As I write this, Reformation Day is approaching. The four hundred sixtieth anniversary of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century will soon be upon us. As you read this, that occasion will be just past.
It is not amiss, therefore, that our thoughts should turn to the subject of the reformation of the church.
Those thoughts, however, should not only be thoughts of thankful commemoration of a past event. Nor should they only be thoughts of admiration of such ecclesiastical giants and warriors as a Martin Luther and a John Calvin. They should be thoughts pertinent to the present, pertinent to the present condition of the church, pertinent to our calling to be “Reformed, and ever reforming,” pertinent to the question whether we are faithful to our Reformation heritage.
Let me raise some questions in this connection.
In the first place, could and would the Reformation take place today? Or is it true, perhaps, that if a Luther or a Calvin had assumed the attitude of many in the church today, we would all still be in the Roman Catholic Church?
You are inclined to think that is a bit of a melodramatic question?
I think not. On the contrary, it is realistic.
Viewing only what is referred to as the Reformed community, what do we see? Everywhere, but especially both in this country and in the Netherlands, there is sad deformation. To catalogue the errors, cardinal errors, which have made their ugly appearance in Reformed churches only within the last ten or fifteen years, let alone the past fifty, would require more than the space of a brief article. To mention only a few of the outstanding ones, there is the denial of the inspiration and authority and infallibility of Holy Scripture, the denial of the truth of creation, the denial of the historicity of the first eleven chapters of Genesis, the denial of sovereign reprobation, the denial of sovereign election from eternity, the denial of the vicarious bearing of the wrath of God in the death of Christ, the denial of definite (limited atonement), and there is the Arminian error of free-offerism and free-willism—principally the very same Semi-Pelagianism which saturated the Roman Catholic Church at the time of Luther and Calvin. Then we have not even mentioned yet the rampant horizontalism and social gospelism or the tremendous tendency toward world conformity, and that, too, with the blessing of the church.
And what is done?
Some, indeed, have raised ecclesiastical protests. Others cry about the futility of protest. Still others wring their hands in the public ecclesiastical press, filling page after page with negativistic chronicles of the sore ills plaguing their denomination. Others complain more mildly, even threatening to withdraw financial support for the church’s institutions. Others seek refuge in gimmicks such as “emergency congregations” or propose the establishment of “household congregations” within their denomination—because the truth is that they either cannot or will not accomplish reformation through separation. And meanwhile ecclesiastical assemblies hold a protective hand over those guilty of error either through endless discussion (dialogue) or through shunting matters to study committees; or else the assemblies themselves uphold and promulgate the errors.
But is there reformation?
Is there even a genuine willingness to accomplish reformation—either reformation from within the church or reformation through separation?
Is there not only a holy indignation at the God-dishonoring errors, but also a positive seeking and maintaining and proclaiming of the unadulterated truth of God’s Word?
Is there the firm and resolute “Here I stand” attitude of a Martin Luther?
And among the ministers of the gospel is there a resolute concern to militate against all errors repugnant to the confessions, to warn against error, but also positively to proclaim the full-orbed “faith once delivered to the saints” and to instruct God’s people and cause them to grow in the riches of the truth and to develop in the line of our confessions? Or is there concern for an easy position, for a high salary and fringe benefits, for a comfortable parsonage? Is there a reluctance to “rock the boat?? Is there fear that one might lose his pension? Is there fear of standing alone? Is there a tendency to “count noses” to see how many might perhaps go along if there were a split, lest one might find himself isolated in a small and insignificant “splinter group”?
And how about you yourself? Where do you stand? What would you o? No, what are you doing? Are you at ease in Zion?
A final question: do you beseech God earnestly that He will bring about reformation? For after all, genuine reformation is His work, the work of His sovereign grace alone. And if you do beseech Him, is your own attitude and are your actions in accord with your prayer? Or is that prayer a piece of hypocritical mockery?
Would that there would be more of the attitude today which is expressed in Luther’s hymn:
That word above all earthly powers—
No thanks to them—bideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill,
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.