The word church conjures up all sorts of strange ideas. I noticed someone posted on Facebook recently: “That is what going to church is about…fellowship. If you don’t go…you miss out on meeting many wonderful people.” However false that statement is, the church consists of professing believers. Therefore, the church consists of professing Christians. There will come a time when every man, woman, and child will stand before the final judgment and then everyone will know if the profession was true or false. Some will hear these words: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:33). Others will hear these words: “Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21). The end for some is misery and the others will find peace. There is no middle ground or tertium quid. In the end there will be the family of God, the believers, the church or the family of Satan (John 8:42-47).
Professing Christians may be very religious, but anti-God. The modern church is pro-relativism, pro-pragmatism, pro-secular-psychological-therapy, pro-management, and pro-higher criticism, just to mention a few of the elements many professing Christians use to advance their religious agenda. Elders are more inclined to man-made ideas than the whole counsel of God. Ecumenical colloquium has replaced church councils. Doctrinal purity is despised. It makes me wonder if the greater part of evangelical Christianity is in the clutches of apostasy without even knowing it or if it is known, it is suppressed. The sadder and more painful effect of all these and innumerable other anti-church movements falls on the man in the pew. Week by week his or her mind is filled with false doctrine. World and life views slowly develop until the professing Christian finally adopts the anti-church world and life view. It may take several generations, but sooner or later truth, honor, and dignity will take leave from the visible church. I fear that time has arrived and now reformation principles must be nailed on the church door. It is true that there are pockets of reformation at one place or the other in the church.
Since reformation is the subject of this discussion, let me define a couple of terms before I continue:
- Reformation – the recovery (or discovery) of biblical truth
- Revival – the practice of biblical truth
When God sends reformation some will embrace it and others will hate it. “At a time when God manifests himself in such a great work for his church, there is no such thing as being neuter.” This statement may be found in an essay written by Jonathan Edwards during the time of reformation and revival at his church in Northampton, Mass. Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me (Luke 11:23).
When God sent the angels to Sodom to warn Lot of the impending judgment, Lot warned the unreformed men, but they ignored Lot. The minds of the wicked men of Sodom simply could not be reformed. Why did those wicked men not experience the kind of reformation and revival that Jonathan Edwards saw at Northampton? There may be a number of reasons.
One of the primary reasons for the absence of reformation is from ignorance of the Word of God. Reformation and revival will never proceed from those who have never been shown the truth from the Word of God. A fuzzy emotional experience may not necessarily reveal God’s truth. Then there are those who have been shown the truth, but they refuse to embrace the truth. If professing Christians have no concern or interest in truth, then the Spirit of God may not reside in their souls. Obviously reformation cannot take place if people are unconcerned about truth.
A disinterest in truth, reformation, and revival should be a grave concern to the church. The church that is not reforming will devolve its corruption to the next generation. Sooner or later the church will become so corrupt it will be called Ichabod (the glory has departed from Israel). This is devastating for the church. If professing Christians have no concern or interest for truth, then the Spirit of God may be absent from those souls. If the Spirit of God is absent, then there cannot be reformation. If there is no reformation (re-discovery of biblical truth), then there cannot be a revival. True biblical reformation will always precede revival. If revival is the first order of business, the result may be a false man-made salvation or people seek to please God by their moral choices. If Christ is our Savior then our salvation is not man-made, but quite on the contrary our salvation is God-made. If Christ is our Lord then we seek to please Him in all our moral choices, rather than making moral choices to please ourselves.
It is an error to think that biblical reformation is a concept discovered by Martin Luther 498 years ago on October 31st. “What Luther did was to rediscover vital Christianity and to give it afresh to the world” (The Works of B. B. Warfield, Vol. 9, p. 463). Biblical reformation is just that – it is biblical. Our reformation forefathers simply recovered and practiced the long forgotten concept that “the church [being] reformed [by the Word of God] is always reforming.” As I said earlier, a church that is not reforming will devolve its corruption to the next generation.
