Lessons of Reformation still resonate today
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
The world has become a decidedly different place in the last 500 years, but one thing hasn’t changed: It needed help when Martin Luther began the Reformation on Oct. 31, 1517, and it needs help today.
That much became clear Monday night as the College of Theology at Grand Canyon University devoted its Ministry Forum to the Reformation on the eve of its 500th anniversary.
As the moderator, Dr. Joshua Greever, put it, “It didn’t happen because some people wanted to start a new sect. They wanted to bring it (the church) in closer alignment with God.”
Five COT instructors took turns presenting their thoughts about the Five Solas and how they apply to life today. Here’s a rundown of what they shared:
Sola Scriptura (By Scripture Alone)
Steve Duby began by asking listeners if they know the true meaning of the “Coexist” bumper stickers so often seen on cars.
He had three suggestions, one of them in jest:
- Live in harmony.
- It doesn’t mean much at all.
- We must all have the same doctrine.
The Reformation happened, Duby said, because, “church leaders had started teaching things not in accord with God’s word.”
Above all else, he noted, is that Scripture must be the rule of faith and the authority of the church.
Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone)
“It’s hard to imagine anyone complaining about grace,” Dr. Justin McLendon began, but he asked an important question: How often do we truly appreciate the words we sing in “Grace Alone” and similar songs?
Grace’s twin brother is sin, McLendon said, and the reformers were maintaining that the sinner is saved by the grace of God even though it is unmerited.
“It relates to Christ alone in a critical way,” he said. “Christ alone means He is 100 percent for us.”
Afterward, he had this thought: “The main thing I learned from my research is that we can’t overlook how critical doctrinal precision is regarding the core essentials. The reformers sought to protect and articulate the gospel against clear error. We have to pursue that same goal.”
Sola Fide (By Faith Alone)
This is not anything new, Brett Berger pointed out: “It is fundamental in our relationship with God. You cannot have a relationship with God without faith.”
His presentation included an interesting note about all the self-help books available today. They’re the result of people being so unhappy, he said.
“In our depravity, we always will attempt to justify sin,” he said. “It’s impossible to please God through our acts.”
Berger prepared for his talk by rereading all of Luther’s 95 Theses.
“As I did, I think I could see more clearly how some of them would later become the full-blown doctrines we are familiar with today,” he said later. “They are very specifically addressing a pastoral concern, and they do not deny or explain everything the reformers would in the years to follow, but you can see seeds of them (in my case, Sola Fide).”
Solus Christus (By Christ Alone)
“No one has ever seen God, so no one can process God’s radiance and love unless we believe in Christ,” Dr. Mark Kreitzer said.
He listed four aspects of Christ’s ministry – revelation, creation, redemption and consummation – and added, “You can’t come to God through any other mediator besides Christ. … Christ is the Father’s sole mediator of redemption in the universe.”
He underscored those thoughts with several Bible verses, including:
- John 1:2-3 – “He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.”
- Hebrews 1:1-2 – “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe.”
- Ephesians 1:4-6 – “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love, He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will –to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.”
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)
Amanda Jenkins made an interesting discovery as she researched her topic.
“I was surprised to find here that the reformers themselves were not the ones who spoke of the glory of God alone, although they were certainly concerned with glory – namely, the glory of God,” she said. “It was the lay people within the church, and the musicians such as Bach and Handel who wrote Soli Deo Gloria into the end of their compositions, that distinguished why the Reformation mattered.
“People within the Protestant churches understood the principles that the reformers stood for, and it flowed out into their work and lives.”
She quoted from Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century theologian, who said that glory is “the emanation and true external expression of God’s internal glory (beauty) and fullness.”
She also quoted from Dr. John Piper, which was timely in view of his weekend appearance at GCU. “God is most glorified in us,” Piper said, “when we are most satisfied in Him.”
Jenkins said she challenges students in her classes to know what they believe and why they believe it
“The Reformation may be a big word that students haven’t thought about since ninth-grade World History,” she said, “but for the Christian worldview, the components that are discussed within the Reformation form the essentials that our beliefs are grounded in.”
Said McLendon, “I think a lot of Christians know surface-level details about it. A lot of emphasis has been placed on the 500th anniversary, so I know that has helped. Beyond the basics, though, I’m wary of a widespread understanding. I think the church must keep these issues in view at all times.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].