The Reformation and Missions
On October 31st, 1517, a monk in his mid thirties named Martin Luther published his ninety-five thesis, accusing the Catholic Church of misconduct. Initially Pope Leo X dismissed Luther as another drunken monk. But the Papal theologian Prierias was not so dismissive. He quickly published a response, Dialogue Against the Arrogant Theses of Martin Luther. Luther’s thesis had struck a nerve and would change the course of western history.
This October marks the five hundredth year since the Reformation. October is also when we host our missions conference. While the Reformation is not often associated with missions, you could argue that the Reformation was missional. Prior to the Reformation, people lived according the mantra facere quo in se est (do what lies within you). It was the idea that salvation is tied to your personal effort. The medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas taught that grace does not do away with nature, but completes it. In other words, grace works hand-in-hand with your effort to make you acceptable before God. But this only led to anxiety. People wondered, ‘have I done enough for God?” Many priests would answer that question by simply saying, “try harder.” And the priests provided many opportunities for people to give more to the church in order to further their own righteousness.
The medieval book Hortus Deliciarum (“Garden of Delights”) depicts salvation as a ladder of virtues. God greets those who make it to the top by handing them a crown of life. Each rung of the ladder represents another virtue that one must acquire to earn salvation. There are demons all around, ready to shoot down all who try to climb up. On the side of the ladder is written, “Whoever falls can start climbing again thanks to the remedy of penance.”
It was under this system that the continent of Europe lived, including the young monk Martin Luther. Luther was determined to do his best. But as Luther reflected on all that effort he realized, “[T]hough I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience... I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners.”
Luther and the the other reformers lived in a mission field where churches were prevalent, but few knew of God’s gift of salvation. The people lived under a system that understood righteousness as something you needed to earn, and grace worked in conjunction with your own effort. The reformers’ message flipped all of that on its head. Instead they showed a burdened and weary people that righteousness is God’s gift through faith, that grace is given before they do anything on their own.
The Reformation was about missions. The reformers had to establish gospel-centered churches and leadership where none existed. They had to educate a whole people about the basics of the real gospel message. It’s because of these things that I’m excited that we are commemorating the 500th year of the Reformation alongside our missions conference. In order to better understand the impact of the Reformation and how it applies to us today we will be doing a sermon series looking at the five key teachings of the Reformation: scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and God’s glory alone. During Sunday school we will be diving into some of the historical context around each main doctrine that came out of the Reformation. I’m excited for this series, and I hope you will join us for the sermons and Sunday School.
The final sermon in this series, “To God’s Glory Alone”, will be preached by Brian Tsui at our Joint Reformation Service at 6pm October 29th. We’ve invited all the other PCA churches in the area to come, and we are excited to fill our building with other believers, worshiping with the same liturgy those Christians used back then. After learning about the Reformation in our series, we will get to experience it and see how the theological and practical issues of the Reformation influenced how those believers (and we today) worshipped.
I’m excited about the many things we have going on in October and look forward to seeing you there.
Reformation Month Schedule
1 Oct - God’s Word Alone
8 Oct - Faith Alone
15 Oct - Grace Alone
22 Oct - Christ Alone
28 Oct - 5:00-7:30PM Missions dinner with our missionaries.
29 Oct - 9:45-12pm: Missions worship service with lunch afterwards
29 Oct 6:00-7:00pm God’s Glory Alone: Joint Reformation Service with all the other PCA churches.