Knowing, Loving, and Living Our Reformation Heritage Introduction and Sola Scriptura
This topic is very dear to my heart. For the past twenty years I have been engaged in studies on the Reformation and I feel it has much to say to us, but also, I feel deeply that it must be lived in our lives and loved in our hearts by free, sovereign grace. Hence, my title – "Knowing, Loving, and Living Our Reformation Heritage."
It is good that at such a time as this we focus our attention not on secular "Halloween" festivities but on the godly sobriety of Reformation Day. October 31 stands in the world's eyes as an antithesis to what we claim October 31 to be: God's heralding in of Reformed, scriptural truth.
The date of October 31, as you well know, takes us back to Martin Luther's posting of ninety-five theses on the church doors of Wittenberg. At this time each season we do well to pause and consider, "What does the Reformation mean to us? What ought it mean? Why do we commemorate it? Why do we pause beside it? Why do we divorce ourselves from the work of Satan which runs rampant on October 31 throughout this nation?"
October 31 must be thoroughly rejected as Halloween in thought, word, and action. With its pagan-rooted festivities, Halloween represents the veritable antithesis of Reformation Day (cf. Deut. 18:10-13 with Jude 1:3b). More than three hundred witchcraft cults in the United States alone denominate October 31 as their annual climax in satanic worship, but we have much better grounds to commemoratively set October 31 aside, namely, to worship the living God who gloriously ushered in the Reformation era subsequent to Martin Luther's October 31, 1517, posting of ninety-five theses. On Satan's special evening of darkness and superstition, God chose to providentially display His light, to unfurl His banner of truth once more, and to restore the truths of sovereign grace in the midst of His backslidden church.
We must divorce ourselves from the work of Satan on October 31 and seek grace to celebrate the work of the living, reforming God. We must seek grace to know the history, doctrine, and application of the Reformation in our own minds and hearts, so that we may become wrestlers at the throne of grace for personal, domestic, ecclesiastical, and national Spirit-wrought reformation.
Our purpose in celebrating Reformation heritage is fourfold:
First, we pause for purposes of appreciation. The commemoration of Reformation goes far beyond the church doors of Wittenberg. It is intended to appreciatively regard what God has done through the lives of the Reformation's forerunners (e.g., Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, John Hus, William Tyndale), the Reformers themselves (e.g., Luther and Melanchthon, Calvin and Beza, Zwingli and Bullinger), and Post-Reformation worthies (e.g., from Diodati to Turretin in Geneva, from Teellinck to Comrie in Holland). Not to deify man, but to glorify God's work in our forebears, do we celebrate Reformation Day. Our pre- to post-Reformation forebears have left behind Word-based treasures in their Spirit-molded lives, writings, doctrines, and histories that we ignore only at our peril. Reformation Day attempts to redress our imbalance on this score.
Secondly, we pause for purposes of direction. Based on Scripture and instilled by the Holy Spirit, Reformation principles and doctrines are eminently safe guidelines for today's roving church. Though Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, etc. were all Reformers of varied character and doctrinal emphases, they were united in major truths and scriptural foundations. Reformation Day reminds us of these and of our need to follow their biblical direction. Only on this scriptural base can "the Reformed church ever be reforming" (as the Reformers insisted it must), in order to address current needs. Thus, we look backward on Reformation evening in order to glean principles that may assist us to be forward-looking. By grace, the Reformers were not "cabooses," dragging the church backwards, but on scriptural grounds, "engines" to lead her forward through the Spirit's power. They were men of vision, not of stagnation. Their very lives and writings, in turn, call us to be both conservative and progressive: i.e., to "conserve" the rich heritage they have laid before us and retain the landmarks they have set; and to be progressive, to wisely use this scriptural inheritance when facing contemporary issues they never had to address.
Thirdly, we pause for purposes of fortification. For defense purposes, the church needs to be re-entrenched continually in prime doctrines in order to do battle against many and mighty enemies. Reformation commemoration is an attempt to strengthen salvation's bulwarks and doctrinal defenses in the church's consciousness.
Fourthly, we pause for purposes of aspiration and supplication. Above all, Reformation Day is meant to be prayer day: "Lord, revive Thy truth. In wrath remember mercy. Regard Thy struggling church with thy building trowel and Thy defending sword as Thou didst so powerfully in Reformation generations." Reformation heritage ought to stir within us aspirations for the revival of God's truths and to bring us to earnest supplication at His feet. Only then are we worthy heirs of the great heritage entrusted to us.
Well then, what is the Reformation all about? What must we know? What must we love? What must we live? I propose to you that the Reformation has five grand pillars – five great watchwords around which we may cluster all the grand truths and heritage entrusted to us. These five watchwords carry the common theme of the word "alone," or, in Latin, "sola." These five things we must come to know, love, and live.
