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A Continuing Reformation

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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October 8, 2022 12:01 am

A Continuing Reformation

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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October 8, 2022 12:01 am

The Protestant Reformation is more than a relic of history. God's people in every generation are called to reform the church and their own lives according to His Word. Today, Michael Reeves addresses the enduring relevance of the Reformation for Christians.

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By the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church had become increasingly corrupt, and many people saw a need for reform.

And I think there's an interesting parallel to today. I think so many people in the Church see a need for reformation today. Many people of all sorts of different theological stripes will say, oh yes, we need reformation, but what they mean by it is let's just have people behaving better.

Having people behave better would be treating the symptom and not the source of the problem. Hello and welcome to Renewing Your Mind. I'm Lee Webb. The Protestant Reformation is more than a relic of Christian history. God's people in every generation are called to reform the Church and their own lives according to God's Word.

But what does that look like? Today we're pleased to feature a seminar from the 2022 Ligonier Ministries National Conference. Hosts Nathan W. Bingham and Dr. Michael Reeves address the enduring relevance of the Reformation. What we're going to be talking about tonight is the Reformation, and the title of the seminar is The Continuing Reformation. So as we think about the Reformation, was it a once and done thing, or is the Church always in need of reformation? Well, we tend to think of the Reformation as a once and done thing.

That Martin Luther, he pins his 95 Theses to the door of the castle of the Church in Bittenberg, and then at some point presumably it's over. But that's not how the Reformers ever saw it at all, because they were seeing that Reformation is not primarily a negative movement about merely opposing errors. So for the Reformers they're not saying we exist to say how Rome is wrong.

They would be pointing out errors, but that's a secondary thing. Reformation is primarily a positive movement about purifying the Church by the Word of God. And because of the nature of what Reformation is, that means the Reformation cannot be over. And so there have been people today who've used that sort of language of asking, is the Reformation over?

And that's something we could possibly talk about, what they might mean by that. But the very nature of Reformation means, no, it's not a process that will stop, because Reformation needs to be continuous. The Church needs to be continually, ongoingly purified, reformed, refreshed by the Word of God. Just to set some context for us, when we think of the Reformation, we as Reformed Christians often think about justification by faith alone.

But how, not necessarily to set the stage, but paint the picture of what the world looked like at that time. How did the Reformation influence and change not just the Church, but the world in the 16th century? Well, I don't know if people here, if many of you have had struggles with justification, personal assurance of salvation. If you've had a struggle over assurance of salvation, you've got a better sense of what it would have been like to live in medieval Europe before the Reformation. So I think of, for example, one English lady called Marjorie Kemp, who lived before the Reformation, who was brought up with, here's the sort of thing theologians in her day said, God will give grace to those who do their best.

So the understanding was that God either is giving you grace to help, as a reward for you doing well, or maybe a tiny bit better. The idea was that our problem is basically that we're spiritually lazy. It's not that people are spiritually dead and need new life. The problem is that they're spiritually lazy.

So imagine it's like this. Basically, we all know we need to be holy, but we just can't be bothered. And so what happens is God gives us grace. And the way to imagine grace in medieval Roman Catholicism is think of a can of Red Bull.

So you just can't be bothered. You get up every day and you think, oh, I know I need to be holy, but I'm tired. Here, have a can of grace.

And you get this by going to church. And once you down this grace, it makes you just full of energy. And by that energy, you go out and do good works. And so under that salvation, you are saved by grace. If you don't have the Red Bull, you don't have the energy to go out and do the good works. The grace was the Red Bull that enabled you to do the works, but it's the works that earn you heaven.

Right? So you couldn't go to heaven without grace, but it is your works that earned it. And what people like Marjorie Kemp struggled with is, well, have I done enough to be worthy of heaven? So I've received grace, this enabling to be better, but have I done enough?

