Archive Nota Bene Steven Wedgeworth

Why Reformation?

I wrote a pastoral reflection on Reformation Day at my other blog. Here’s an excerpt:

But why celebrate the Reformation now? There are various reasons to ask this question and various ways to answer it, but instead of trying to say everything (my typical flaw), I want to get right to the bottom line because the Reformation is all about the bottom line. We celebrate Reformation Day because we believe in and celebrate justification by faith alone and the immediate work of God in the act of saving sinners. This means that God does the saving, He does it for free, and He does it on His terms. (See here if you want an extended discussion of mediation and all its ins and outs.)

This doctrine relativizes everything else in life. By that, I don’t mean that it makes them unstable, unimportant, or unworthy of respect, but it makes them all penultimate. We must subject everything, even good and holy ordinances, to the sovereignty of God, to His word, His will, and His timing. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

And that means humility, dependency, and faith.

Peter Escalante’s essay from last year is also worth revisiting, especially this part:

Protestants are “evangelical” Christians, and evangelical means “of the Gospel” (Remember, the Lutherans were the original “evangelicals.”). This indicates that we stand on the plain meaning of the Old and New Testaments regarding the Gospel, in a way which is less mixed than churches which have not been reformed, although we warmly acknowledge that they are Christians too despite their imperfect understanding or problematic practices. Our faith is Biblical, and therefore “catholic,” which means, “universal.” We are also called Protestants, because the Christians who called the church back to a purer Biblical faith in the 16th century had to bear witness to Biblical truth, and originally, “protest” meant just that: to testify before an audience. And this is what our fathers in faith did.

It is very important to note that the Reformation was precisely a re-form or return to form,  a recovery of the original form, principles, and flexibility of the ancient church. It is often thoughtlessly said, even by Protestants, that Luther and Calvin “left the Catholic Church,” but they most certainly did not. What they did do is distinguish between the true catholic church in the most basic sense, that is, the believers gathered around the Word on the one hand, and secondary institutions and traditions on the other, many of which were actually contradictory to the essential universal faith held by the faithful. Thus, all along, the Reformers stayed right in the heart of the “catholic church” in the genuine sense of that expression and never left it, while the Roman Catholics, though sharing the same basis, claimed that their problematic institutions and traditions were actually an inseparable part of Christianity as much as the Bible or baptism, and thus they refused communion with the reformed catholics, that is, the Protestants. We didn’t leave them; they left us, and, inheriting the papal refusal of Reformation, they remain in imperfect communion with us.

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the Rector of Christ Church Anglican in South Bend, Indiana. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a founding member of the Davenant Institute.