delivered at Grace Presbyterian Church, October 11, 1998
The Reformed Believer's Foundation
October is reformation month.
Luther had identified some teachings and practices in the church which had no foundation in the Bible. He wanted those things discussed and academically debate. He wanted the church to submit its beliefs and practices to the authority of Scripture. But his goal was not only academic. He knew that ideas and practices that are not true and right are serious dangers. They deceive and hurt needy people who are seeking Christ's help and happiness.
That is the foundation upon which reformed believers must build their lives. We need to know some basics so we can give a meaningful explanation of what God has said. And we need to understand what we mean when we say we are "Reformed" believers. In these Sundays leading up to Reformation Day, we will deal with that basic issue. But we must begin with this question: "How do Reformed Believers decide what is right and true?"
When I'm asked, "What do you mean when you say you are a Reformed Christian?" The simple and the most basic answer is, "A Reformed believer is one who wants to make the Bible the foundation of his life. His goal is to make sure he understands it and with Christ's help tries to obey it."
We don't want to reform our ideas for academic reasons. Its not to win arguments or to have a cause.
We pursue God's word because its right and true, because it shows us how we can live and
show our gratitude to God in a way that truly honors him.
So we learn to love, rather than to fear or despise, God's law.
We learn to spend time every day considering what that word means for us.
As the Psalmist writes in Psalm 119:97 ...
Of course there's a lot of confusion today about what the Bible really says. But its not the Bible that's confusing. Its those who make it say what they want it to say, who have confused its message.
It takes work to discover ideas that creep into our thinking. They may seem reasonable and good. But if they don't come from Scripture they will change or confuse God's message. Therefore we need to know what facts the Bible contains.
We don't have to work alone in our search for what God has said in Scripture.
That heritage did not begin with Martin Luther. God's word has never gone unchallenged. Ever since the fall of man in Eden, people have developed ideas that are wicked and false. And in each age God raised up Great Reformers.
Noah stood alone in a wicked world of unbelief and immorality. But he faithfully delivered God's message of grace to the taunting world. In 2 Peter 2:5 Noah is called "a preacher of righteousness." He stood by God's word.
Abraham struggled to build a faithful family while they were surrounded by paganism and immoral nations. He had one thing that helped him through his own failures, and that gave him a lesson for his children; God's revealed truth.
Moses didn't just lead a revolution of slaves to set them free from Egypt. He brought them the promises and laws of God.
King David, though a weak man himself, found God's word to be the strength he needed. By it he lead a nation and restored a forgotten form of worship.
The Prophets confronted kings and stood against corrupted cultures. But they stood strong because they knew and respected God's word.
Jesus was attacked by the popular religious leaders of his age. But he corrected the Pharisees and the Sadducees. As our example, he showed us how to use the spoken word of God effectively.
The Apostle Peter was beaten and arrested. But, though rejected by most, God blessed him. He lived by and taught the word the Savior had taught him.
The Apostle Paul was beaten, jailed, and his life threatened repeatedly. But he never ceased to speak humbly and gently the truth of God's word. Even in prison, his closeness to the truths of God gave him a peace that defied understanding.
Each of these reformers did battle with the same weapon -- the word of God. They stood against the shifting tides of persecution, heresy, apathy, opportunism and compromise. They humbly tried to correct their own errors. And they unselfishly sacrificed career, comfort and, in some cases, their lives, for the spiritual well-being of others whom they learned to deeply love. They worked by the basic principle of Reformation...
They didn't compete for public approval, to gather large crowds, to put on big shows, or to organize programs for every interest and age. That was the goal of the Babylonians and Egyptians in OT times. That's what the Pharisees provided in the corrupted synagogues in Jesus' time.
But God's people were to measure success in a different way. Rather than compromise for comfort and ease, they are to settle for simpler things which bring peace, promise and God's approval.
This struggle continued all through church history.
By the 1300's the Roman church had become more pagan than Christian.
John Wyclif was a scholar at England's Oxford University. His most radical idea was that the Bible was the whole of God's revelation to us, therefore we needed no other teachings from church tradition or from any pope or council.
