life and health and growth from the word of God. We especially need to hear this again in post-Christian Europe, where the situation is generally so disheartening. Faced with reams of horrifying statistics about church decline, a wearing negativity or defeatism can set in. Focused on the sheer enormity of the uphill battle before us, a siege mentality can develop. Losing the confidence to step out with the old word of God, we circle the wagons and lose the confidence to step out into the world. Or we look elsewhere for the solution. But Christians can know that we are not mere teachers of an unfashionable message, nor salesmen of one religious product: we herald the very word of God. The word of God entrusted to us is the very power of God which does not return empty, and which will one day drive all darkness away for good.

This is the need of the hour. If we are to see a reformation and refreshment of the church today, we need churches filled with the glorious and surprising news of Jesus held out in his word.

Five hundred years later, we are looking forward – looking forward to seeing God’s word go out in our generation, fueling the mission of the church and enlivening it again.

The Protestant Reformation (Lecture Series)

From the Master’s Seminary – a 19 lecture series on the Protestant Reformation taught by Dr. Carl Trueman personalities, and events that shook Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It will consist of lectures and guided reading.

The focus will be on the development of Protestantism in its social, political, and cultural contexts, starting with Luther and the late medieval background and tracing the story through to the birth of modernity in the seventeenth century. En route, the student will study primary texts, art work, Reformation popular culture, and pastoral practices in early modern Protestantism.

In addition, the course is designed to help students to think critically about the past in a way which allows them to think critically about the present. Men and women make history, but they do not make the history that they choose; and only by examining the past forces that shaped the present can we understand ourselves, the world in which we live, and thus mount any response to the challenges that face us today.

Learning Goals

At the conclusion of the course, each student should be able to:

Recognize the key personalities, controversies, and theological developments which marked the Reformation.
Distinguish between the various historic Christian traditions in terms of their distinctive theological convictions as formulated during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Articulate ways in which social and cultural contexts shaped the way the church developed during the Reformation.

Textbooks and Reading Schedule

Students are expected to obtain a copies of:

Denis R Janz, A Reformation Reader: Primary Texts With Introductions. Some selections have been assigned, but the whole book is useful as giving short texts relevant to the various topics we will cover.
Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations.
The numbers appended below to Janz refer to the selection, not the page.

Schaff III is the third volume of P. Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (free pdf).

The readings from Lindberg are not synchronized with the lectures; they are merely a suggested timetable for taking you through the whole book by the end of the course.

1. Medieval Background and Martin Luther

Janz 14-19
Heidelberg Disputation
Lindberg, Chapters 1-2

2. Martin Luther

Freedom of the Christian
Lindberg, Chapters 3-4

3. Martin Luther

Exsurge Domine
Janz 25
Lindberg, Chapters 5-6

4. The Birth of the Reformed Church

Janz 30-37
The Sixty-Seven Articles of Huldrych Zwingli (in Schaff III)
Lindberg, Chapter 7

5. Geneva and Calvin

A Reformation Debate: Sadoleto’s Letter to the Genevans and Calvin’s Reply
Lindberg, Chapter 8

6. The Spread of Lutheranism and the Reformed Faith

The Augsburg Confession
The Heidelberg Catechism
Lindberg, Chapter 9

7. The English Reformation

The Act of Supremacy (1534)
The Thirty-Nine Articles
Homily on the True and Lively Faith
Lindberg, Chapter 10

8. Reading the Reformation

Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies
Lindberg, Chapter 11

9. The Catholic Reformation

Council of Trent: Bull of Convocation; Fifth and Sixth Session
Ignatius Loyola, Spiritual Exercises
Lindberg, Chapter 12

10. Seventeenth Century Developments: Reformed Confessionalism

Irish Articles of Religion (in Schaff III)
Westminster Directory for Public Worship
Lindberg, Chapter 13

11. Seventeenth Century Developments: Internal Catholic Conflicts

Pascal, Pensées
Lindberg, Chapter 14

12. The Birth of Modernity

Lindberg, Chapter 15

For further reading – see here.

