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Reforming the Church

November 22, 2021

I recently read an article by Tish Harrison Warren, published in Christianity Today.  Warren says,

“There have always been reformers in the church, and we did not call them deconstructors.  This is not merely semantics.  To call something to reform (as opposed to simply destroying it) is to implicitly recognize the integrity of its original design.”

I was recently engaged in a conversation with someone about the Protestant Reformation.  He told me that a friend of his (a Christian) had never heard about the Reformation.  I have often had the same conversation.  One I can recall, utterly shocked me.  The man confused Martin Luther with Martin Luther King.  He had heard of King, but he had not heard of Luther.  When I asked him whether he ever wondered why the church he attended was not a Roman Catholic Church, he responded it had never occurred to him.

These common stories remind me why it is that the wider evangelical community needs to be reformed.  Notice I did not say it needs to be deconstructed.  Rather, it must be reformed to conform to its original design.  But when we have forgotten what the original design looked like, we are in danger of being deconstructed.

Of course the Reformation was not perfect.  Even the reformers themselves recognized that.  They believed in a reformed church that was always reforming.  But Terry L Johnson, in his excellent book, “Traditional Protestantism” helps show us what we gained when the church was first reformed in the 1500’s.  He writes,

“Do you appreciate congregational singing?  Then thank the reformers for reviving it.  Do you believe the Bible should be read in the language of the people?  Then thank Martin Luther and his German Bible for paving the way for a host of new translations of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures into the vernacular.  Is your soul spiritually fed by preaching?  Then thank the Reformers for restoring the preached Word to its central place in the life of the people of God.  Do you think communion should be taken in ‘both kinds’, the bread and the wine?  Then thank the Reformers for emphasizing it.  Do you know the answer to the question, ‘What must I do to be saved?’  Then thank Martin Luther for rescuing the biblical answer to that question from the medieval innovations by which it had been obscured.”

The point is, that these great achievements were not a new innovation or a progressive understanding of the Christian faith.  The Reformers believed they were attempting to re-establish the church to its initial state.  They painstakingly showed that they were not the new kid on the block, but that the innovations had all happened within the Roman Church.  And so, even while they were not perfect, their task was to reform and continue to do so.

I believe we need to recapture this spirit in our day.  I recently read an article that showed that the seeker sensitive movement of the late 1980’s and beyond has shown itself to be a failure.  It has resulted in, not a reformation of the church, but a departure from the original design.  By innovating our worship services, we have only strayed further into a progressive form of the faith, rather than the one true historic faith.

My prayer is that God will send us reformers and not innovators.


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