Getting Serious About A New Reformation

I pastor a small, historic church in a small, historic city. Our city’s history is important in the history of our land, and our church’s history is important in the history of our city.

Yet our church has seen better days, at least from outward appearances. We were once the lead church in the capital of our state. In the 1920’s we had one Sunday school class led by a state Supreme Court justice that was over 1,200 strong – and that was just one Sunday school class. We were a mega church before there was a definition for “mega-church”.

Today however we average in the 80’s in attendance.

God called me to this church at the same time he led the elders to a clarified vision of what the future of our church should look like. He led our elders to the conviction that we needed to seek God’s renewal promise, the remembering, repenting and recovering that is his promise first voiced to the Church in Ephesus (cf., Rev 2:5). In a nutshell, the Spirit convicted us that we were in need of reformation.

And we’ve been busy these past two years seeking the Spirit to keep his renewal promise. Foundationally God led us to seek the help of Dr. Harry Reeder and his From Embers to a Flame ministry. (I highly recommend these folks. They are much more biblically sound than some of us confessional-oriented folks might think at first glance.)

A part of our efforts in the “remembering” process has been to look back to our heritage in the Reformation. For the last four years this has meant holding a fellowship event (dinner, kids’ play, service activity, etc.) on Saturday night of Reformation weekend (last Saturday in October). Each year we build the festivities around one Church Father’s life and ministry. This year we celebrated John Knox. (Next year we’re celebrating Augustine.)

This year we were also blessed to add a preaching-teaching component to our Reformation Celebration. We invited Dr. R. Fowler White, VP of Academic Affairs for Ligonier Academy, and a regular contributor here, to come and speak to us. He and his wife drove from Orlando and spent Saturday and Sunday with us. Dr. White preached/taught four times for us, twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday.

Dr. White’s topic was the Holy Spirit’s use of the means of grace in the life of the Church. As you’ve studied the Reformation you’ll recognize the significance of this subject. For our church this topic has become a touchstone for our own reformation. Eschewing the means of man to grow churches, we’re returning to a simple reliance on the means of grace for the Spirit’s restoration of spiritual health. So while this is not an unfamiliar topic for us, it was an exciting expectation to see our understanding of how the Spirit keeps the renewal promise deepen.

And we were not disappointed.

I recommend to y’all, for your own and your church’s edification, Dr. White’s four sessions, which can be found here. Scroll down one full page length and look for the banner-title “Reformation Celebration Conference.” Each of the four sessions are linked there, with each preceded by a summary explanation of the session. (Note: a technical malfunction cut off the last point of Dr. White’s presentation in the second session. The summary paragraph highlights this last point.)

Given my current level of education and personal study it is usually the case that when I attend a conference oriented to the average layman I hear foundational points I already know repeated. This is not bad, as I tend to be one of those butter knives that still needs the file sharpening of repetition. Yet it is rare in such a conference that I hear anything so striking that it significantly advances my own understanding.

In the first session Dr. White gave an extended introduction to the whole series. In it he brought a biblical-theological focus to the question of the central message of the Bible, that while not all alone in its newness, nevertheless re-expressed seminal insights in a new and compelling formula. I won’t claim Dr. White is saying something that has never been said before. I will simply observe that when he was making the case for his point I experienced one of those moments where the Spirit opened the channels of my mind to be flooded with a fullness of the biblical background. It may not be new to some of you, yet this observation alone makes listening to Dr. White’s talks worth the time.

I am increasingly convicted that the Church in America is experiencing the same kinds of spiritual ills that were common in the Church right before the Reformation, indeed that were common in the OT Church right before our Savior’s advent. I expect more and more of you share this same conviction. (Sunday night Dr. Reeder summarized these as: 1) Biblical illiteracy, 2) spiritual impotency, 3) compromised leadership, 4) devaluation of the word, and 5) devaluation of word-ministry, preaching.)

The Reformation was not the history-changing eveny that it was because of one or two big men with one or two big ideas. No doubt the Reformation would never have been what it was without Luther and Calvin. Yet the real strength of the Reformation was not that the Spirit was poured out on a few, but on the many.

