Last week at the Kendall house, we hosted our fourth (or fifth?) annual Reformation Party. Folks from Grace Community Church in Troy, from First Presbyterian in Dyersburg, and from the general neighborhood gathered for food, fellowship, and celebration. Bill Randolph fired up his monster smoker and cooked a mountain of hotdogs and juicy, inch-thick hamburgers. Party-ers loaded the tables with baked beans, potato salad, chocolate cake, and home-baked cookies. In addition to sweet tea, lemonade, and soda, we consumed gallons of hot chocolate, spiced cider, and steaming coffee.
The boys lit off and monitored a hillbilly-sized bonfire. One fellow in attendance asked my Benjamin just what exactly was in that pile of wood to make it produce the enormous flame whipping skyward. "Wood," Ben answered. The man studied the conflagration a second, then asked, "So, what are you spraying on it out of that hose?" "Water," Ben replied. Hard to believe such a torch could be lit with only trash wood and a match!
As the evening progressed and a cool fog descended, we crammed inside the house for singing, a little silliness, and some sober reflection. Sober reflection on what? A what is a Reformation Party, anyway?
Early Christians were persecuted by those both inside and outside of the church. Some Jewish converts felt that preaching salvation by Christ alone made this faith too simple, that it somehow robbed it of the rich heritage and traditions of the Jewish faith. Yes, they believed faith in Christ was important - but they also wanted new converts to be circumcised and to observe Jewish religious laws and traditions.
Polytheistic neighbors also persecuted early Christians. The pantheon of Rome had plenty of room for another god - even this god-man called Jesus. What they couldn't tolerate, however, was the exclusivity of this new faith. Christians claimed that there was only one true God, and only one way of salvation, Christ. How dare these religious upstarts dismiss and even discredit the host of dieties embraced by so many others!
Christianity is distinct among world religions precisely because of the only's. It is these same only's and alone's that make this faith so offensive to the unbelieving heart. It is precisely at the point of the only's that our adversary seduces us and tempts us to compromise. And it is at this very point that we must be watchful over our own hearts and vigilant in proclaiming and defending the truth of the Gospel of Christ, Christ alone, to ourselves and to the world around us.
In the face of these persecutions, the Apostles preached and wrote and exhorted believers to hold fast to the truth: There is only one true and living God, and, by His sovereign grace, He saves sinners through the atoning work of Christ alone. The apostles unapologetically defended Christianity's offensive particularity, because in it was the power of the Gospel.
Throughout history, the church has been tempted to yield to the seduction of these two great errors - 1)that we must add something to the work of Christ to secure our salvation and 2)that other faiths are equally viable and should be embraced in some distorted, twisted expression of brotherly love. Of course, if the first truth - the complete, absolute, eternal efficacy of Christ's atonement - is abandoned for any kind of works-based salvation, there seems little point in fighting for the second truth. Give up "Christ alone" for the gospel-plus, and you open the door for Rome's pantheon (or our own modern-day versions) to dance right in. On the other hand, if there are more gods than one, then there must also be many ways of salvation, right?
So, back to the Reformation Party. Just over 500 years ago, God raised up a group of men to challenge the church anew to re-align its teaching and practice with the Word of God. The church had abandoned the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, for a salvation based on faith plus works. These Reformers exhorted the church to look to Scripture, the written word of God - and not to the traditions of men - as the absolute authority for matters of faith. Just like the Apostles fifteen-hundred years earlier, these men preached the Gospel...and set the world on fire.
Men are sinners. All of us. And we are perverse in our thinking. As Steve said during Wednesday night's festivities, we can believe the Gospel - and then forget it's true in just five minutes. The church, Christ's Beloved, is comprised of just such sinful folk, and even corporately we tend to forget and compromise the Gospel. Aren't you glad we have Scripture to expose our wayward tendencies, to call us back - again and again - to the truth, to the Gospel?! This objective, unchanging standard challenges us to confront error, to repent of wrong thinking, to be vigilant in reforming our thinking to the truth of God.
So what is a Reformation Party? It is a remembrance and celebration of those 16th-century Reformers who rediscovered and proclaimed the Gospel, turning the world upside down. Men who valued the Word of God so highly that they risked their lives to get it into the hands of as many men as possible. Men who sought to be reformed to the truth of the Word of God...instead of seeking a reformation of the truth.
It is a pause in the busy-ness of life to remember those great truths that define and unite and comfort and empower us as Christians. To unapologetically proclaim the offensive ONLY's - Sola gratia. Sola Christo. Sola fide. Soli Deo gloria. Sola scriptura. It is a moment to consider that, as Christians, we must resist the subtle pull to reform the truth, but must instead always strive to be reformed to the truth, the unchanging truth of God's Word.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.....but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. - Galatians 1:3-5,7-8
3 weeks ago