By Joel A. Hess –
The Reformation: same old battle, same old outcome.
This past week, during our study of the Reformation, one of my members asked me an intriguing question: If salvation by grace alone through faith was the Reformation’s battleground, what might be today’s battle? What is 2017’s indulgence?
At first, I wanted to mention the fight over biblical authority and evolution. Of course, biblical authority, the formal principle, was a battle back then too. Then I thought of the sexual revolution and the identity confusion in which we seemed to be currently embroiled. Perhaps these are the new arenas for today’s reformation where reformers can declare, “Here I stand!”
But these are not the new motifs of today’s reformational Church. Just like 500 years ago and 1500 years before that, the central doctrine that the Church of the reformation is still battling to preserve is salvation by Grace alone: the Gospel!
Absolutely nothing has changed. The Christian Church has not moved on from there. The enemy still specifically and acutely targets this pivotal teaching, nee gift, of our Lord and His apostles. All other battles hinge upon this cornerstone of God’s Word and the very purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection.
This teaching is regularly attacked by those on the “left” and “right” within Christendom. Perhaps you might call it friendly and unfriendly fire. Both desire to supplant grace with works.
Take the left, for example. Those who want to dismantle biblical authority in order to relieve people of the burden of God’s Law do not actually free people up. The pharisees before them also desired to loosen the Law in order to make it doable. Jesus pointed this out in Matthew 15 when He accused the Pharisees of trampling the hard, cold Law of God with their manmade traditions. Those rabbis thought they were doing people a favor by finding loopholes to honoring our parents or loving our wives. Instead, they made the noose looser, though a noose it still remained. They should have let the Law condemn and yet point to the mercy of God which is all over the Old Testament! From Adam and Eve, to Joseph, to the prophets, God loves a sinner who repents and completely forgives him. Today, many churches like to forego talk about God’s nasty Law yet invent new, softer laws that seem so much easier to do. Thus, they rob the people from hearing and being freed from the words, “I forgive you.” Instead, they hear, “God doesn’t care. Just do your best.”
But the Gospel is not just attacked by the left, though we conservatives like to think so. No, there are plenty who claim the Bible is the very word of God and pledge allegiance to every line. Yet, don’t you go giving grace out too “liberally.” Oh, no, repentance must meet inspection. Do they believe in six-day creation? What are their thoughts on the gender wars? Or perhaps forgiveness is given out, but then—now what? Why am I still sinning? Should I just stay up here at the altar call rail? Why does my life look different than those happy Sunday school teachers?
Oftentimes, bible-believing pastors finish every sermon with “now ya gotta…” Recently, I heard a fella preach for a reformation festival. Yet, instead of giving eager ears rest in the words and work of Jesus (you know, what the Reformation was all about), he chastised old ladies and young folk he had never met and told them to stop standing and staring at the free gifts of Jesus. “Now ya gotta go, do…. work.” Perhaps our time would have been better spent knocking on doors than listening to a sermon. To be fair, I am sure I have messed up plenty of sermons as well. And there is nothing wrong with encouraging people to tell their neighbors about Jesus, but sometimes the general tenor of a message isn’t “You’re forgiven”, but “now ya gotta.”
Well it isn’t “gotta;” it’s “get ta.” And you don’t “have to” but you “will!” Because the only one driving this boat and this reformation is Jesus. And He will plow right through any obstacle we put in front of him, from the left or from the right. Don’t worry about that. In fact, don’t worry about His Church, and don’t worry about her future. It’s gloriously bright, like thousands of angels and resurrected former sinners bright.
So, no, there is no new fight or controversy within Christendom! It’s the same old one. It’s the only one that counts. But it’s the same old Jesus who has and will win the day! “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9