I want to challenge you to not fall prey to the “key man” fallacy, the idea that if anything big is going to happen we need to see a key leader arise. We already have that Key Leader immediately present by his Spirit. Instead, I challenge you to take serious God’s renewal promise and began stepping out in faith. Seek it first for your own life and your own family. Then seek it in your church. The Spirit who was so richly and abundantly poured out on Europe during the Reformation has not been exhausted. There is still infinitely plenty left of him to be poured out on us for our Reformation.

Let’s get serious about seeking a new reformation.

Posted by Reed DePace

7 Comments

  1. Paige Britton said,

    November 5, 2010 at 11:04 am

    I heartily second what Reed says about Dr. White’s insights being both familiar and eye-opening — at a certain point listening to the recording of the first talk, I suddenly had to grab notepaper. I won’t spoil it for you, though. Enjoy these good offerings!

  2. November 5, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    Thanks for the reminder and encouragement Reed!

  3. Cris D. said,

    November 6, 2010 at 9:00 am

    Yet the real strength of the Reformation was not that the Spirit was poured out on a few, but on the many. And poured out precisely in terms of Word & restored Sacraments.

    I want to challenge you to not fall prey to the “key man” fallacy, the idea that if anything big is going to happen we need to see a key leader arise. …
    Let’s get serious about seeking a new reformation.

    Amen!

  4. johnbugay said,

    November 15, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Reed, I have thought about this sort of thing long and hard. I do not have the perspective as a pastor that you do, but I think that, rather than working toward a “new” Reformation, we ought to try to understand the original Reformation, what those Reformers were working toward. While that Reformation accomplished a lot, we are still seeing the effects of what it didn’t accomplish.

    In continuing that Reformation (and in some sense, moving it farther forward than it went at the time), we’ll be working to give the church of our own era precisely what it needs.

  5. dozie said,

    November 17, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    “Getting Serious About A New Reformation”: What in the world is that? In any case, whatever you think it will be or look like; it will not happen. The Protestant glass bottle has been smashed and will never be put back together. What is in the future of Protestantism is a continuing degradation, marked by splits and more of it and there is nothing anyone can do about it. And, if you have not formed your own church incorporated, you should hurry because the assumed names are going fast. This is the form Protestantism finds itself and re-form is nothing but wishful thinking. Period.

  6. Reed Here said,

    November 18, 2010 at 8:15 am

    John:

    When I call for widespread individual action I’m not talking about a new annual conference, a new movement, etc. Rather, I’m talking about the model we see in the Reformaiton, each individual pastor, and then each individual church saying, “that’s it, let’s get serious about our own reform).

    That actually looks quite ordinary, as in terms of the visible signs it involves a return to reliance on the means of grace. I think the key difference will be seen in how it sounds. The Church in America preaches a muddled system of Christ + the Christian = the successful Christian life (where the definition of “succes” never quite matches God’s). A return to the solas to be sure, yet even simpler than that, I think it means a return to a ministry dominated by answering three questions:

    >Do you know the problem?
    > Do you know the solution?
    > Do you know how to apply it?

    I think trusting the Spirit to bring a new reformation involves me (as a pastor) and you (as a layman) saying no more muddled banal repentence, no more insufficient Christ, no more self-help faith, and then choosing to live our lives in that conviction.

    I believe we’re in an era where what sounds like “no duh” to you and me, simply sounds like the grumblings of stodgy old “Truly Reformed” types. I believe we are in an era in which The Marrow of Modern Divinity is recognized as a historical text that has no contemporary relevance.

    All this to say I think we agree. If I’ve understood your criticism, I’m not calling for a Movement (the Grand Plan), but lot’s of movements (the ordinary means of grace in each individual church).

  7. Reed Here said,

    November 18, 2010 at 8:22 am

    Dozie: it would be unkind of me to not warn you away from your danger of blaspheme (Jas 2:7; 2Pe 2:10-12; Jud 1:8-10).

    Your insolent, haughty, boastfulness does not put you in very good company (Rom 1:30 in context).

    You are always free to discuss our disagreements. If you merely wish to spout your arrogance, please, for your own sake at least, do not comment here at GB.


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