Reformed and being reformed

Thoughts on the Reformation, 500 years on

I’m not going to lie, I was underwhelmed by the door. When you travel over 650 miles to see a door, you expect it to be as you imagined it. While there’s some debate about whether Luther ever posted his 95 theses on the door of the Schlosskirche, we can all be sure he didn’t personally engrave them on the ornate door that now stands there.

If the door itself was something of a let down, however, the trip to Wittenberg was anything but. I’d travelled there to learn more about the events that led to the reformation and to see for myself the places where it all happened.

Detail from the door of the Castle Church, Wittenberg

Over the years I’ve often blogged about my travels and a section of this blog is devoted to the ways I’ve became an unwitting pilgrim. I guess the trip to Wittenberg, and the trip to Athens that inspired the To an Unknown God study series last year, were as close as I’ve came to actual pilgrimages. Times where I’ve travelled specifically to places based on their significance to our faith.

Learning about the reformation had a massive effect on my life; as a young man wrestling with the tension between a love of God and the negative religious environment I grew up in, the examples of Luther and Tyndale helped me to find both my feet and my faith. In the Reformation, I found men to look up to who had challenged the status quo not as an act of unfaithfulness but rather as the ultimate act of faithfulness.

There have been many words written about the five hundredth anniversary of the protestant Reformation and I’ve enjoyed reading the different and nuanced perspectives they offer. It can seem complicated to know exactly what emotions to express; joy and gratitude at the profound revelations offered by Luther’s theology, inspired by God’s work through it, and yet saddened by the schisms that exist within the global church.

For me personally, I’m inspired most by the hope that the reformation gives us. I believe we are simultaneously reformed, in need of reform and being reformed. We benefit so greatly from the work of the great reformers that provides a theological foundation for our beliefs, and yet in other ways we still need reformation of our own. The reformation reminds me that God does not abandon His church.

The reformation reminds me that God does not abandon His church.

I often struggle to balance my love of the church with my frustration when we get it wrong. My joy when I visit a refugee camp and see the work of the global church helping feed and shelter the hurting, my pain and anger when I see us put tradition or politics over loving people.

What I know to be true is that the reason the church has flaws is that I have flaws, that we have flaws. Over the centuries it has made mistakes, sometimes awful ones, but God has always reformed it to make it fit for purpose.

Celebrating the reformation is not a celebration of schism, or a belief that we’re the ones who have it all figured out, but a celebration of the fact that God is doing a continual work in us both individually and corporately. It’s all through His grace.

The heritage that the reformation leaves us with is the ability and encouragement to engage with scripture and pursue its truth, challenging our traditions and preconceptions in that light. At the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther defended himself with the following statement:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen

It was that unwavering belief in the primacy of scripture that drove the reformation forward; it stands above all of our traditions, all of our styles of church, all of our competing cultures and distinct denominations. The word of God is central. I’m grateful that not only did Luther fight for that, but that he demonstrated so well the need to make sure we’re always captive to it and guided by it.

If we do that one thing and keep the word of God central and let it do its work, God will be continually reforming us and remaking us into a church better able to carry His name.

Here we stand, we can do no other.

Photos by Peter Jobes. Copyright 2016, all rights reserved.