Praying for more reformation

In her article How the prosperity gospel is sparking a major change in the world’s most Catholic country, Sarah Pulliam Bailey records the changes taking place in Brazil, where Catholicism still reigns but is scheduled to hit minority status within thirteen years. The main force behind the change is the rise of Pentecostalism, with major cities in Brazil being marked by extravagant and gigantic buildings, home to preachers who promise health and wealth to all those generous with God.

While Brazil isn’t the only place in the world being molded simultaneously by Catholicism and Pentecostalism, it does present a unique snapshot of both the ongoing worldwide influence of Christianity and the ongoing need for Reformation. Despite one Pentecostal leader’s assertion that he is carrying the mantle of Martin Luther, Bailey’s piece hints at the irony in Brazil: both competing sides continue to promote the very errors the Protestant Reformation fought. 

Is there any substantial difference between the selling of indulgences (currently experiencing a revival itself) and the call from Pentecostal pastors to gain God’s blessings through generous giving? 

Is there any substantial difference between lowering the authority of God’s Word to be equal to that of the Roman Church and her leader and the overwrought influence held by so many Pentecostal pastors, many claiming Divine inspiration and authority?

Which is all to say that as we celebrate and appreciate the Reformation’s influence and success, we should be honest to recognize that success is limited and much remains to be done. At least in America, the Protestant church has largely abandoned Biblical beliefs and orthodox theology. With 77% of Americans believing that personal effort is a vital contribution to salvation and 52% believing good deeds earn a spot in heaven, where has the Reformation’s legacy gone?

Many of the readers of this blog are a lot like me. You grew up in a reformed church or at least have been in one for a while. Your circle of Christian friends isn’t huge and mostly limited to people who agree with you. Within those bubbles, we can be tempted to think the need for reformation is passed or is waning. And we look at the resurgence of reformed theology among the younger generations with great encouragement. But even that resurgence is, statistically speaking, a small drop in a very large bucket. So unless we are ready to relegate our spiritual heritage to the scrap bin, we should admit the work of reformation is far from over.

As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s theses sparking the Reformation, perhaps the most reformed thing we could do would be to give ourselves to prayer. So much of the world still lives in darkness. And among those who claim faith in Jesus, so many still live within the bondage of a moralistic, works-based theology. The need for light-after-darkness hasn’t gone away.

One Comment

  1. Roy Kerns November 10, 2017 at 3:33 pm #

    Saw blog post on Aquillareport. More and more over the decades I have become convinced experientially of the Bible’s warning that the church will constantly war against error. Today reformed churches in the U.S. face a perversion parallel to the one you post about, Jared. This error, as do the two your blog discusses, relies on serious confusion over the interlocking, inseparable aspects of sovereign grace as it works out in one’s life.

    God is utterly sovereign over the existence and occurrence of sin. Yet people are completely responsible for their sin. (cf, eg, Acts 2:22ff) God’s sovereign grace determines from eternity and in life who will hear and respond to the Gospel. (eg, Jn 6:65) Meanwhile, simultaneously true, God both freely offers the Gospel to all everywhere and everywhen and also even commands them to repent and believe. Yet none have any excuse for not seeking God, submitting to him. (eg, Ro 1:16-21) Only by the grace of regeneration whereby one is made a new creation with a heart of flesh rather than stone will one ever love God and have any desire to serve him. Only by the sanctifying grace of the Spirit’s work will one have any success in the war against sin. Yet simultaneously true, God blesses obedience, brings loving chastening for disobedience, and works thru obedience that those who obey further understand God and grow in both desire and ability to obey. (see all this last in, eg, Dt 6-7, where only by grace and God sovereignly intervening did Israel escape bondage, yet they did the walking, fought the battles, were promised blessing upon obedience, entering battles and winning promised victory, but warned of cursing upon disobedience.

    The apparent contradictions bring expected responses. The pagan simply rejects the whole. The arminian rejects sovereignty and insists on human will as final. The hyper-Calvinist rejects responsibility.

    RCC sold God (give us $, God will let you escape hell). The prosperity gospel sells God (give us $, God will grant you bennies). The grace boys sell God ($upport us and our no sweat sanctification message, you can be happy just by admitting you fail but you need not war against sin, God makes no demands that you hear and obey him, regeneration does not result in describable, observable, behavior changes).

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