A New Reformation
The noise of a pounding hammer hasn’t stopped after almost five hundred years. The notice nailed to the church door in a small German college town called Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, is still a friendly debate by a little-known monk named Martin Luther grew into a call for the reformation of the church.
That call has grown even louder over the centuries. It has focused on everything from the basic question of how to “get saved” to the complex question of how to structure and govern the church. How many Bible-believing Protestant churches since Luther’s day have based their existence on the need to separate from another church’s prevailing belief or practice that they judged unscriptural? In some cases real gospel principles were at stake; in others, mainly sinful egos. But there is no question that reformation is necessary, to a greater or lesser degree, in any church that wants to call itself biblical.
Even the Roman Catholic Church, Luther’s original target for reform, has caught on, though in a minor key. The Roman church now officially acknowledges that Luther was right in certain respects, though wrong in others. He was right to speak of justification by grace alone, but wrong to speak of justification by faith alone. They still reject the meat of his message while no longer officially branding him a monster.
And evangelical Protestants? They do not reject Luther’s message; many don’t even know what it was. Ask the average church member to explain justification by faith. That was Luther’s central message, and it still needs to be proclaimed today, especially in evangelical churches. Luther called allegiance to that doctrine the mark of a standing or falling church. The Reformation needs to continue, not merely by changing this or that practice to conform more with Scripture, but by hammering home as Luther did the central message of the gospel—justification by grace alone through faith alone.
That message was proclaimed in an obscure little church in Northampton, Massachusetts by its equally obscure pastor, Jonathan Edwards. The result was the Great Awakening, and its impact was felt throughout the whole of British North America.
Can it happen again?