An oxymoron is a paradox, a contradiction in terms. Like a creationist that follows a paleo diet. Or a devout atheist, a definite maybe or a conspicuous absence. So how about a Christian who does not believe the Bible? Or a protestant that ignores the Confessions or thinks the Reformation has finished?
This October is the 500 year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The events of 1517 mark a massive shift in the way we see salvation as by grace alone. It is difficult to underestimate the importance of those past events on our present faith. This article is about why we desperately need to remember the Reformation so to avoid being living oxymorons: people with a faith but no idea what that faith is in.
Each generation must rediscover the core aspects of the Christian faith or risk losing them in the fog of tradition and culture. This is my take on some of the major troubling trends in our churches today and why there is need for a new reformation. The opportunity is for us to rediscover the central aspects of the Reformation applied to our situation. The danger, as Martin Luther found, is to blissfully continue in numbness unaware that we are drifting out to sea, blown by the trends of our age rather than the purposeful wind of the Spirit through the Bible.
Trend 1: Reducing the Bible
Many Christians, and sects for that matter, acknowledge the Bible as “God’s word.” However, few can explain what this really means and less can explain how it looks in a day-to-day practice. The protestant Reformation explained that it was Scripture alone that was the primary revelation of God. This means the actual words, the grammar, the historical context of passages, and the Bible’s broader storyline are all carefully crafted by God to reveal His message. As an example, Martin Luther had read Romans chapter 1 through the eyes of the traditions of the Roman church. Salvation, they said, was given through the priests, the Eucharist, indulgencies etc. But now, with a clearer view of the words and context of Romans chapter 1 verse 17, Luther saw it explain that salvation was a free gracious gift based on Christ’s righteousness. The key aspect was the way he read the Bible exegetically.
The trend today is not to read the Bible this way. Many Christians or Protestant churches rarely read the Bible verse by verse or work through chapters and books. The power of God’s word is lost when you ignore the actual words in context. That means they don’t know God as well as they could. They read an Old Testament passage and can’t see Jesus’ gospel in it. They read New Testament passages like sound-bites, losing the richer message of that book. We need a reformation today to inspire people to reconnect with the Bible in more depth.
Why is this a problem?
The danger is that if the Bible is hollow then something will fill that void. From my observations, the trend is towards human philosophy: Fluffy ideas that are based on specious logic. Modern philosophers like Richard Rohr, Steve McVey, John Crowder et. al. develop ideas based more on the philosophy of Roman Catholic mysticism. They ignore the rich Biblical plotline and the creeds and confessions of the past.
Trend 2: Reducing the creeds and confessions
The creeds and confessions of the church were written as a guidepost to point to the centrality of the Bible and the core of the Christian faith. The fact we don’t know them shows the drift. Today they are mostly forgotten, deemed as irrelevant because they are old (my third trend). The problem is without the creeds and confessions each generation falls into the same errors. Church history screams this point. The conflicts and errors in history, such as those that birthed the Reformation, have come from a lack of solid understanding of the heart of the Bible and knowledge of Jesus. As an example check chapter one from http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/
Trend 3: Old = irrelevant
Related to the trend against creeds and confessions, there is a trend that young is good and old is bad. For example, the attitude that confessions are old and therefore obsolete. Or that an elderly Christian is not of use in a modern church or church leaders/elders must be young and hip or we must keep the young and old separate in different Sunday services. These attitudes are more culturally than Biblically influenced.
The Reformation today
These are just trends I see. My point is to be a Christian means we are always reforming. It is an oxymoron to be Protestant yet not be transforming by the renewing of our minds (Romans chapter 12).
The Reformation of 1517 still has vital importance for our faith now. We can’t go back. That would not make sense. In fact, those central principals of the Bible and salvation by grace are even more relevant today in the face of these current trends.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and Pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html