There has been a lot of conversation about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. However, I am not Reformed. I distance myself from the popular expressions of Reformed Theology today. As a Baptist and a dispensationalist who believes that Israel and the church are distinct, there is significant divergence from the Reformers and Reformed theology. Yet, there is still much in the Reformation to be thankful for. I have enjoyed thinking about the Reformation recently, and I wanted to share some thoughts on this.
This anniversary is for the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses (or statements) against the Roman Catholic practice of indulgences, which were a means of obtaining forgiveness of sins by paying the church. More important than this particular issue was the underlying theological ideas that Luther had come to believe. His action on October 31, 1517, was a spark that led to the Reformation movement that would break the grip of the Dark Ages on Europe. Without the Reformation and the significant change it produced across Europe, it is hard to imagine the West as it was the last 500 years. As an American, it is significant to consider that this nation would’ve likely never formed without the Reformation.
The underlying ideas I mentioned above can be summarized by these common phrases involving the word alone:
- Scripture alone
- Grace alone
- Faith alone
- In Christ alone
- To the glory of God alone
These encapsulate essential ideas to Biblical Christianity, when understood properly (the recent controversy regarding John Piper about salvation shows they aren’t fail proof). These have all been helpful ideas for me to focus on as I study.
Scripture alone refers to the church’s authority, and the Bible is a major focus of my own life’s study. It is often considered to be the “formal basis” of the Reformation, and I regard this issue as the formal basis of a Biblical and Christian worldview. There is much more to this, including the sufficiency of Scripture, and I confess I have great need to grow in this area.
Grace alone, as the idea of God’s free gift of salvation apart from works, is an enormous theme, a glorious theme for us who have received this gift and know the LORD and the peace of God..
Faith alone, the key issue in Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, refers to the means of receiving this grace. This means is apart from works entirely.
Christ alone refers to the one in Whom we trust for the grace of God.
To the glory of God alone is the goal of our salvation, and can even be broadened to include the goal of creation.
The Baptist Bulletin, the newsletter of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, ran an excellent issue in September-October 2017 on the Reformation with an article on each of these phrases. I recommend this issue though it is deeper reading, though it isn’t free unfortunately.
Each of these phrases are good and important in of themselves, but they are not enough. Three key issues may be mentioned. For one, there is no vision of a “pure church” in Reformed theology. A Baptist pastor preached on the “sixth” alone, “Sola Puras Ecclesia” meaning “a pure church alone.” This refers to the need for God’s people to remain pure from unbelievers in the church or disobedient believers. This is part of why Baptists may be traced more to the Radical Reformation (see one Baptist’s series on why he isn’t a Protestant). Second, the Reformation failed to recognize Scripture’s teaching about God’s love and plan for Israel. The Reformers generally were unchanged from the Catholic Church in their harsh treatment of ethnic Jews, through whom Christ came and for whom Christ will one day return to reign over. Third, while the Reformers called for a return to a literal method of reading the Bible, Reformed theology back then and today has not practiced this consistently in the Old Testament. This is part of the reason for the Reformers’ beliefs about Israel. There is a new work that is just being released now titled Forged From Reformation: How Dispensational Thought Advances the Reformation Legacy. This work is a scholarly work devoted to showing how dispensationalism is simply the natural outgrowth of the Reformation. I look forward to getting this book soon.
In conclusion, why does the Reformation matter for me as a dispensational, classic free-grace, fundamental Baptist? It matters for three key reasons. First, it helped free the world from the Catholic Church and its grip on the world through the Dark Ages. Second, it led to the helpful expression of the five “alones” that are so crucial to a Biblical worldview. Third, it helped lay a ground work that would lead to the development of modern Baptist thought and dispensational thought. In spite of issues about the Reformers and their failures, I am thankful for Luther and the Reformation. I hope to continue to grow in my understanding of each of these five “alones,” and indeed even the sixth one. Do you have any questions? Please, feel free to send me a note at [email protected] or leave a comment below or interact with me on social media. Thank you!