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Reformed and Ever Reforming According to the Word of God

“Reformed and Always Reforming According to the Word of God”  Col. 2:6-7; Jude 3; Mt. 25:1-13 10-29-17  The Celebration of the 500th Year of the Reformation  Dr. J. Ben Sloan

For a video of this sermon, click here;   For a video of the choir anthem “Credo” click here;   For a video of the baptism of Maddox Kistler click here.

One of the rare but beautiful things about going to nursing homes is seeing a couple, like Sam and Judy, who have been married for 70 years and still hold hands to bless their food.  True love is never static but it is ever true.  In true love, circumstances change, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren change the relationship, where we live may change, age changes our bodies, but in true love- for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, in better or worse the love not only survives but changes- never losing its core.  In some ways the heart of the Gospel is like true love.  The Gospel is never static.  It changes with the God’s Providence in life by the power of the Holy Spirit.  One of the themes of the Reformation is “Reformed and ever reforming according to the Word of God.”  Basically this is saying we should never let our love for God grow stagnant, cold, or apathetic- but we should always be growing- and growing from our roots- the scriptures.  It is a call to you and me- to always try to improve and grow in our love for God and love for neighbor.  I. REFORMED- The Reformation was about reform.  Luther and Calvin were not trying to start their own denomination, but they were not giving up easily on their principles of getting back to the basics of the faith.  But when they were excommunicated from the church that meant at that time that they could be killed without punishment (and many believed they should be killed for even objecting to the Pope).      What changed or reformed 500 years ago- and how can we learn from that?  Three basic things: 1) A belief in faith alone- The church- yes the church had corrupted the basic gospel message that we are saved by grace through faith.  They were saying we are saved by being good people.  There are many today in our culture who say the same thing.  They may define good in different ways- but they believe that we will be a blessed culture if we can just be good. Let me be clear, being good is really important but it is not the same as getting into heaven or even getting God’s blessing.   Good today may mean being tolerant of others, or being nice, or caring for the environment, or poor, or caring for your family.  But this is the problem- no one is fully tolerant.  We are not tolerant toward those who are not tolerant.  No one is fully nice.  You get tired and you run out of time and energy and resources and are not completely nice- even the nicest of us.  No one is fully caring about the environment.  We pollute a little even with electric cars.  We waste a lot of stuff.  No one is fully moral toward their family.  Every family has problems- sorry to burst anyone’s bubble on this.  Luther and Calvin recognized that even the church was giving us this illusion that we could earn our way by being good.  They remembered the verses that said, “whosoever believes in Him shall have eternal life”- not “whoever is good has eternal life.”  We would do well to put a premium on belief. 2) Grace Alone- Going along with Belief is grace.  We need God’s help to make it in life.  The illusion that was presented is that we could apart from God’s help be good and then we just needed God to help us up the rest of the way.  Today many believe that still.  They just want a little bit of God to help them when they are hurting or down- He to them is like an insurance plan.  We do need Him to help us the rest of the way- but we also need to recognize we need Him the whole way.  Apart from Him we can do nothing.  We use God today like consumers.  We ask what God can do for us instead of asking what can I do in gratitude for all that God has done, is doing, and will do.  3) Scripture Alone- Scripture is not only a record of God’s dealings with the people 2,000 years ago- it is also the living Word that applies to us, that we need to hear.  Its message of love, grace, hope and purpose are things we need to hear today.  The medieval church had watered down the authority of the Bible in favor of the teachings of the church’s scholars and many layers of traditions.  The reformation was a call to get back to the original sources and to our roots. One of the first things Luther did after he was excommunicated was to translate the Bible from Latin to German so everyone could read it for themselves.  Today your ability to read scripture- and probably your ability to read if you were educated in a public school is a gift from the Reformation.       The Reformation deeply affected America.  Many of the settlers of the 13 colonies were Protestant refugees. The Pilgrims and Puritans in New England, the Dutch who founded New Amsterdam later New York, the Huguenots who came to SC along with the Scotch Irish were deeply influenced by the Reformation.  The British were also affected some- the writings of Thomas Moore were brilliantly protestant.  If you don’t think the Reformation makes a difference, then look at the difference today between South America and North America.  South America was colonized mainly by the catholics.  