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.


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)

Fueling Reformation

sproul_3Article: Fueling Reformation by Dr. R. C. Sproul (original source how can anybody possibly schedule a revival? True revivals are provoked by the sovereign work of God through the stirring of His Holy Spirit in the hearts of people. They happen when the Holy Spirit comes into the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37) and exerts His power to bring new life, a revivification of the spiritual life of the people of God.

This kind of thing cannot be manipulated by any human program. Historically, no one scheduled the Protestant Reformation. The Welsh revival was not on anyone’s agenda, nor was the American Great Awakening penciled into someone’s date book. These epic events in church history resulted from the sovereign work of God, who brought His power to bear on churches that had become virtually moribund.

But we have to understand the difference between revival and reformation. Revival, as the word suggests, means a renewing of life. When evangelism is a priority in the church, such outreach will often bring about revival. However, these revivals of spiritual life do not always result in reformation. Reformation indicates changing forms of church and society. Revivals grow into reformations when the impact of the gospel begins to change the structures of the culture. Revival can produce a multitude of new Christians, but these new Christians have to grow into maturity before they begin to make a significant impact on the surrounding culture.

Reformation can involve a change for the better. We must not be so naïve as to think that all change is necessarily good. Sometimes when we feel that we are in the doldrums or that progress has been stultified, we cry out for change, forgetting for the moment that change may be regressive rather than progressive. If I drink a vial of poison, it will change me, but not for the better. Nevertheless, change is often good.

In our day, we have seen the rise of what has been called the “New Calvinism,” which tends to focus primarily on the so-called five points of Calvinism. This movement within the church has attracted a great deal of attention, even in the secular media.

Yet it would be wise to not identify Calvinism exhaustively with those five points. Rather, the five points function as a pathway or a bridge to the entire structure of Reformed theology. Charles Spurgeon himself argued that Calvinism is merely a nickname for biblical theology. He and many other titans of the past understood that the essence of Reformed theology cannot be reduced to five particular points that arose centuries ago in Holland in response to controversy with the Arminians, who objected to five specific points of the system of doctrine found in historic Calvinism. For the purposes of this article, it might be helpful to look at both what Reformed theology is and is not.

Reformed theology is not a chaotic set of disconnected ideas. Rather, Reformed theology is systematic. The Bible, being the Word of God, reflects the coherence and unity of the God whose Word it is. To be sure, it would be a distortion to force a foreign system of thought upon Scripture, making Scripture conform to it as if it were some kind of procrustean bed. That is not the goal of sound systematic theology. Rather, true systematic theology seeks to understand the system of theology that is contained within the whole scope of sacred Scripture. It does not impose ideas upon the Bible; it listens to the ideas that are proclaimed by the Bible and understands them in a coherent way.

Reformed theology is not anthropocentric. That is to say, Reformed theology is not centered on human beings. The central focal point of Reformed theology is God, and the doctrine of God permeates the whole of Reformed thought. Thus, Reformed theology, by way of affirmation, can be called theocentric. Indeed, its understanding of the character of God is primary and determinant with respect to its understanding of all other doctrines. That is to say, its understanding of salvation has as its control factor — its heart — a particular understanding of God’s sovereign character.

Reformed theology is not anticatholic. This may seem strange since Reformed theology grew directly out of the Protestant movement against the teaching and activity of Roman Catholicism. But the term catholic refers to catholic Christianity, the essence of which may be found in the ecumenical creeds of the first thousand years of church history, particularly those of the early church councils, such as the Council of Nicea in the fourth century and the Council of Chalcedon in the fifth century. That is to say, those creeds contain common articles of faith shared by all denominations that embrace orthodox Christianity, doctrines such as the Trinity and the atonement of Christ. The doctrines affirmed by all Christians are at the heart and core of Calvinism. Calvinism does not depart on a search for a new theology and reject the common base of theology that the whole church shares.

Reformed theology is not Roman Catholic in its understanding of justification. This is simply to say that Reformed theology is evangelical in the historical sense of the word. In this regard, Reformed theology stands strongly and firmly with Martin Luther and the magisterial Reformers in their articulation of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, as well as the doctrine of sola Scriptura. Neither of these doctrines is explicitly declared in the five points of Calvinism; yet, in a sense, they become part of the foundation for the other characteristics of Reformed theology.

All this is to say that Reformed theology so far transcends the mere five points of Calvinism that it is an entire worldview. It is covenantal. It is sacramental. It is committed to transforming culture. It is subordinate to the operation of God the Holy Spirit, and it has a rich framework for understanding the entirety of the counsel of God revealed in the Bible.

So it should go without saying that the most important development that will bring about reformation is not simply the revival of Calvinism. What has to happen is the renewal of the understanding of the gospel itself. It is when the gospel is clearly proclaimed in all of its fullness that God exercises His redeeming power to bring about renewal in the church and in the world. It is in the gospel and nowhere else that God has given His power unto salvation.

If we want reformation, we have to start with ourselves. We have to start bringing the gospel itself out of darkness, so that the motto of every reformation becomes post tenebras lux — “after darkness, light.” Luther declared that every generation must declare freshly the gospel of the New Testament. He also said that anytime the gospel is clearly and boldly proclaimed, it will bring about conflict, and those of us who are inherently adverse to conflict will find it tempting to submerge the gospel, dilute the gospel, or obscure the gospel in order to avoid conflict. We, of course, are able to add offense to the gospel by our own ill-mannered attempts to proclaim it. But there is no way to remove the offense that is inherent to the gospel message, because it is a stumbling block, a scandal to a fallen world. It will inevitably bring conflict. If we want reformation, we must be prepared to endure such conflict to the glory of God.