And so Marjorie Kemp was driven to distraction, imagining devils wanting to drag her down to hell because she wasn't sufficiently holy. And Martin Luther was another classic one, that he was absolutely terrified of suddenly dying and not being able to confess his last sins because he wouldn't then, he wouldn't be able to go to heaven. And so justification was the news that turned Luther around. And what Luther says, he saw in Romans 1.17, I saw that the righteousness of God is a gift. He said, it was as if I had entered heaven itself through open gates. Because he saw that when God gives grace, it's not that he gives an enabling can of Red Bull, it's that he gives us Christ. And not merely as an enabler, but as a savior who achieves everything for us.

So Luther, when he wanted to explain the gospel, he said, rather than being, you know, we're enabled by God, the gospel works like this. Imagine you have a king and a poor girl, in fact, who's a prostitute. This poor girl could never get rid of her debts. She's so deeply in debt. Her life's a mess.

She could never become the queen. But what happens is the king comes and woos her and takes her to be his own. And on the wedding day, she says to him, all that I am I give to you, and all I have I share with you. And so she shares with him all her sin, her debt, her shame, and he takes it. And then the king says to her, all that I am I give to you, all that I have I share with you.

And that, said Luther, is the great marriage swap of the gospel. We give to Christ our bridegroom, all our guilt, and he shares with us all his righteousness. Meaning, he said, that the believer can look at her sins in the face of death and hell, and say, if I've sinned, my Christ, who is mine, has not sinned. And all mine, my sin, is his. And all his, his righteousness, is mine. And what that did for Luther was change a scared, nervous, anxious, deeply depressed young man into a boldly happy man who knew he could be confident because of Christ, and not because of his own performance. He became so boldly confident he could stand in front of the emperor and the whole church and refuse to back down on his teaching. So you get to see through this teaching of justification by faith alone.

Sorry, that's a long answer, Nathan. Through this teaching on justification by faith alone, nervous, cowards, and scared, depressed, confused young Christians, became joyful, bold reformers, lions in the cause of the gospel, and taught many others the same, such as from even small seeds. The world was profoundly affected. So outside of the church, how do we see the influence of the Reformation working out? How did it change Western world?

It changed the Western world in many different ways. One of the first things you would notice in Wittenberg is printing became the dominant industry, same in Geneva. And so they are pouring out books. And from Geneva, men would be sent out, raised in Geneva, taught, trained in theology, given little books that would be small pocket-sized things they could take with them so they could preach the gospel. So printing, literacy.

Some other ones, for example, the reformers were some of the first to oppose animal blood sports, cruelty to animals, so cock fighting, bull baiting, those sorts of things. So they're wanting to see, we're wanting the gospel to transform lives. But sometimes as we talk about what transformation into Christ-likeness looks like, we're going to get into real practicalities of what society is going to look like differently. So it was very profound, right across from literacy to animal rights. So you brought up the printing press.

And I do want to spend some time, if we can, thinking about the church today and is there any similarities in the church today as there was back then. But even from a technological perspective, you mentioned publishing, the printing press. Are we living in a similar time with social media, the ease in which we can spread information?

Absolutely we are. So one of the things that's interesting about Luther is he was very ahead of the technology for his day. And it's one reason, humanly speaking, why he was so successful. So his opponents, when he started writing, his Roman Catholic opponents would write these long-winded theological tomes.

And guess how they'd do it? In Latin. Luther would write short pamphlets in the German of the everyday, which just meant that far more people were reading Luther than his opponents. And it was going out on printing presses that Luther had to very quickly be using three different publishers because they couldn't publish as fast as he could write. And so you get to see his smart use of what was a very new technology, Gutenberg's movable type printing press. So that was the new technology of the day. And I think what we've been given with the internet and social media, with technological advances of the last 30 years or so, we've been given another Gutenberg moment, a chance to seize the new technology.

And it's interesting, back then you could see people looking at the new technology saying, this new technology is dangerous, look at all the ways it can be abused. And you can see Luther and others soon after, you could see them saying, yes it can be, but we can use this for the glory of Christ. So focusing now on the church, are there similarities between the church today and the church pre-Reformation?

There are many similarities. Something that's interesting is that before the Reformation, for 150 years or so before it started, there were many within the Roman Catholic Church who saw the need for Reformation. But what they meant by that was, hey look, we all know there are priests who get drunk before mass and there are popes who, so for example Pope Alexander VI was known for poisoning his cardinals and holding orgies in the Vatican. It was just known this happens. And everyone would snigger a bit and think, this isn't good that popes behave like that and the local parish priest behaves like that.

But we all know it happens. And so there would be a sense of, well couldn't we do better? And so there would be attempts at Reformation. But what Reformation meant was, let's be better Roman Catholics. There isn't a problem with the theology, it's just we need to behave better. And what made Luther really different was to see the theological roots of the problem.

And I think there's an interesting parallel to today. I think so many people in the church see a need for Reformation today. They see falling leaders, lack of integrity, spiritual hollowness. Many people of all sorts of different theological stripes will say, oh yes we need Reformation.

But what they mean by it is quite superficial. Let's just have people behaving better. And if you can just improve behavior, that'll sort it. A little moral bath is all the church needs. And I think if we're to see a true Reformation of the church in our day, it's got to be by recovering the central truths of the Gospel, which were the truths that were trumpeted at the Reformation. So justification by faith alone, the supremacy of scripture, the need for sinners to be born again, Christ as a completely sufficient savior.

We don't need to add anything to what he's done. Those are the truths that will change lives. But a hundred years after the Reformation got going, Richard Sibbes, a Puritan, wrote, of these last hundred years of Reformation, there has been more lightsomeness and comfort.

Why? For Christ hath been better known. So he's saying it is the preaching of Christ in his Gospel that is what does the work of transformation and Reformation. And if we're to see a Reformation in our day, that's what we need, not a superficial pragmatic answer. So my next question was going to be how do we foster a Reformation like that? And so the answer is that it begins in the pulpit.

Absolutely. I mean, one of the key things you saw at the time of the Reformation was the change in preaching. So they used to talk about strawberry pastas before the Reformation. A strawberry pastor was one who appeared in church once a year like a strawberry appears once a year.

And they wouldn't really preach. The central architectural focus of churches was the altar because there's a place of sacrifice afresh to God. And that was one of the most noticeable things hitting the architecture of the church, that the pulpit would go central. That at the heart of church life is not the need to continually offer up sacrifices to God because Christ has been sacrificed, Hebrews 7.27, once for all.

You don't need to repeat that. He's achieved salvation completely in himself. So what we need is preaching that heralds his redemption. And so the great practical change in churches at the time of the Reformation was now we start to see a regular expository preaching of scripture so that people are hearing this gospel rather than a priest intoning incoherent words in Latin and saying, hocus pocus, which was hocus corpus meum, this is my body, misunderstood.

So it became hocus pocus is just some magical words that holy men say. It was preaching that brought about the last Reformation. It's preaching, the preaching of Christ from scripture that will bring about a Reformation of the church in our day. And a faithful preaching that shows not merely any Christ, Christ as an example, but Christ as absolutely unique, completely sufficient savior so that we can have the confidence in him that Luther had. What are some of the key doctrines from the Reformation that the church may have forgotten today? Justification by faith alone is right at the center. But actually, as we talked about how grace was understood in Roman Catholicism, you see, the issue is really that every word that was used, grace, faith, salvation, these were used in Roman Catholic circles in the Middle Ages and still be used today.

The issue is they meant different things by them. So a Roman Catholic could, before the Reformation and still could today, say, we are saved through grace by faith. The Pope will teach that. But what a Roman Catholic means by that is that we are saved by this grace enables me to be changed, to become holy, to do the good works on the basis of which I'm saved. So grace enables me. Whereas Luther's marriage illustration says, no, Christ clothes you with a righteousness that is not your own. He doesn't merely enable people to come righteous in themselves. Christ clothes sinners with his own righteousness. And so I find that this is ongoingly a pastoral problem in churches today. There's a lack of clarity on what salvation is. Is grace an enabling help? But God really is only helping people save themselves.

