This past weekend we celebrated Reformation Sunday at The American Church in Paris.
Though I had studied all about the Reformation in college and seminary, I had never been in a church tradition that paid tribute to the great reformers of the Christian faith.
In our sanctuary one of our stained-glass windows is called The Reformers:
Luther, professor of theology at Wittenberg, posting his thesis on the door; Calvin, preaching in Geneva; Cranmer, Anglican and a martyr; Knox, imprisoned and preaching before Mary, Queen of Scots; inscription:
The inscription underneath is the Latin Vulgate ” Post Tenebras Lux”: After darkness light.
As important as it is for us to learn from our past and honor tradition, the church is always in need of reforming. Very often we only look back and do not look forward, almost confessing that the Holy Spirit’s work is accomplished, done, finished.
Perhaps the church has been constrained too much to tradition (of text, doctrine, interpretation, practice) and is need of new eyes and a fresh approach.
Bruce Epperly, professor of theology at Lancaster University, writes these provocative words: “We cannot… substitute paper infallibility for papal infallibility. We cannot worship words or let them get in the way of the Living Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ. Just as God’s mercies are new every morning, faithfulness to scripture means challenging scripture when it deviates from God’s graceful presence… To be faithful to scripture, today’s Christians must see it as a living and evolving document, variable in revelation from page to page. We can no longer live comfortably with passages that promote violence and the objectification of women, “non-believers,” or the gay community.We must, with Luther and other Reformers, look for the word of grace within the words of scripture. A graceful reading of scripture opens us to experiencing divine wisdom in science, medicine, literature, and [even] non-Christian faiths. Scripture is always an open door, and never a closed closet.”
Our pastor, the Rev. Scott Herr in his masterful commentary on this quote during the message on Reformation Sunday, continued this thought in saying,
“It was John Calvin who said that Scripture is the lens through
which we can see Christ… With the Holy Spirit, we read scripture in
order to receive God’s Living Word anew each day. In other words, we
are challenged by the Spirit to discern how best to live out the truth of the
gospel here and now to bring the liberating salvation of Jesus for all people.
We cannot merely rely on tradition; what we learned in Sunday school.
Simply living off the past can be dead faith, and I would argue a potentially
dangerous faith, even hostile to the gospel. Even the great reformers erred
egregiously: Calvin with Michael Servetus; Luther with the Jews; Zwingli
with the Anabaptists… And throughout history there are other sad stories
of Christians committing atrocities because they failed to allow the Spirit to
guide them in interpreting the law of Christ in their own context…
Will love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and
self- control be evident in our living out the gospel? Will we be found “guilty” of
showing God’s amazing grace and love to all of our neighbors… even our enemies?”
If you happen to attend ACP and take a close look at the pulpit, one will notice six figures carved by former church member Dick Wessel.
There is the apostle Paul, reformer of the Jewish faith.
There is Martin Luther, reformer of the Catholic faith in the 16th century.
there is John Calvin, French reformer in the 16th century
John Wesley, English reformer of the 18th century.
And then there is Pope John the 23rd, reformer of the Catholic church in the 20th century (you will probably not find too many carvings of Popes in Protestant churches!)
And last but not least, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reformer of the American Church in the 20th century.
They are past figures who should inspire and challenge us to consider how will we be reformers in the 21st.
Who are those reforming the church today? I wonder how these individuals may be looked upon today by those within the Church unwilling to change, and those who do not believe the Church is still in need of reform.
How do we treat today’s reformers?
Are we willing to be counted as one of them?
Do we hold more to the law of the Book and the law or of Spirit of Christ?
Just a last thought from the Rev. Scott Herr:
The 16th century Reformers affirmed “five
solas”—sola scriptura, sola fides, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo
Gloria. That means Scripture alone. Faith alone. Grace alone. Christ alone.
And to God alone be the glory! I would add one more to make it an even
six: solus espiritus! The Spirit alone.
Perhaps as long as we hold these up together, we may continue to be a church that truly gives light in the darkness, a church reformed and always reforming here and now, according to the Word of God and the call of the Spirit…
Our congregational response and Hymn of Faith was “Thanks to God Whose Word was Written”
The fitting lyrics of the refrain are:
“God has spoken, still is speaking; Praise God for the living Word.”