As we celebrate Reformation Day every year, our eyes are always fixed on the past and rightfully so. We look back with appreciation at what God has done in and for His church. I often say that one of the first lessons a history student ought to learn is this simple maxim: there are no great men in history, but only men whom God has raised up to do great things. Among the Reformers we remember, John Calvin especially understood this rather well as one of his last wishes was to be buried without any kind of marker next to his grave. Indeed, the sum of the Reformation is the radical God-centered focus of everything: from the authority of God’s Word, to how we conduct worship, to how we live our daily lives. Individually and corporately, the shift was immense and changed the world forever.
Yet we don’t want to isolate the practice of reformation to the 16th and 17th centuries. In 2 Kings 22 and 23, we see that bringing reformation to the people of God is nothing new. After a long series of corrupt and wicked rulers in both Israel and Judah, the Lord sent forth King Josiah to reign over Judah. In chapter 22, the Book of the Law is discovered and read before the King. Realizing how the people have abandoned the Word of God for so long, Josiah tears his clothes in mourning. Moving on into chapter 23, we note that the restoration of the Scriptures is the foundation for reforming Judah’s worship and getting rid of the various sorts of idolatrous practices which had long plagued the nation.
Is this not what happened in Luther’s day? Truly there’s nothing new under the sun. As I read through chapter 23, I can’t help but recall the Reformers removing all of the idolatrous trappings from the churches under their control. Centuries of Romanist practices had made worship totally unrecognizable from the model we find in Scripture. We cheer the Reformers for what they did in their Josiah-like zeal. And yet today many Christians aren’t so quick to see the same kinds of corruptions in the church which are packaged in different forms. A brief survey of so-called worship within broader Evangelicalism reveals that this is so. Indeed, the basic elements of biblical worship—the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments—have been replaced with gimmicks and fads designed to appeal to the unregenerate culture around us. Put another way, we can confidently say that worldliness has overtaken much of the church.
I’ll end my lament there. Reformed, confessional Christians have been lamenting these things for decades and my voice is but a minute addition to what’s already been said. So what now? What can we do to bring about a reformation in our own day? Faithful prayer is absolutely essential. We need to petition the Lord daily to raise up men in the church who will be faithful to the Scriptures above all else. Inasmuch as we constantly lament the present state of the church and its various problems, I wonder how many of us have taken the time to specifically pray that God would bring the necessary reformers. I’ve confess that I’ve been guilty of this myself. If we love Christ, then we will love His church as well. We need to pray for these Evangelical congregations, that God would bless them with reformation and revival. We have not because we ask not.
As Reformed Christians, we are where we are because we are recipients of grace in that God has given us understanding. It wasn’t my intellect which brought me to the doctrines of grace, the regulative principle of worship, and so forth. Reformation Day is about celebrating God and what He has done for His people, not scoring points against Roman Catholics and others trapped in pagan forms of religion. Ours is a faith to confess—a positive affirmation of biblical, apostolic doctrine. Just as we ought to witness the Gospel to our lost Romanist friends, so too we need to gently encourage the remnant of believers left in Evangelicalism to consider, biblically, what they believe and why they believe it. As doctrine goes, worship will follow. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will change hearts, that He will turn them back toward the sufficient authority of His Word.