So it's down to you to do a good job, in which case you'll be nervous if you take that seriously. Or can you have the boldness of depending entirely, entirely upon Christ? And lack of clarity there is widespread. I think clarity on who Christ is needs to be recovered again today. We need to be clear that when we talk about Christ, we're not talking about someone who is a spiritual guru or butler, who can merely help us along a little bit, as if really salvation is down to us, but Jesus very kindly just gives us a helping hand. We need to see the Christ of scripture is so totally sufficient that without him there is no salvation. But with him we can rejoice.

With him we can have boldness because he's achieved it all. I think the Reformation impacted truths from who God is. Is God gracious in his being? Or is he waiting for us to sort ourselves out, not actually very gracious, right through to the work of the Spirit in our hearts? Is it that actually we can just behave better and that's good enough for God? Or is it it doesn't matter how you behave because your heart's so sick, your issue is you need to be born again. You need the Spirit to turn your heart, to give you a heart of flesh, that instead of dreading God and delighting in sin, delights in God and dreads sin.

Reformation impacted all these truths. When you talk about the clarity of the gospel it also brings assurance. You don't need to doubt whether you're a Christian when you recognize that God is the one that saves sinners. Absolutely right, absolutely right, and therefore you see that happy boldness.

C.S. Lewis talked about the Protestant faith brought a buoyant humility that he saw almost as a litmus test of faithfulness to being Protestant. That if there isn't a sense of a rejoicing in who Christ is, you've not quite grasped how great and sufficient a savior he is. And if you're not humbled, if there's some pride in yourself, again you're thinking you're contributing. You're not depending entirely upon Christ, so buoyant humility is the tone of Reformation spirituality.

I love that, buoyant humility or happy boldness. That's great, but one final question for you. What lessons can the church today learn, any lessons you haven't mentioned already, but what lessons can we learn from the Reformation of the church today? I think we can learn the lesson of Luther. Luther personally struggled to the point where he said, I did not love, but I hated God. And if you find yourself or someone you know in that position, feeling either lukewarm, disinterested, couldn't care less about God, or actually worse, I really hate God, as Luther said. You can know that there is great hope and transformation, as Luther found, by pressing into the gospel made known in Scripture. That in Scripture, Luther found a God so gracious, he'd not dreamed such a being could exist, and it turned him around. And there's a lesson of hope for us today, that for those of us who have family, who seem bored or hostile to the faith, if we can open up to them, make available to them the Christ of Scripture, the gospel of justification by faith alone of a sufficient Savior who dies in the place of sinners, then the bored and the hostile can be turned to a buoyant humility, to a happy boldness. That's Dr. Michael Rives, along with my colleague here at Ligonier Ministries, Nathan W. Bingham, talking about our need for continued reformation. Thanks for listening to Renewing Your Mind.

I'm Lee Webb. This past March, Ligonier Ministries hosted its 2022 national conference, our theme, Upholding Christian Ethics. Our speakers considered how God's Word takes the moral confusion that surrounds us and puts it in proper perspective. When we have a Christian understanding of ethics, we're prepared to stand for the truth, to love our neighbors well, and to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. That seems daunting, doesn't it? How do we achieve a full understanding of what the Bible says about ethics?

Well, a good place to start is R.C. Sproul's book, Everyone's a Theologian. It's an introduction to systematic theology. In it, Dr. Sproul surveys the basic truths of the Christian faith, and if you've never contacted us before, we'd be happy to send you a free copy.

You can make your request online today when you go to If you are new to the ministry, let me also recommend that you explore the many podcasts we produce here at Ligonier. For example, you can learn about the people and events that have shaped the church with Dr. Stephen Nichols. His podcast is Five Minutes in Church History. Or Barry Cooper explains some of the big words that we read in theology textbooks, and as a result, we realize they're not as difficult as we think. His podcast is called Simply Put. You can explore all of the podcasts we produce at slash podcasts. Renewing Your Mind is the listener-supported outreach of Ligonier Ministries. I'm Lee Webb. Thank you for being with us today, and I hope you'll make plans to be with us again next Saturday. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-24 20:56:04 / 2022-12-24 21:05:25 / 9

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