Reforming Ourselves

Reforming Ourselves

by Bob Burridge ©2011

Reformation Day is October 31st. On that day in 1517 Augustinian monk Martin Luther drew up 95 statements for scholarly debate. He had them posted on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

People from all over Europe were coming there to celebrate All Saints Day on November 1st. They believed they would receive special blessings by looking upon the relics, attending Mass, and by doing various kinds of penance at its reputable church. Superstition dominated the church then, and had enslaved the people with false hopes.

Luther wanted a biblical foundation for the church’s beliefs and practices. He didn’t have any interest in becoming one of history’s most influential people. But what he did on that seemingly average October morning shaped the whole course of Western civilization.

As an Augustinian Monk, Luther struggled with a sense of his own moral guilt. He could see that a perfectly Holy God could not ignore crimes against his created order. What God called “sin” had to be dealt with in some amazingly powerful way.

Luther could see from Scripture that nothing man or church could do would be enough to atone for a person’s sins. His sense of guilt led him into deep fear, self-beatings, and tears of shame and agony. His knowledge of God’s word was confused by the teachings of a popular and powerful church.

He was overwhelmed when he first saw a complete copy of the Bible. It was chained to a podium at the University of Erfurt. For ten years he avidly studied the Scriptures in search of what God actually said, instead of what the popular pastors were saying.

When he rediscovered the truth of grace in that book, he became a Reformer. Since only God’s word could be the standard for what was absolutely true, a sound and accurate knowledge of the Bible was the only way to set people free from lies, false teachers, and manipulative leaders.

The historic meaning of reformation
has been mostly lost in today’s world.

I often have people ask me why anyone would want to reform Christianity. Reforming does not mean revising or updating something. It means taking it back to its original form. It means we honestly examine the way things are, determine carefully what they should be, then try to remove the corrupted parts to restore the original.

In the days of King Josiah, a copy of God’s word was found in the rebuilding of the Temple. The reading of the long ignored word convicted the King and reformed Israel. Worship and daily life were restored to the way God said they should be.

In the days of Jesus the main religious groups had again corrupted God’s teachings. Jesus corrected their errors challenging them to return to the teachings of Scripture. He was the one promised in the writings of Moses, David, and all the Prophets. Those who listened to him returned to those ancient promises and discovered the much forgotten work of grace that changed their lives.

At the time of Martin Luther the church of Rome had again wandered far from God’s truth. New doctrines and rituals had been added which were not based upon the Bible. Luther and the other reformers worked to restore God’s Kingdom as seen on earth to it’s original form.

During the battles of the early 20th Century, Liberalism and Post-Modernism challenged us. Men such as J. Gresham Machen, Archibald Alexander Hodge, Francis A. Schaeffer, and Cornelius VanTil stood up for soundly understanding biblical truth.

Today in the 21st Century there is still a need for reformation. There’s an old Latin saying: Semper Reformanda. It means, “Ever being re-molded, re-formed.” Reformanda is a Latin Gerundive Participle from the verb, reformo. It is not as much about changing things, as it is about being changed.

It means, we should always be submitting our every belief and practice, our every love and goal, to the test of God’s word, then reshaping what we find so that it conforms to God’s truth and ways. Only what God has revealed should be our standard and foundation.

I have often heard this slogan misused, even by ministers who should know better. Some represent it as meaning, “always finding a new shape for things” – as if our duty is to be innovators.

That’s not at all what it means. As a Latin reflexive verb, it is something done to us, not something new we come up with to impose upon something else. Our duty is to be always re-shaping our beliefs and practices back into the original form given to them in Scripture.

Sadly, in our modern world, even among those who might say they are reformed believers, another Latin expression better describes their objectives: Semper Neo-formans. This Latin active verb structure means always forming something new.

Innovation is important. God calls us all to subdue his world for his glory, but it should never go beyond the boundaries set by God’s unchanging standard.

Reformation is not a change in God’s truth, or in the way he calls us to live and to worship. It is a change made in individuals, churches, families, and societies that brings them back to God’s ways.

Ignorance of the Bible lures people to unbiblical beliefs and practices. Some are unaware of how much the New Testament says about the form of worship, and how the church should be governed under the headship of Jesus Christ, and about how we each person should live in their homes, work places, and community.

The tension we see today, is the battle between two ways of looking at life: either we are re-forming our lives and beliefs to fit the form God gave us, or we are making up new forms that better fit a society in love with its own pleasure and comfort.

This principle of reformation is
a clear mandate from God in his word.

Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” What God says, is the only true light. Jesus is called the light of the world because he is the greatest communication of eternal truth into our world from God himself. He came to correct our errors, to show us the right way to live, and to secure our only hope of forgiveness and eternal life by his life and death.

To look for other sources of light, is to end up wandering down a wrong path. Notice how clearly God directs us to use his word as our guide, our only standard, and the only form by which we should direct our practices and beliefs.

Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.”

John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Reformation is not just a matter of theoretical theology.

Biblical Reformation includes re-molding our lives as individuals, and as the family of God. It brings us back to principles that guide us through our every-day situations.

Our imperfect hearts are easily tempted by the world around us to develop wrong attitudes and behaviors. Each of us needs to be being re-formed into what God lovingly explained in his word.

1. We need to reform how we treat others with whom we come in contact. The attitude of the lost is to see others only as ways of making themselves feel good, or of accomplishing their temporal goals. The fallen nature tends to take advantage of others as long as it can get away with it.

To the lost, reputation becomes something that helps a person feed his self-centered life. They may act in a kind way toward others, and avoid obvious lies because they know it is harder to get what they want from others if people are offended by them or can’t trust them. What they see as “good deeds” are often driven by these very wrong motives. People try to act in a good way so they can get “points with God,” “respect in the community,” or “advantages in business.”

I once knew a couple who seemed very friendly. They had people over for dinner, went up to others in the worship service to greet them, and came to every church service. After some time we found out they were really there to network for their business. They were recruiting sales representatives to help sell their home care products. Once they went through their list of prospects in our church, they moved on to another congregation. They impressed many of us with their friendly attitude, until we chose not to join their pyramid scheme.

The lost might reach out to help others in need, but they do it to avoid facing a troubled conscience, or to fuel self-pride and gain postition in the community.

When self is the reason we do good things, God is no longer at the center or our thoughts and motives. Certainly we want good things in our lives. We should want to help others, and to be able to provide for those facing real needs, but these actions should proceed out of us as service to God, not as fruits of self-serving covetousness and greed.

When we are re-formed into what God’s word says we should be, we have a higher purpose. We pray and work hard while resting in the power of Christ to overcome our self-centered attitudes and behaviors.

Galatians 5:19-21 describes the works of the flesh, the things that issue from imperfect hearts. They are listed as, “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like …”

In their place, we should be cultivating the fruit of the Holy Spirit who works within us. That is what we see described in the next two verses of Galatians 5, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

For those redeemed by grace, honoring God should be first in their lives. It becomes their motive for being good, and for doing good to others.

We are obligated to show these evidences of the Holy Spirit at work in our hearts. This effects how we take part in conversations, and how we respond to rudeness. Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, That’s our mission, our responsibility in life.”

It is easy to walk away, to ignore those who make you uncomfortable, or to strike back at them, but God calls you to be light. He tells you to shine in the darkness, not to hide the light away. Lights are designed to shine in all those dark places. It is this standard that should shape our lives as we strive by the power of Christ to be truly reformed believers.

2. We need to be reformed in how we worship and fellowship with God. We all benefit from getting together on Sundays to sing, to pray, and to hear God’s word. However, worship is not primarily for our benefit. We come together as a congregation to honor God, the one who brought you through the week just completed, and who promises to guide and comfort you during the week ahead.

Biblical worship should be centered upon our Redeemer, not upon ourselves. We should not worship to feel entertained, but to be challenged to appreciate, love, and honor our Redeemer.

3. Being personally reformed effects how we handle our regular responsibilities. Marriage and family relationships and all our duties are not always carried out the way God says they should be. They must be reformed to again take the shape of what God says they should be according to his word.

Our work, studies, family relationships, and occupations are not just to get more things for our own pleasure. God says we are to work as his servants in are we are called to do. We should keep his glory first as we manage our time, resources, and opportunities. A reformed worker is diligent and careful to do his best in all he does. It is Kingdom work, done as citizens of God’s Kingdom as it is displayed here on earth.

In all things we need to be re-shaping our attitudes and behaviors so that they conform to what God says they should be. We do them to show our love and devotion to our Creator above every other goal and motive.

4. We also need to be reforming our private lives. Your alone time, when it is just you and God, needs to be shaped by the mold of God’s word. All your thoughts, secret wishes, opinions, likes, and dislikes, should be constantly re-modeled into what the Bible says they should be.

What do you secretly dream about and hope for? Would it please those around you if they knew? Would it please God? No one else can know what goes on inside your own mind, but God not only knows, he cares.

Reformation is not limited to the great accomplishments of large movements in the course of history. It is not found only in theses posted in public places to challenge the church to examine its doctrines and practices. It is about families making biblical principles the rule in their homes and relationships. It is about people doing their daily chores aware that they are advancing Christ’s Kingdom. It is about believers and their churches restoring God’s word as the foundation of their lives. It is about you bringing every thought captive to Christ, making your moment-by-moment choices in ways that show God’s word as your most respected and treasured guide. It is about showing God that you really love him supremely — above everything else.

When you take time to sit down each day to read your Bible and you pray, look for guidance there about how your life can be different, more honoring to the God you love. Be always being reformed.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

What Is Reformed Theology?

What Is Reformed Theology?

Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©2011

There is often confusion about what is meant by “Reformed Theology.” It’s not the “Theology” part that gives people a problem. That clearly means that this is a view about God and how he is made known to us. It’s the “Reformed” part that has acquired many different meanings.

To some, being reformed means any change of something into something different. But renovation or remodeling is not quite the same as reforming it. Reformation means changing the form of something back into it’s original shape after it had become deformed in some way.

A simple illustration always comes to my mind. When I was young my dad and I would make lead soldiers. We would melt down pieces of lead, then pour it into a mold. When it cooled the mold was opened and I had a nice set of toy soldiers to stir my imagination in games of battle.

After some rough skirmishes the soft metal would bend or even break. The soldiers didn’t look battle ready when their rifles, arms, or legs were bent or broken off. The simple solution was to take them back to the kitchen table to melt them down again. We would pour the melted metal back into the mold so they would again emerge with their original shape.

In time the same thing happens to the teachings of God’s word. Mishandling of various texts causes the truths of Scripture to become deformed. They no longer resemble what God actually said. It most often takes place slowly. Questions are asked that try to look behind the things God has chosen to make known to us. Theories are offered to attempt an answer to the questions. Soon the models we think up become part of the facts we plug into other more highly developed theories. Before long the original theories are treated with the same authority as the biblical facts. What emerges is a distorted theology.

The Reformers of the 16th century saw a need to get back to the original teachings that derive from the Bible alone. Theories were doubted when they included assumed facts which were merely based upon earlier imagined truths.

Late in the afternoon, on Thursday the 18th of April, 1521, Martin Luther stood accused of heresy. He was a simple monk, a scholar, and pastor. He had been called to stand before an awesome court. It was made up of the Emperor himself, Charles V. Along with him was the Archduke Ferdinand and six electors of the Empire. There were 24 dukes who were each powerful sovereigns over their own countries. There were ambassadors from England and France and a great company of archbishops, bishops, and other dignitaries from the Pope.

Luther was being charged with defying the beliefs promoted by the Church of Rome. There at this historic meeting at Worms, he spoke a few simple but famous words which reflected the tsunami that was beginning to wash over the world at that time.

The day before he had been asked by the formidable Dr. Eck to retract and to disavow what he had written in 20 some books and pamphlets laid out on a table there in the court. Very humbly, Luther asked for a delay of one day to carefully consider his answer. It wasn’t that he doubted what he believed or what was right. He recognized how important his answer was. He wanted to give it prayerful consideration.

The day had come for him to give his response. he explained that his writings were of various kinds, some quoting the word of God directy which could never be disavowed. But regarding his challeges to some of the teachings of the church which were not supported by Scripture he spoke these historic words:

“I cannot submit my faith either to the Pope or to the Councils, because it is clear as day they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless, therefore, I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or on plain and clear grounds of reason, so that conscience shall bind me to make acknowledgment of error, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything contrary to conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.”

The result of re-forming what was believe about God came to be called “Reformed Theology.” What had been accepted as fact was being poured back into the mold of Scripture to restore the original shape God had revealed in his written word.

Our Westminster Confession clearly takes the same reformed position.

1:10 The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”

The Reformed Theologian is not in love with his theology. He loves God’s word and grace. He lets go of his dearest beliefs in a moment if they do not conform to what he discovers in the Bible.

We humbly rest upon the warning given in Deuteronomy 29:29,

“The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

We have enough to deal with in working to understand what God tells us in his written word. We dare not presume upon those things which remain unrevealed. When human inventions distort what God has said we need to be reformers for our present age. All that we believe must be poured back into the mold God has given so that a purified theology comes out, a set of beliefs that are formed by nothing less than, nothing more than, what God has revealed to us in his word. That is what we mean by “Reformed Theology.”

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)