Here We Must Stand
Christianity is about living in this world, in conformity to the Word, not about shutting oneself away in some religious order, as Luther, of course, discovered.
Some time ago, a colleague related details of a casual conversation he had with a young woman. She was a Christian, indeed the daughter of a pastor. In the course of their interchange it became clear that she had never heard of John Calvin, and was altogether ignorant of the history of the Protestant Reformation. Perhaps her experience is an indictment of the kind of ministry under which she had sat. Whether that is so or not, I am sure her case is far from unique. Multitudes of believers in this age are altogether unfamiliar with the events of the sixteenth century, and with the key players in the drama that unfolded five hundred years ago. Well, does it matter? Don’t we have more important issues to address in 2017? Shouldn’t we be most concerned about the survival of true religion in an ever more godless and more antagonistic age?
It is precisely because we are in such a battle that we must familiarise ourselves with the contentions of the Reformers, and determine to stand where they stood! The twenty-first century is markedly different from the era of Luther in so many ways, but the conflict between truth and error is ageless.
The enemies of the Gospel may wear different clothes today, they may be more polished, and have access to resources of which their forefathers could never have dreamed, but they are still enemies, and they must still be resisted, no matter how winsome their ways or how subtle their strategies. We will do this best by remembering how Luther and his colleagues and successors stood fast for the truth.
Scripture Must Be Preeminent
‘What saith the scripture?’ We live in an age when men, even good men, do not begin with the inquiry posed initially by the Saviour. A cursory glance at the Gospels of the New Testament will demonstrate what Scripture meant to Christ – it means much less to men today. Instead, priority is given to what is popular, or expedient, or to what ‘works’. What God says is side-lined in deference to what man wants. If the Reformers had embraced this approach, it is unlikely that there would ever have been a Reformation! “I have before me God’s Word which cannot fail”, Luther declared, “Thereby will I remain, though the whole world be against me.” And this is the kind of determined intransigence that is required in our day!
We must maintain the authority of Scripture, otherwise ‘sola scriptura’ means nothing to us. We must weigh the pronouncements and practices of men in the scales of the Word, as John exhorts (1 John 4:1). We must become modern-day Bereans (Acts 17:11). That Christian people are ready to believe and accept almost anything right now, is one sad consequence of the failure to make Scripture preeminent, and it is a failure we must not tolerate in our lives and in our churches!
Scripture Must Be Preached
The preaching of God’s Word is at a very low ebb in some Christian circles today, despised and virtually dismissed in some quarters. Dialogue, discussion, debate, drama, and dance – all of these are to be preferred. But how different it was with the Reformers! First and foremost, these men were preachers. At the height of his ministry, Luther preached three times each Lord’s Day, and once every week-day too. Some 2300 of his sermons are still extant. “The highest worship of God”, he affirmed, “is the preaching of the Word; because thereby are praised and celebrated the name and the benefits of Christ.” It is hardly necessary to refer to the preaching of Calvin in his Geneva years, working his way through many of the books of Old and New Testaments, messages delivered with warmth and passion, full of powerful and pointed application.
It may be argued that formal, Bible-based preaching is not acceptable to most in this age. Is this, then, the reason to abandon it? Not in the estimate of the apostle, who counselled his younger colleague to “preach the word” faithfully and fearlessly, even at a time when the inclination of hearers was altogether against such ministry (2 Timothy 4:1-5). Preaching the message of Scripture – and therefore preaching Christ – remains God’s appointed way of bringing the Gospel to sinners and building up the saints, the way by which He “deigns to consecrate to Himself the mouths and tongues of men in order that his voice may resound in them” (Calvin).
If we believe what Scripture teaches about Bible preaching, we will esteem it highly, praying for those so charged, supporting it by our presence, and trusting God to employ it to the advance of His cause.
Scripture Must Be Practiced
Acceptance of the authority of Scripture, and faithful preaching ministry, must be reflected in an obedient response to God’s Word. Scripture must be practiced in the believer’s individual walk. When Calvin wrote his monumental work ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’, the preface announced that his purpose was “solely to transmit certain rudiments by which those who are touched with any zeal for religion might be shaped to true godliness” – not how that massive volume might be viewed by many readers! But it was his desire to show that doctrine “must be transfused into the breast, and pass into the conduct…it ought to pervade the whole man”. Christianity is about living in this world, in conformity to the Word, not about shutting oneself away in some religious order, as Luther, of course, discovered.
Scripture must also be practiced in our corporate worship. We must resist the corruptions and innovations of this age of ‘anything-goes’ worship. “Only when we follow what God has commanded us, do we truly worship Him, and render obedience to His Word”, affirmed Calvin, and he was right.
The right attitude to Scripture, and the right actions flowing from that attitude. This is where we must stand, without apology, and without wavering. Our duty is still to “do the right: Consequences are with God” (C H Spurgeon).
Rev Timothy Nelson.