Repent for the Reformation?

MohlerA Response by Dr. Al Mohler (original source The Guardian reported yesterday that leaders of the Church of England have called upon their church and all fellow Christians to repent of the sins of the Reformation. The headline in The Guardian yesterday:

“C of E archbishops call on Christians to repent for Reformation split.”

Yesterday on the website of the Church of England, the two highest-ranking archbishops of that church, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu said,

“This year, churches around the world will be marking the great significance of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation in Europe, dated from Martin Luther’s 95 Theses protesting against the practice of indulgences, on 31 October 1517 at Wittenberg.”

“The Church of England,” they wrote, “will be participating in various ways, including sharing in events with Protestant church partners from Continental Europe.”

But the two archbishops then continued,

“The Reformation was a process of both renewal and division amongst Christians in Europe. In this Reformation Anniversary year, many Christians will want to give thanks for the great blessings they have received to which the Reformation directly contributed. Amongst much else these would include clear proclamation of the gospel of grace, the availability of the Bible to all in their own language and the recognition of the calling of lay people to serve God in the world and in the church.”

But then the two archbishops took this turn, and I quote,
“Many will also remember the lasting damage done five centuries ago to the unity of the Church, in defiance of the clear command of Jesus Christ to unity in love. Those turbulent years saw Christian people pitted against each other, such that many suffered persecution and even death at the hands of others claiming to know the same Lord. A legacy of mistrust and competition would then accompany the astonishing global spread of Christianity in the centuries that followed.”

The archbishops said,

“All this leaves us much to ponder.”

They conclude,

“Remembering the Reformation should bring us back to what the Reformers wanted to put at the center of every person’s life, which is a simple trust in Jesus Christ. This year is a time to renew our faith in Christ and in Him alone. With this confidence we shall then be ready to ask hard questions about those things in our lives and the life of our churches that get in the way of sharing and celebrating faith in Him.”

In the part of the statement that has received justly the most attention, the Archbishop said,

“Remembering the Reformation should also lead us to repent of our part in perpetuating divisions. Such repentance needs to be linked to action aimed at reaching out to other churches and strengthening relationships with them. This anniversary year will provide many opportunities to do just that, beginning with this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

“We therefore call on all Christians to seek to be renewed and united in the truth of the gospel of Christ through our participation in the Reformation Anniversary, to repent of divisions, and, held together in Him, to be a blessing to the world in obedience to Jesus Christ.”

Now that’s the kind of statement that we might expect from the theological left in terms of the Reformation and its anniversary. But this is coming from the two senior leaders of the Church of England. The headline in The Guardian really gets to the point, are we truly to repent of the Reformation? Much of the background to the statement made by the two archbishops becomes clearer when we look at the words themselves. For one thing, when we look at their statement we notice that they are claiming that the Reformation caused a division in the church.

At this point we have to ask a very hard question. It’s the hard question that was asked by the reformers themselves. We need to note that the reformers, including not only Martin Luther, but John Calvin and others, did not believe that they had any right to bring division in Christ’s church. That is not at all what they understood themselves to be doing. They had come to the point and that was not clear in 1517, but it became clear shortly thereafter, that the Roman Catholic Church was indeed not even a true church. It was not the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. As Martin Luther made very clear, the simple rationale for this had nothing to do, first of all, with the papacy and the hierarchy of the church, or even with Marian devotion or any number of other issues, but the fact that the Catholic Church as he knew it not only did not preach the gospel, but by its system of sacraments and by its teachings repudiated the gospel. Continue reading

Do we need a new Reformation?

hortonArticle – Dr. Michael Horton – Countdown to Reformation Day: Do we need a new Reformation? (original source Christianity became entangled with the vines of superstition, ignorance, and spiritual lethargy—the same thing we see all around us today.

