Consider and Imitate: Why Should We Celebrate the Reformation Today?
By Luke Stamps –
The Credo blog has been host this week to some insightful reflections on the Reformation. So, perhaps these commentaries, historical analyses, sermons, and interviews could stand alone in answer to the question, “Why should we celebrate the Reformation today?” The edifying nature of these historical reflections is self-evident.
But perhaps it would be beneficial to think more carefully about why we have undertaken this Reformation Week project and why we would encourage others to continue remembering and rejoicing in these seminal Reformation events. In that vein, I offer several reasons why I think it is profitable for evangelical churches, families, and individuals to celebrate the Reformation today.
1. We are commanded in Scripture to remember and imitate those who taught us the Word of God.
“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:7-8). This command is most readily applicable in the context of the local church. We see the result of our parents’ faith or the faith of our elders, deacons, Sunday School teachers, and friends, and our desire is to imitate their trust in and obedience to Christ. But by extension, we can apply this command more broadly by honoring Christians in every place and time who have helped to shape our faith. So, as we read Luther’s stirring account of The Freedom of the Christian or Calvin’s still-relevant commentaries on Scripture or Knox’s Scots Confession, we ought to remember, consider, and imitate what we learn of God’s Word in these writings. We will, no doubt, find some things in their writings and lives that we ought not to imitate. But that shouldn’t deter us from appropriating the great insights and examples of the Reformation era.
2. Studying the theological reflections of the past provides perspective on the theological debates of the present.
Some of the issues that fascinate the contemporary evangelical imagination are worlds apart from the concerns of the Reformation. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We have to respond faithfully to the issues of our own day. But at the same time, reading the past helps to remove some of the theological blinders that might be in place because of our contemporary setting. C. S. Lewis’s advice about reading “old books” is still relevant in this regard:
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books (from his introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation).
So, sometimes the concerns of the past awaken us to the importance of issues that we might be tempted to miss or downplay. For example, the Reformers mere much more concerned with the sacraments/ordinances than many contemporary evangelicals appear to be. As we learn from the Marburg Colloquy, the Reformers were not afraid to part ways with one another over differing opinions about the Lord’s Supper. This disagreement need not be interpreted as some insipid divisiveness over a secondary issue. Instead, we might learn from their example that baptism and the Lord’s Supper have more significance for Christian spirituality than perhaps contemporary evangelicals appreciate.
3. The Reformation is not over!
Despite the rapprochement attempted by some ecumenicists, the core disagreements between confessional Protestants and Tridentine Roman Catholics remain intact (as an example, see this helpful dialogue between Michael Horton and Roman Catholic convert Christian Smith). This doesn’t mean that we can’t acknowledge areas of agreement with Roman Catholicism (say, over the Trinity or the dignity of unborn human life) or that ecumenical dialogue is an entirely fruitless endeavor. But still, theological honesty compels us to acknowledge that the solas of the Reformation still divide us. Even more pressing is the need for continuing Reformation within our own ranks. It is not uncommon today to read self-professed evangelicals questioning biblical inerrancy, justification by faith alone, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, the exclusivity of Christ, and other cardinal Reformation doctrines. Studying the Reformation gives us an opportunity to retrieve the theological gains of our forebears, even as we test all theological opinions—both past and present—according to the rule of Scripture.
4. The Reformation provides an occasion to give thanks and praise to God.
In keeping with the Reformation cry Soli Deo Gloria—glory to God alone—this is perhaps the most important reason to celebrate the Reformation. The ultimate reason for reflecting on God’s work in the past is the praise and glory of God. Consider these words from Asaph:
I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God? (Psalm 77:11-13)
So then, let us continue to remember and celebrate the mighty work of God in the Reformation. Let us praise him for the Reformation’s recovery of biblical authority and of the apostolic gospel. And let us pray for a similar outpouring of God’s Spirit in our own day. Soli Deo Gloria.
Luke Stamps is a Ph.D. candidate at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in systematic theology. Luke is a weekly contributor to the Credo blog and also blogs at Before All Things. Luke is married to Josie, and they have three children, Jack, Claire, and Henry. Luke is a member of Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.