He further insisted that every statement of popes and councils ought to be tested by Scripture. So he and his disciples translated the Bible into English.
He provided a biblical foundation for moving out from the rule of a corrupt church. He was hated because he was questioning the superstitious grip of the popes. In 1377 the pope condemned 18 of Wyclif's statements. In 1381 they blamed the peasants' revolt on Wyclif, though he opposed the revolt. This became an excuse to further condemn him. He died after a series of strokes but his ideas continued on. 20 years after his death he was condemned by a Roman church council, and some 30 years after his death, the angry church dug up his bones and burned them.
In Bohemia in the early 1400's, a university professor named John Huss began to study and teach the Bible. He was greatly convinced by the work of John Wyclif. Though he didn't see all the problems in the Roman church, he was a true reformer. He wanted to restore the Bible as the standard of truth and practice. But Huss was arrested as a trouble maker. After 8 months in prison he was publicly stripped of his minister's garments, made to wear a paper hat with devils drawn on it, and burned to death tied to a stake.
As the reformation spread in the next 100 years, Luther was called before a church council at Worms in 1521. He was threatened with excommunication from the church. Even his life was in danger. To save himself he was asked to retract the teachings he had found in Scripture. Luther replied with what is often called "the speech that shook the world" His concluding words were these ...
The same reformation spirit drove men like John Calvin in Geneva and John Knox in Scotland. Here in the United States it moved Robert Lewis Dabne, the Hodges, B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, Cornelius Van Til, Francis Schaefer and others of the reformed camp.
But why did God bring his church through so many hard conflicts? When there are no conflicts the human spirit tends to get lazy. Apathy is a horrible sin. Think of how tragic it is for God's people to be indifferent and uninterested in his word! Mankind lies in spiritual death. She deeply offends the God who made her. Her damnation is eternal. Our Savior took on human flesh. He was ridiculed, rejected, tortured and executed for the sins of his people! How dreadful that so few care to learn about this amazing work of our Savior!
So God challenged his church with heretics, persecutors, opportunists and compromisers.
He has driven his people to take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. That weapon is our only hope of correcting error and apathy. Its the weapon of reformation.
We are the reformers of our own era.
Sex has been separated from the commitment of marriage.
Worship has been perverted into celebration:
What makes us feel good at the moment is considered our greatest goal. Some get their emotional high from drugs, some from sex, some from political power, some from riches and career advancement, some from concerts, rallies and campaigns. In Hebrews 11:25 it tells of how Moses chose to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. In verse 26 it explains that the reason was, he was looking toward the reward. He knew the temporal and deceptive nature of what sin offeres.
But what makes us feel good emotionally is not to be our standard! We are not the test for what is right. God is. His word is how we know that standard. Emotions are great things to have, and feeling good emotionally is a wonderful blessing. But when feeling good at the moment becomes the test of what we do then we have made ourselves gods, and trampled on the first four commandments.
Those wanting to reform such things back to the form given in Scripture often are hated. Its like the church is on a different wave-length, tuned into a different channel. The reason is; believers are thinking from a different starting point, judging by a different standard. God's word is their rule, not their feelings and their sinful urges.
This shouldn't surprise us. Jesus said we would be hated of men ...
This principle of reformation was summarized in a Latin expression:
This principle of reformation was summarized in a Latin expression:
It means "Scripture alone." The Bible is the only test God has given us of what is right and true.
In time another Latin expression was adopted:
It means "Ever to be remolded," or "Ever being re-formed." We must always be bringing our beliefs and practices under the scrutiny of Scripture. We must make sure that only what God has revealed is our standard and foundation.
So we who are "reformed" believers must be a people of the Bible.
But as we make his word our meditation all through the day, and as we limit our beliefs to what the Scriptures say and as we make our actions, attitudes and relationships fit with what it says honors God, we will find the promised inner peace, joy and confidence God promises in that same word.
We must learn to say with full conviction those words of Psalm 119:97,
NOTE: All quotations of Scripture are from the New American Standard Bible
unless otherwise noted.