The first is sola scriptura, meaning "Scripture alone." Scripture alone was the great hallmark that gave the Reformation its underpinnings and regulative principle. The cry for a return to Scripture, however, did not commence with Luther. Sporadic voices for sola scriptura, particularly those of John Wycliffe, and John Hus, began to multiply throughout the late Middle Ages. Hus foreshadowed Luther when he repeatedly answered his opponents: "Show me from Scripture, and I will repent and recant!" Indeed, Hus's sola scriptura cost him his life, for it was this undergirding principle that compelled him to attack both curialism (supreme authority resting in one highest prelate) and conciliarism (supreme authority resting in gatherings of prelates).
In Hussite fashion, Martin Luther also received grace to place the infallible Word above the fallible church. His renowned reply at the Diet of Worms under the threat of impending death grants ample proof of this assertion:
Since your lordships and majesty desire a simple reply I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
In one year Martin Luther translated the entire Bible into German, penned his renowned Small Catechism on Scripture's basics, and confessed he had done so in order that an "average European ploughboy armed with a Bible in one hand and a catechism in the other, would be able to put to flight all the arguments of priests, prelates, and archbishops."
Sola scriptura spread rapidly throughout Europe. It trumpeted no uncertain sound in the lives and writings of the Reformers. The Reformers believed Scripture to be the hub from which radiate law, doctrine, preaching, and guidance for every question of faith and morals. In all questions of faith and life, Scripture must be the preeminent touchstone and infallible norm. All doctrinal explanations of church fathers, decrees of councils, and laws of churches should be in agreement with express statements or implications of Scripture; if not, such beliefs must be immediately abandoned as heretical. "All those stones that the Davids of God have flung at the Goliaths of error," wrote Luther, "have been taken out of the brook of Scriptures."
Scripture, the Reformers taught, is perfect, complete, clear, authoritative, inerrant, and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit from Genesis 1 through Revelations 22. Moreover, since the Holy Spirit is inseparable from Christ, the truths of the Bible rest entirely upon the centrality of Christ Himself. Hence, Scripture is true ultimately because the revelation in and of Christ is true.
Though we know that Scripture alone is the hallmark of the Reformation, my friends, we also need to love it and to live it. I ask you tonight: Are you loving holy Scripture? Does your love for holy Scripture reveal itself in relish of soul? When you spend time searching the Word of God, can you say of it by grace with Ezekiel, "Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness" (Ez. 3:3)? Is the Word of God your first love? Or do you spend more time reading the newspaper than the Bible? If you were to take a diary of your week's activities and you were to add all the hours you spent in front of the television set and the hours you spent reading the Word of God, my friends – which total would be greater? Does your love reflect Jesus' grand assertion, "Thy Word is truth"? Are you students and lovers of holy Scripture? Does Scripture capture your life? Is it the compass which leads you over the storms and waves of your lives? Do you love, do you live, the Word of God?
I trust the vast bulk of us here tonight believe in inerrancy and I trust the vast bulk of us are very upset with the current trends in our day – even in some so-called Reformed churches. Perhaps we are very emotionally involved with some of these issues. When it comes to women in office, we turn to Scripture and say: Thus saith the Lord in His holy Word – "but I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man" (1 Tim. 2:12). The Word of God is plain; we bow beneath the Word of God. When it comes to the issue of homosexuality and lesbianism, you may be very avid in backing Paul's assertion in Romans 1 that, though we must love such persons as persons, we need to call them to repentance. We know the issues of the day; we may be well-versed in the current trends of humanism and liberalism, but do we live Scripture ourselves? Is the grand underpinning of our lives sola scriptura?
When God sees fit to cast affliction across your providential path, do you bow before Him with sola scriptura? Do you recognize, on the basis of Scripture's principles, that all affliction comes from God? Do you learn to justify God, to approve of God, to cleave to God as Scripture commends and commands of you in the heat of affliction? Do you get your waters of sustenance, your daily supplies, your motivating power, from sola scriptura? Is Scripture your desire? Do you live by it? Do you pray over it? Do you seek grace to believe in it? Do you search it? Are you growing in appreciation for sola scriptura?
Is Scripture, my friends, increasingly becoming our mirror to dress by (James 1), our rule to work by (Gal. 6:16), our water to wash with (Ps. 119:9), our fire to warm us (Luke 24), our food to nourish us (Job 23:12), our sword to fight with (Eph. 6), our counsellor to resolve our doubts and fears (Ps. 119:24), and our heritage to enrich us (Ps. 23:4)? Are we learning from Spirit-approved sacred writ the best way of living, the noblest way of suffering, and the most profitable way of dying? Has sola scriptura become our personal watchword causing us, Luther-like, to become captive – captive in our consciences to the Word of God?