I’m still distilling things from the Together for the Gospel conference a couple weeks back. I’m encouraged that two weeks later there’s still stuff for me to return to. To be honest, I too often look into the mirror of the word I’ve heard at a conference only to turn away and forget what I’ve seen. So, I’m grateful there’s much to return to, to chew on, to learn from, and to apply.
This morning, my mind is drawn to my breakout session, Carl Trueman’s “Why the Reformation Is Not Over.” I thoroughly enjoyed Trueman’s session and though he managed to stuff the time full of history, insight, wit, a couple jabs, and a lot of encouragement. If you haven’t already, take a listen.
Trueman opens with a discussion of what he sees as the basic pattern of conversion from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism. He highlights four things: concern with aesthetics; a sense of historical rootedness; issues of authority; and culture trends or culture wars. I was struck by this insight particularly as it relates to the Evangelical preoccupation with so-called “culture wars”: “The identification of conservative moral causes as the most important issues inevitably relatavizes theological distinctives.”
The issue of high-profile conversions to Rome simply provided backdrop for the bulk and heart of the lecture. More than a lecture on the facts and issues of the Reformation, Trueman took up the question: “How does being a Protestant make a difference for local churches?” Trueman reminded us that the Reformation was at its heart a pastoral protest. Luther reacted against the buying and selling of God’s grace in a way that minimized the gospel. Zwingli sought to reglate church life by the word of God. Calvin likewise sought to regulate the life of the church by the word but also to free the church’s liturgy and discipline from state control. This was a good reminder for our day, when men innovate with the church like children manipulate play dough, when a light grasp of polity and ecclesiology has harmful effects on theology and the gospel.
Focusing primarily on Luther, Trueman unpacked ways the Reformation makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the church and ministry. The Reformation established:
1. The centrality of the cross:
The cross means reality is not what it seems but what God says it is through the cross. Trueman regards thesis 28 of the Heidelberg Disputation, rightly understood, as the “most beautiful sentence Luther ever wrote.” It reads: “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it.”
2. The centrality of the word:
“God’s presence is not mediated to the church in the sacrament (Medieval theology) but through the word (Reformation).” See Second Helvetic Confession.
3. The centrality of assurance:
“If you don’t put assurance at the center of your theology you cannot make sense of the New Testament.” See the Heidelberg Catechism, question 1.
Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
Of course, one loses such assurance in Roman Catholicism.
4. The centrality of pastoral care:
Trueman reminded us that Reformational pastoral care involves every member. The reformers protested against absenteeism, which Trueman protests against in the form of multi-site churches.
5. The need for more than the gospel alone:
The gospel is insufficient for protecting itself. We need more than the gospel. We must organize the church. We must remember the marks of the church as the Reformers defined them.
In the workshop, I was made freshly aware of how much we owe the Reformation and of how much there is to learn from those who’ve gone before us. It seems to many, myself included, that we stand perilously close to abandoning such a rich and necessary heritage largely through indifference, ignorance, and insanity. Oh Lord God our Help in ages past, keep us from the chronological snobbery that trades our heritage for the watery soup of pragmatism.