You Can't Reform What You Won't Touch
I've loved all the special services, conferences, blog posts, and books for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation these past weeks. I've reveled in remembering stories of Luther's heroics, hearing messages on the doctrines of grace, and being stirred to keep carrying the torch of reform. Yet I wanted to point out one important truth about Biblical reform we need to keep in mind.
You can't reform what you won't touch.
What do I mean? Individual, congregational, or cultural reform does not occur simply by lobbing doctrinal cannonballs from the pulpit to the pews or, worse yet, from one computer screen across cyberspace toward the screen of an intended target. Rather, you have to get messy and touch what you desire to see changed.
Recently Rebecca VanDoodewaard commented, "Sixteenth-century Europe didn’t change because three or four intelligent men wrote new theological works." She wrote that in the context of explaining how the women of the Reformation worked hard by raising godly families, opening their homes to strangers, conducting poverty relief, promoting theological education, and influencing politics. With hearts and minds full of Biblical teaching, these women put their hands and feet to work with the busyness of going forward and touching people in ways necessary for kingdom service. Many of our male Reformed heroes did the same. For example, Calvin not only wrote The Institutes but instituted the Bourse Française (The French Fund) to care for and retrain vocationally the thousands of immigrants pouring out of France into Geneva. He not only wrote about reformation. He practiced it.
I bring this up because in our camp it is easy to hold up high a banner we might call "Reformed Triumphalism." This banner represents those who talk proudly of being Reformed and promote its doctrines, but remain aloof from living out these doctrines with people in concrete ways. Those waving this banner often seem more interested in taking people back to the way they perceive things were in the sixteenth century rather than applying Reformed truths and living to this century. It's as if they read the word "Reformed," noted it ends with "-ed," and concluded that being Reformed means living in the past.
Examples of this abound. Those who add volumes of Puritan works to their libraries but who never visit the sick or imprisoned (like many of those books would tell them to do). Those busy building their web presence with Calvin quotes but who do not have a presence in their local community. Those who talk about reforming nations but who do not share Christ with their neighbor. Those who insist on using Bible translations written in the English of past centuries and feel superior to those who use modern ones. Those who are so strict about the requirements for the Lord's Supper that virtually no poor saint comes to the table. Those who readily call a preacher an Arminian for pleading to people to believe on Christ. Those who may speak of the mercy of God to sinners but view works of mercy by the church as promoting a social gospel.
Reformation, like swimming, takes more than just standing on the side talking about it. You have to jump into the pool where other people are. Yet does that not remind us of a simple truth about the gospel? The Son of God became man, and took on his own person our sins at Calvary. He touched sinners, and they touched him. As a result, God's kingdom came in power. In our own day, as the 500th anniversary begins to fade behind us, let us remember that we not only need the doctrines of the Reformation. We need the spirit of it as well.