On October 31, 2017, the Protestant Church will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses on the doors of the Wittenberg church. This event is commonly marked in history as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, although the seeds of the Reformation were planted years before. Nevertheless, we intend to mark this momentous occasion at Riverview with a celebration this coming Tuesday, October 31 from 6:00-7:30 with our "Reformation Celebration."
While many great reforms were made to the church as a part of the Reformation, the most commonly known are the "Five Solas of the Reformation," Latin phrases that succinctly delineate the doctrine of salvation: Sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, sola scriptura, soli Deo gloria. Translated into English these phrases state that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, according to scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.
Another Latin phrase that came from the Reformation is: "Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda." Translated to English, this means, "The church reformed, always reforming." When we think about the Reformation, we tend to think of historical events, such as Luther nailing his 95 Theses, or historical people, such as Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and many others. But the spirit of the Reformation, I think, is encapsulated nicely in this latin phrase: Semper reformanda.
Semper Reformanda ("always reforming") reminds us that reformation is not an historical event - it is a continual process that never ends. That is, we always need reformation. The need for us to reform our thinking by submitting to the authority of the word of God and living and serving in God's grace is one that is continuous for Christians. Indeed, we will be "reforming" until the day we die.
Our continual need for reformation has been brought to bear recently by way of a Christianity Today article, in which a Pew Research study recently revealed that 52% (!) of American Protestants believe that faith in God and good deeds are necessary for entrance into heaven. 52% also believe that scripture alone is not enough to know God - one must also have the traditions and teachings of the church. Across the ocean in Europe (the birthplace of the Reformation), the numbers are similar amongst European Protestants. For many protestants across the globe, the Reformation (and distinctly Protestant) doctrines of sola fide (faith alone) and sola scripture (scripture alone) have gone by the wayside
Not only do these percentages (and many more listed in the CT article) reveal that the majority of Protestants have no grasp on their Protestant heritage and history, but even more concerning is that these statistics reveal that the majority of Protestants have fallen into wrong thinking about the Bible and the gospel. If 52% of American Protestants believe that faith and good deeds are necessary for salvation, then 52% of American Protestants aren't believing the biblical gospel.
Put simply, the majority of Protestants in America and Europe have stopped reforming.
As Christians, we are in a daily battle against the flesh and against spiritual forces to sin, doubt, and rethink our relationship with God through Christ. We try to add to what he has done by keeping a tally of our good works, hoping that we can earn God's favor. Or we are tempted to listen to spiritual gurus (or even pastors), or other man-centered spiritual wisdom as our authority on spiritual matters, instead of the Bible. Our daily battle against these temptations to continually submit ourselves to the authority of scripture and rest in God's grace through faith - not through any merit of our own - is at the heart of semper reformanda.
We need to continually reform our thinking to know that we are saved by God's grace, and not by works. We need to continually reform our thinking to know that salvation comes through faith, and not through any other means. We need to continually reform our thinking to hold that faith in Christ is the only way of salvation. We need to continually reform our submission to God's word as the only authority in all matters of life. We need to continually reform our belief that God alone is sovereign, and that his glory is the chief end of man.
If and when we stop reforming, we fall into error. If and when we stop reforming, we will be believing something less than the biblical gospel.
The battle for a pure and biblical faith and Christian life is a continuing one. Although the Protestant Reformation is recognized to have started on October 31, 1517, it is not over. We must continue to always reform our thinking, our churches, and our faith to come into line with what scripture teaches. The moment we stop reforming, we begin to fall away from the truth of God's word and the biblical gospel.
Although we are celebrating an historical event on October 31, we are also celebrating the Reformation that is happening today in our churches and in our hearts, as we continue to submit ourselves to God and his word.
"Semper reformanda. Soli Deo gloria."