Only in the last fifty years has the emphasis been on public education there- remember they did not encourage the people to read scripture.  Whereas most in America were encouraged to read so they might read the Bible.  The Protestant work ethic has been- up until the last thirty years a dominant force for productivity and good so that America helps feed the world, and provides creative inventions and a stable reality to be studied as part of God’s creation.     Jude 3 is an important verse for the Reformation- it is a reminder we are to contend for the faith entrusted to us.  The Reformation is a revival of God’s Spirit that went back to our sources, but also reformed the heart.  II. EVER REFORMING- One of the questions our passage raises is “How do you keep your fire from going out?”  According to Michel Bush, the guy who likely wrote, “Reformed and ever Reforming according to the Word of God” was a Dutch Theologian Jodicus van Lodenstein in 1674 but it was popularized by Karl Barth in the last century.  Lodenstein wanted to continue the Reformation.  But what is “ever reforming.”  It was not, as some want to say, an effort to say “Life changes and you better keep up- and religion better keep up too.”  There were tremendous changes in Lodenstein’s day- but most of the doctrinal changes were done, the practical changes in worship were done.  There were also technological changes- there was this strange thing called “the organ” that was becoming more and more prevalent in reformed churches.  But he wasn’t talking about technology.  He was talking about the heart.  This is our call as well.  Technological change is nice but secondary.  Musical change is nice but secondary.  What we do with our buildings and organization is nice but secondary.  What is of vital importance is the heart.  Without the continual growth of our love for God and neighbor we become as a church an empty shell- a whitewashed tomb just like the Pharisees had in their day.  The Pharisees in their day, the medieval church in their day had the technology of their day- the organizational skills and rules down pat.  What they didn’t have was a willingness to really love God.  Calvin said true repentance is firm but constant, and makes us war with the evil within us not for a day or a week but without end and without intermission.  Calvin said, “Faith is the yes of the heart- a conviction on which one stakes his life.”  The Bible says, “People judge by outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.”       One of the great prayers of John Calvin that I would love for us to remember is: Thine is my heart. Luther said, “All who call on God from the heart will be heard.”  III. ACCORDING TO THE WORD OF GOD-   The purpose of a standard is to keep us on course.   The principles of scripture.  Just like true love may change but it doesn’t change partners- so the scripture reminds us to stay with the same God and not create our own gods- because we will make them in our image.  The problem in the days of the Reformation was the medieval church was corrupted by power and money.   The Bible is a check on our corruption.  Years ago my brother was on the National Institute of Standards and Technology (or National Bureau of Standards) which had a main lab and office in Colorado.  In his first inaugural address Washington talked about our need to have a fixed measure of weights and standards to assure fair commerce.  In other words, a pound of flour should be a 16 ounces and not 15.5 ounces.  But today the NIST does things like develop standards for Identification so that people cannot fake who they are.   Truth is important and having a standard is important in life.  Jesus’ standard that he quoted and referred to is the Bible and we as followers of Jesus also hold to that same standard.  So Luther, Calvin, and the other Reformers and Protestants held scripture is our standard- not scripture and tradition or scripture and the pope.  If I had to give you one practical application of the Reformation it would be to get a Bible that you can read- and then start reading it- maybe starting at the Gospel of John and then going through the New Testament and then the Old Testament.      Reformed and ever reforming according to the Word of God basically means a willingness to be open to grow, to change with life but don’t lose the eternal things.  There was a multi-year study to find out the secret of longevity and also while studying it- the secret to happiness.  What they found through many different cultures- the ability to adapt to change.  Like adapting to the stages of life, the losses of life, the crushed expectations.  Faith can help- but I invite you to be changed and ever changing according to the Word of God.  Let God change you for better.  Keep your lamps trimmed means be open to look for God and listen to Him.       Martin Luther is not considered a Reformed or Presbyterian, but Calvin considered him the apostle of the Reformation.  Luther knew how to adjust and also what to keep.  Luther started out as a lawyer, then became a monk, then a theology professor, then he was converted to the idea in scripture that we are justified by faith not by works.  Some like the radical reformers- the Anabaptists wanted him to renounce all governments and the Law.  He kept what was scriptural.  When the catholic church wanted him to recant he said, “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen  Do not be afraid to let God change you for better.  Be reformed and ever reforming according to the Word of God.