Does the Reformation Still Matter?

The following excerpt is derived from Why the Reformation Still Matters by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester, published by Crossway in 2016.

“I was watching a television documentary recently when the presenter said, ‘In many ways the Reformation and the bitterness and division it represents reminds us of the worst aspects of our religious instincts.’ I can rewind my television, so I was able to check that I had heard him right. These words typify the attitude of many. Religion is a thing of mystery, people suppose. And with this supposition goes another: that to claim to know the truth and challenge other people’s perception of the truth is a ridiculous act of arrogance. To quarrel about religion is uncharitable, a denial of the very thing you claim to follow.

It is certainly true that we can act toward people with whom we disagree in ways that deny the gospel we profess, and the leaders of the Reformation were sometimes guilty of this. But the assumption behind such attitudes is that the divisions of the Reformation were not worth making – truth does not really matter.

But consider what was at stake. At its heart the Reformation was a dispute about how we know God and how we can be right with him. At stake was our eternal future, a choice between heaven and hell. And it still is. That our modern world finds the Reformation alien says as much about us as it does about the Reformers. It exposes our preoccupation with this material world and this momentary life. If there is a world beyond this world and a life beyond this life, then it does not seem to matter very much to us – out of sight, out of mind. It is a bizarre position to take when so much is at stake. For the Reformers there was no need more pressing than assurance in the face of divine judgment, and there was no act more loving than to proclaim a message of grace that granted eternal life to those who responded with faith.

The Reformation still matters because eternal life still matters. . . .

Of course much has changed over the past five hundred years. On many moral issues like abortion, Catholics and Protestants find themselves making common cause. And much has changed within both Catholicism and Protestantism. Both have been impacted by modernism and postmodernism. If the differences are narrowing, it is often because many Catholics no longer follow official papal teaching, and many Protestants are losing the biblical insights gained at the Reformation. We need a stronger, not weaker, focus on Reformation theology.

Sixteenth-century Catholics and Protestants both acknowledged they had much in common. That is not news. But they also knew the differences between them were fundamental. They could not be ignored then, and they cannot be ignored now. The fault lines of the Reformation have not gone away. Our contention is that on key issues like justification and Scripture the issues remain and are not negligible.

But it is not just in discussion with Catholicism that the Reformation continues to matter. The Reformation was always intended to be and ongoing project. One of its slogans was semper reformanda, usually translated as ‘always reforming’; but a better translation may be ‘always being reformed’ (by God’s Word). It describes not a movement forward to some uncharted horizon but a continual movement back to God’s Word. . .

It is our contention that five hundred years on, evangelical churches would be well served by a rediscovery of Reformation theology. The thought of the Reformers not only challenges Catholic practice; it also challenges many aspects of evangelical practice. The Reformers are not embarrassing grandparents – they are vital conversation partners with the potential to renew and invigorate our churches.”

I pray we all keep these things in mind and ponder them in our hearts as Reformation Day approaches once again.

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