Protestants, Reformers or Transformers…

Posted by on Sep 5, 2017 in Blog | 4 comments

As the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation draws near (it is usually dated from Luther posting his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg on 31 October, 1517), it is worth asking if we are now primarily protestants (from protestors) or reformers.

The Protestant Reformation involved both protest and reform.

It was a protest against a corrupt religious system, and some of its particular practices, such as the sale of indulgences. Later it was a strong protest against the April 19th, 1529 reversal of the August 27, 1526 German Reichstag decree allowing each individual government within the Empire to decide which religion it was to follow. And there were many other things to protest about.

But it was also a movement of reform. In the first instance it was about radical theological reform. We remember and celebrate its emphasis on the 5 solas of faith – sola Scriptura (the Bible is our highest authority); sola fide (we are saved through faith in Christ alone); solus Christus (Christ alone is our Lord and King);  sola gratia (we are saved by the grace of God alone); soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone). These convictions worked their way out into a reformation not only of the church but of the wider life of society – albeit that their acceptance was marked by more than a little dispute and turmoil.

As the 500th anniversary approaches, it is as well to ask if the churches which were most impacted by the Protestant Reformation are today primarily most characterised by their ability to protest or to reform.

While there is a time to protest, the church has most impacted society when it has reformed. Indeed, while the prophets in the Hebrew Bible routinely protested, they were as routinely ignored. Came Jesus, and a genuine reformation of understanding and life came about.

Protesting involves digging into the nay saying side of yourself. It’s fairly easy to do. It involves spotting the flaws around – and realistically, there are usually more than enough of these to keep us muttering militantly about the dire times in which we live.

Advocating for and living out reform, is much more difficult. It involves imagining a different world – a better world – and pushing for and modelling ways to help create this world. It is a creative task. The Reformation dug deeply into the Reformers’ understanding of God’s grace to spark their fresh agenda. This is always the safest place to begin – marvelling at the grace of God found in Jesus Christ.

Of course we should not be fooled into thinking we must be either protestors or reformers – as though either/or were the only option. There is a time to protest, just as there is a time to reform. But I wonder if we usually get the appropriate ratio out of balance.

I once heard it said (and I can’t confirm if the sentiment is true or not) that every negative you say to your child or teenager needs to be countered by at least 7 affirmations. If we carry the principle through into church life, for every protest we make against our decadent age, we should find 7 affirmations – or 7 sparkling and creative possibilites to reform, perhaps even recreate, present reality.

If we took this principle on board, a watching world might view the church with a fresh hopefulness. Perhaps they would see a genuinely alternate community who while occasionally rebuking, was usually genuinely grappling with the issues of the day and offering hopeful and creative paths ahead. How about we downplay our protestant heritage, and take on the reformer role. Who knows, if we did, reforming might lead to genuine transformation…

As always, nice chatting…

4 Comments

  1. Excellent piece of thinking Brian – thanks!

    • Thanks Phillip. Good to be in touch.

  2. I would love to see our Church affirm in this manner. I love the concept of defining a sensitive Balance between rebuke and affirm and the gift it has to offer when done right. The Book of James reminds us how powerful the tongue is. Not only can it guide the ship of our life but if used badly, can spark a bush fire which could have devestating consequences. Another thing to admire is the boldness of tge reformers. Are we bold in our apologetic approach? Thanks Brian for another great piece. Blessings

    • Thanks Baren. Good to hear from you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *