The trigger and the theology of the Reformation
On 31 October 1517 a sheet of paper was nailed to a church door in what is now Germany. The content of the sheet was a protest against the sale of get-out-of-purgatory papal indulgences. But it was the big bold theology behind the protest that was set to turn the world upside down.
If we are ‘in Christ’ (Col. 1:2), if we are now in the ‘kingdom of the beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins’ (Col. 1:13), if we have been reconciled ‘by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy, without blemish and free from all accusation’ (Col. 1:23), if we have ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27), if ‘in Christ you have been brought to fullness’ (Col. 2:10), if we have been ‘made alive with Christ, forgiven all our sins, having cancelled the charge against us… nailing it to the cross’ (Col 2:13-14), if we have ‘died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God’ (Col. 3:3), then what place can there be for the giving of money and masses for the remission of sins? None. We don’t need the Roman priesthood and sacraments to mediate forgiveness to us – our salvation is a past fact, a present status, a secure hope because we are united unbreakably to the Son of God himself.
In Christ Alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
…on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
…I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ
The source and engine of the Reformation
If indulgences were the trigger issue of the Reformation and Christ-Alone its great theological argument, then the source and engine was the Scriptures. It was the translation of the Scriptures into the language of the people and the preaching of this clear and living Word in pulpits and pamphlets which unleashed the explosive, creative, saving, reforming power of the speaking God himself.
What will be necessary for reformation in our day? There will probably be a trigger issue. We will come to see a particular issue which exemplifies the cultural captivity of the church – an issue (or set of issues) over which large swathes of the church have nullified the word of God and imperiled the spiritual health of the flock. More importantly we will rediscover the great gospel doctrines of grace which have not only been threatened by the trigger issue but have more generally been sidelined and displaced by more ‘exciting’ things. We will rediscover that Christ is all in all; he is the centre; he is the answer; in him are all the riches of wisdom and righteousness and sanctification; he has taken the wrath of God and brought us into the presence of God; he is enough and more than enough. And how will we rediscover this? We will get the Bible open. We will preach the Word and we will sit in small groups like Bereans searching the Scriptures, seeing these things for ourselves. We will get into books of the Bible so the Bible gets into us.
Colossians: Christ Alone is the latest in a series of resources designed to help small groups to be getting the Bible open and seeing Jesus. No need for a specially trained leader with a black belt in hermeneutics, just simple questions to ask of the text and of one another so we see the wonderful things in God’s word, come to glory in Christ alone and start to think through how this should reform the way that we do church, life, work and family. Available for 200 KES from iServe Africa Bookstore.