Apparently there has been a debate lately on the question of whether the Reformation is over. I heard Carl Trueman speak eloquently about how it most certainly is not. Let me add the following observations to the debate (though I suspect I am saying nothing especially new and this should complement my earlier post about what it means to be “Reformed”):
1. The Reformation was a recovery of the centrality of Christ. This recovery can never be complete in this life because we constantly have to remind ourselves that Jesus Christ is our Savior and not we ourselves. I recently heard someone make the preposterous claim to be “really Reformed” because they held that God could save those whom He chose to save no matter what religion they professed. This is in desperate need of reformation according to Scripture – Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life and not just because one verse says so but because the entire Bible says so. This missing emphasis on Christ alone is also what sets us apart from most monotheists – mosques and synagogues do not proclaim the divinity of Christ or that He is the way. Grace cannot be separated from Christ.
2. The Reformation was a recovery of the gospel of grace. This recovery can never be complete in this life because we constantly have to remind ourselves that we cannot earn our salvation but that it is a free gift from God. All too often I hear people say that Christianity is all about rules, the people who say this are often conservative Christians themselves and they see this as a good thing. The problem is that we must keep things in their proper place – grace and then thanksgiving. Jesus Christ has done everything necessary for our salvation and if that salvation has been applied to us by the Holy Spirit we should respond with thanksgiving in everything we do. The problem is especially acute when it comes to how the church treats children outside of the covenant community. We assume they should be able to be good, which they can formally, and we demand that kind of obedience instead of sharing the gospel and leading them to obedience from the heart. It is one thing to know this intellectually and another thing altogether to actually do. And part of the problem is the necessity for some formal obedience so that they can even hear the gospel in the first place.
3. The Reformation was a recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This again can never be complete in this life because we too often find ourselves telling others that they must do what we did in order to be saved rather than presenting the gospel of justification by faith alone. Some want to add to faith some of these things: cultural trappings (regulations on clothing, hair, make-up, no automobiles, no electronics, etc. – all depending on what culture they are trying to preserve), speaking in tongues, good works, responding to an altar call, etc. In other words, you have to do something in addition to faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone for salvation – you cannot be a Christian until you do these things. One of our youth recently said she has not been saved. I asked if she trusted in Christ for her salvation, she said yes. Why the discrepancy? Because too many people in our area believe you must have some kind of religious experience during a hymn that drives you forward for the “altar call.” She may well already be a Christian but has been told something else is necessary for her to be a Christian. This is typical.
4. The Reformation was a recovery of the importance of Scripture. This again can never be complete in this life because if it were up to us Scripture would have disappeared long ago. We often believe the latest fads in psychology or other fields to be more important than Scripture in helping others (and I am talking here about even those who hold to the sufficiency of Scripture). We are more likely to read books about Scripture than to read the actual text of Scripture (and skim or skip the quotes included in them). And many conservatives hold to notions about Scripture that come more from their personal biases and from modernism than from Scripture itself. A helpful book in this regard is Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns. If conservatives were to embrace the incarnational analogy this would go a long ways in helping moderates on Scripture. When I tell theological liberals that I believe that Scripture is fully the Word of God and fully the words of its human authors (the incarnational analogy), they have to stop and think because they have always thought it must be one or the other. Many of the moderates are also confused – they believe the Bible is the Word of God (the Spirit even is testifying in them that this is the case) they just see things they would not expect and that shakes their confidence on Scripture being the only rule of life and faith. The problem is that too often conservatives, moderates, and liberals all have the same presuppositions as they approach Scripture – such as, that it be precise like a science textbook, that it be fair and balanced like a history textbook (in theory, but never in reality) rather than ideological, etc. The point is they expect that an ancient book be a modern book rather than going to Scripture alone to discover what it is doing or even hide behind the motto ‘Scripture alone’ to avoid seeing it in the context of the ancient world and its human authors.
The point is that the solas are always in need of recovery and no church can go without continual Reformation according to Scripture alone and its message of Christ Alone, Grace Alone, and Faith Alone.