The 17th century Puritan, Francis Turretin, said the call to reformation is such that “a man is bound to purge his faith and worship of all the errors and superstitions by which it could be corrupted so that he may retain religion pure from every stain (vol. 3, p. 217). Is it possible for a man to purge his faith and worship of all errors and superstitions? Is it possible to remove all the corruption that comes from the sinful heart? Is it possible for our religion to be pure from every stain? The challenge is great and only possible if we are always being reformed by the Word of God. The Bible instructs us how we may remove all the corruption that comes from the sinful heart. Our religion will never be completely pure from every stain, but if there is any purity at all, it will be the result of reformation. Are we willing to work for the recovery of biblical truth?
There is an axiom that says “if you don’t use it you lose it.” If we apply that to the concept of reformation, we must say that if we don’t use the Word of God, we will lose the Word of God. In this materialist and consumeristic age one may argue that the Word of God is in abundance. Everyone has one, two, or maybe even five in the house. If you visit the bookstore you will find the youth Bible, the serendipity Bible, the boys Bible, the girls Bible and a whole host of Bibles to accommodate most any need you might have. Even so, I say we are in danger of losing the Bible for several different reasons:
- It is possible to lose the Word of God because of indifference.
- It is possible to lose the Word of God because the Scriptures are not studied.
- If the preaching of the Word of God is despised, then the Word of God may be lost.
- It is possible to lose the Word of God because it is considered irrelevant.
I’ve met too many professing Christians who are indifferent toward the Word of God and some of them, strange as it may seem, attach little importance to the Word of God. Then there is an equal number who simply do not study the Word of God. Whether we lose the Word of God through neglect, misbelief, or disobedience, we are brought to the same end. Sin, vice, and misery are the natural results of losing the Word of God. Without the Word of God, men and women will hate true worship. Without the Word of God false worship will replace true worship. So without the Word of God the church has no purpose.
A brief study of church history will reveal that the Bible has been lost to a lesser or greater degree at certain times and places in every period of the history of the church. The question we must ask is: What about today? The church as a whole is in a sad state. Survey after survey reveals that many, and from my experience most, professing Christians can’t even name the 10 commandments. Although they may use popular or even orthodox religious language, many have little understanding of salvation through grace by faith in Christ alone. Practice does not precede knowledge, despite the assertions made by religious professing Christians. You must know something before you can believe something and you must believe something before you can practice something.
When the Holy Spirit has done His work and changes the hearts of His people, then being reformed by the Word of God will continue throughout their lives. Being reformed by the Word of God will touch every part of your soul – the mind, the emotions, and the will. Once a child of God discovers the law and the gospel intellectually, it will have an effect on his or her decisions and there will be an outward manifestation of his or her love for truth. Being reformed by the Word of God is a necessary principle that must not be avoided.
Recovering the law and the gospel is ultimately important. We cannot put it off any longer! What will we devolve on the shoulders of our children if we do not seriously seek reformation in the church, thus affecting every area of life including our religious, familial, social, economic, and political lives? To defer reformation to another person or another time is dangerous indeed, because such thinking and actions will surely provoke God’s wrath. There is a choice: reformation or judgment!
After Jonah experienced personal reformation he took the reformation to Nineveh. The Word of God says Jonah preached a sermon that went something like this: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). Apparently Jonah’s preaching was very powerful, because the whole city repented in sackcloth and ashes. How wonderful to see the universal nature of reformation that was occasioned by their faith in God. How wonderful to see the reformation move from city streets to the palace, from the common man to the heads of state. The undeniable truth from the book of Jonah is that the reformation at Nineveh saved that city from God’s impending judgment, unlike the city of Sodom.
God’s warnings are all around us. In the church, out of the church and throughout the natural world, God sends His warnings. True ministers of the Word of God who preach the full counsel of God are instruments of God to warn all people of God’s coming judgment (After you read the next sentence, please read Ezekiel 33:1-11.) Reformation is absolutely necessary for the church and society!