When Luther uncovered the theological scandal, the fragile Roman scaffolding began to creak. The essentials of the Reformation were doctrinal. It was part of the Renaissance to call for a return to the original sources, so it made sense that Christian scholars returned not only to the great classics of Western civilization and to the early fathers but to the Biblical text itself. So, the Reformation was the greatest back-to-the-Bible movement in the history of the church since the death of the apostles. But, they went back to the Bible not simply as an end in itself but in order to recover the essential truths that the Bible proclaimed and that the church had either forgotten or actually rejected. Those essentials were Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and to God alone be glory.

Now notice how the modifier “alone” appears in each of these slogans. After all, the medieval church still believed in Scripture, in Christ, in grace, in faith, and in God’s glory. [The] church had never denied these articles of faith and has in fact forbidden others to do so. It was that word “alone” that brought Rome and the Reformers into conflict. Scripture is the only ultimate authority in faith and practice. Christ is the only mediator between God and sinners. Faith is the only instrument of our justification, and God is the only one in this whole business who deserves any credit or praise from beginning to finish. These slogans formed the core of the Reformation.

Do you believe that the Reformation got these doctrines out of balance with other doctrines as the Roman church believed? Or do you believe that the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone to the glory of God alone, and that this is the Bible’s central message from Genesis to Revelation? If it’s the Bible’s central message, then it must be essential for us as it was for the Reformation in the sixteenth century. [The] problem is [that] we’re facing a church today that is even in a worse situation than that of the medieval church.

Now just look at each of those slogans in the light of today’s realities. First of all, the so-called evangelical, Bible-believing Christians in America are supposedly the spiritual heirs of the Protestant Reformation, and yet according to their responses to recent surveys, their views are actually much closer to those of medieval people before the Reformation.

The battle cry “Scripture alone” is rarely heard even in these conservative Protestant churches today as pop psychology, marketing and management principles, pragmatism, consumerism, sociological data, and political crusades tend to have the greatest authority and weight in the churches.

“Christ alone” is challenged by the voices of those who are following our culture of religious pluralism, insisting that Jesus is the best, but not the only way to the Father. In fact, two-thirds of the Evangelical Christians in America said that we all pray to the same God whether we’re Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, or Christians—two-thirds.

“Grace alone” has fallen prey once more to the moralism and self-confidence of the human heart. The popular phrase in the medieval church was God will not deny his grace to those who do what lies within their power. A modern equivalent is God helps those who help themselves; and according to a Barna survey, 87 percent of today’s Evangelical Christians—the heirs of the Reformation—affirm that medieval Roman Catholic conviction.

And as for the Reformation battle cry “faith alone,” which was the central concern, how far has the preaching of justification by faith alone fallen from the priorities of the modern evangelical church as the major centers of evangelical power have now publicly acknowledged that the doctrine of justification by faith alone no longer presents any obstacle to fellowship with those who deny it? Evangelical seminary professors now freely attack the doctrine by which, as the scriptures teach, the church stands or falls.

And as for the slogan “To God alone be glory,” well, religion today is human-centered rather than God-centered. We see it in worship; we see it in every facet in evangelism. Once again, even the churches are focused on how God can make us happy and fulfilled.

Folks, we are very interested in the Reformation not because it’s a thing that happened in the past but because we’re the same stew. We’re not slavishly devoted to the sixteenth-century Reformation; they made mistakes just as we will, but we do believe that it was the single greatest recovery of apostolic Christianity since the death of the apostles themselves. By God’s grace, they returned God’s Word to the stage in all of its authority, conviction, grace, and redemption, bringing that long-awaited renewal to the body of Christ that so many had sought through more superficial avenues. And we’re right at that place now where everybody’s seeking renewal and revival through all of the avenues that were pursued before the Reformation, before they got to the doctrinal and theological heart of the crisis.

(Michael Horton, “Do We Need a New Reformation?” White Horse Inn Broadcast)