For years, I've promised to write a Reformation Day post. Every year, I've failed. This year, I've made no such promise, but here I am succeeding. Irony, thy name is Chris Krycho, at least for the next hour.
492 years ago—179,976 days, including leap years—Martin Luther nailed up a list of issues he saw with the Catholic church of his day on the door of a Wittenburg church. What followed was one of the most momentous changes in the history of the church, and indeed the world. It is no exaggeration to say that I sit here today, typing away, because of Martin Luther and the men that followed his lead. They shook the world, both for good and for ill.
I am grateful for men like Luther and Calvin and Zwingli. I walk with Christ because these men were as faithful as they could be to the Bible. They took it as their authority, let it rule their doctrine and their lives. They were horribly imperfect men; from Luther's anti-Semitism to Calvin's failure with Servetus, they stumbled along the way. I find it encouraging that these men, sinners all, were used powerfully by God. He is not limited by our weaknesses.
One could say many things today. For my part, I want to focus in on one thing I think the reformers themselves did very well that Protestants have generally done quite poorly ever since: reform.
The Reformers' name isn't a misnomer. Luther and Calvin both deeply valued unity, and wanted an internal restoration of the church they loved. By all accounts they were grieved that their own excommunication was the result of their efforts. They fought hard for what they believed was true, but they also cared deeply about following Christ's commands that we seek unity. For too many Christians since the Reformation, schism has become the easiest out when a doctrinal difference appears. Instead of asking whether or not we can find a way to either resolve the difference or live with the difference, we simply split and go our own way.
Worse, schism has become such a norm that churches have split over the proverbial carpet color. Instead of being a people known by their love for one another, Christians (at least, of the Protestant fold) have become a people known for their divisions. When any given topic has the potential to produce church-splitting conflicts, we are not modeling the love of Christ. We need to learn right practice as well as right doctrine from the reformers. Yes, we must hold fast to right teaching, to sound doctrine, and to the primacy of Scripture. We should not be afraid to call heresy out for what it is. At the same time, we need to be careful not to call heresy things that aren't, and we need to show grace to our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We must strive to reform our churches instead of splitting them.
When Christ is rightly esteemed, we have a much better grasp on just how unimportant things like our own decor preferences are. When He is understood to be the center of and the aim of all we're doing, our own ministry aims must be subsumed to the greater goals of the church. When Christ crucified and come to life again is our gospel, we understand that many of our doctrinal differences are simply unworthy of schism. Indeed, only heresy is worth a violent separation, and few doctrines are worth any separation at all! I may not be a Presbyterian, for example—I'm not much one for infant baptism!—but I certainly ought to have close fellowship with my Presbyterian brothers and sisters in Christ. We have much more that unites us than separates. We shouldn't paper over our differences, but we can treat them as what they are: trifling, compared to our unity on Christ and His work. When issues arise in our own churches, we should work with all of our power to resolve them or to come to a place of amicable disagreement. If at long last we should come to the conclusion that it is best to go our separate ways—e.g. over infant baptism—then it ought to be done with the deepest charity and the most heartfelt affection. When churches do separate, they ought to do it with love for one another and with the aim to continue in fellowship and in cooperation for the gospel.
Happy Reformation Day. Keep reforming.
Sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solo Christo, soli Deo gloria.
By Scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone, glory to God alone.