We’ve now entered the 500th year of the Reformation era. There will be innumerable  celebrations and commemorations till the quincentenary of Luther nailing his these to the door of the Cathedral in Wittenburg on 31 October 2017. Whether Luther in fact nailed those theses or not, he certainly wrote them, they were published around the end of 1517, and they proved to be a catalyst for the events which developed into “the Reformation”.[1]Here is a useful recent summary of the evidence for and against the veracity of the story of the nailing.

Over the next year Protestant Christians will ask what the Reformation added up to, if there is a future for Reformation churches, if the Reformation is over, and whether we need a new Reformation. A few weeks ago, in Christianity Today, Fred Sanders reviewed two recent books dealing with this nest of questions.

At the Thinking of God Conference (know affectionately as TOGCON) I laid out 23 theses for 21st Century Christians. I’ve continued to play around with them and have more than 23 now. Here are a few on the question of continuing the Reformation.

  1. The Reformation, though full of variety and never a unified movement, produced a new strain of Christian church and theology shaped by a rediluther_95_thesenscovery of the gospel.

2. Protestantism was evangelical in the old German sense of evangelische — those who had discovered that “the true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God”.[2]see J. Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, Vol 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma 1300–1700 ,University of Chicago, 1984, p. 128.

3. The heirs of the Reformation — Reformed and Lutheran as well as contemporary evangelicals — should embrace the great truths reaffirmed and re-expressed through the Reformation.

4. The great truth of the Reformation may be summarised in the Reformation ‘solas’: sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): sola Fide (“faith alone”), sola Gratia (“grace alone”); solus Christus (“Christ alone”) and soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”).

5. We should be encouraged and inspired by the Reformers both in their spiritual and theological insight as to what was required for the church and their courage in standing for that. Luther’s famous words of commitment to Scripture — “Here I stand; I can do no other” — should inspire his heirs.

6. The Reformation is evidence that, under God’s providence and by the work of the Spirit through the Word, Christian theology develops (if very unsteadily), often through conflict and debate.

7. The Christian church receives from the Reformation insights about the place of Scripture, the nature of the church and character of salvation which are now part of the orthodox formulation of the deposit of the faith.

8. Since the Reformation there have been new insights and formulation of the same deposit. We hold on to Reformation theology, but are not limited to that.

9. We should continue the commitment of the magisterial Reformers to the reform the church. The church is both the bride and herald of Christ; and in both roles needs reformation to be faithful to Christ.

10. Reformation of the church is the priority, reformation of society is subsidiary and even the reformation of the individual comes after the reformation of the church.

11. The world is very different to 16th century Europe. Among the key differences are: in few places is there a close connection of church and state; the Catholic church is no longer the dominant influence in ‘church matters’ nor in the culture; the Roman Catholic church, while not holding to most of the great truths of the reformation has changed greatly since Vatican II; church reform is not achieved through the apparatus of the State; in the West the church must be reformed from the effects of late-modern culture and the effects of secularism and consumerism.

12. In light of those changes, there is a sense in which the Reformation is over — Reformation issues must be addressed quite differently in the 21st century.

13. The evangelical protestant church is more aware of its calling to mission as a body which is counter-cultural than it was in the era of the Reformation and must continue its commitment to global mission.

14. Fellowship between gospel churches around the world offers the opportunity of a new form of the Catholic Church.

15. The 21st century is a period of new engagement of Reformation Christians with the Roman Catholic Church (and the Orthodox Church). This engagement must not be simplistic agreement nor lowest common denominator ‘mere Christianity’; it is still difficult and painful; but it does not call for the conflict of the Reformation, wars of religion or the sectarianism of the earlier periods.

16. The great truths of the Reformation call us, in obedient witness to Christ, to reform the church and to stand against strong tides of our culture.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll have some more theses on how the Reformation solas continue to call the church to reformation.

References   [ + ]

1. Here is a useful recent summary of the evidence for and against the veracity of the story of the nailing.
2. see J. Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, Vol 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma 1300–1700 ,University of Chicago, 1984, p. 128.