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.)

Remembering 9/11

Remembering 9/11

by Bob Burridge ©2011

There are times when evil shows itself so boldly that even those who know no Savior are horrified. On that September day in 2001 we were all reminded about the depth of human moral corruption. We saw the ugly side of the fallen human nature. We saw what any of us could be and would be, were it not for the restraining hand of our Creator who rules over all things, shaping them to reveal his nature and glory. It is God’s power, mercy and grace which alone keep individuals from falling into the depths of such pure depravity.

The tragedy of America’s 9/11 was not the only time in history when the pawns of wickedness took the lives of thousands, and destroyed the illusion of our temporal peace and prosperity. There was the slaying of the infants of Bethlehem by the paranoid pride of Herod when hearing of the birth of Christ, the new born King. Roman troops surrounded Jerusalem in 70 AD slaughtering over a million Jews in the siege of Jerusalem. These are but a few of the many sad glimpses at how the simple eating of forbidden fruit in Eden corrupted those made to display the glories of the Creator.

The message of hope is not found in our nation’s resolve, or in memorials to loved ones senselessly taken from us in a moment of repulsive horror. True hope is found in the hand of God that not only keeps us all from descending to the same depths of evil, but also sent the Savior to redeem from that fallen race some who would be adopted into the family of God. To love and redeem the good is wonderful. To do the same to the unworthy is astounding. Since there is no one who is truly good, considering the depth of our corruption, the work of our Savior amazes us and humbles us. We are driven to solemn worship of the Redeemer and King of all kings.

Romans 5:5-11, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”

Brief Biography of John Calvin

Brief Biography of John Calvin

Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©2011

This brief outline of the life of John Calvin gives a little perspective to the life of one of history’s most noted Christian scholars.

The Early Life of John Calvin

Gerard Calvin was a lawyer. He wanted his son John to seek a career in the church. Raised among the privileged, John was educated in good private schools, and finished his degree in the classical arts at the University of Paris. John excelled as a scholar and became proficient in Latin and philosophy. Just before he started his nine years of study for his theological degree, Gerard changed his mind and told John that he should study law.

John dutifully obeyed his father. He changed his plans and worked toward getting his degree in law. During his studies as a distinguished student he learned about the Evangelical faith. He took a serious interest in biblical studies which led him to the study of Greek, and Hebrew. John Calvin’s first book, a commentary on a Latin treatise by the philosopher Seneca, was published in 1532 when John was only 22 years old.

We don’t know when or exactly how John was converted to Christ. His own account shows that it produced a distinct change in his life. He became known as a “Lutheran” because he agreed with the basic principles of the Reformation which had become identified with Martin Luther.

John became a teacher in a college in Paris where many came to learn from him about the Scriptures. When persecution intensified against the Lutherans, Calvin had to leave the country. He took refuge in Basel.

In 1536 at Basel John published the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. It was intended to be an elementary manual for general readers. It attempted to answer the many questions being asked about the biblical foundation of the Reformed Faith.

John, his brother and sister, and some friends were traveling to the “free city” of Strasbourg when armies and battles forced them to detour through what we now call Switzerland. They stopped for the night at an inn in Geneva.

Word spread quickly that the writer of the famous “Institutes” was in town. The pastor of the city, William Farel, hurried to the inn and asked John to remain in Geneva to help him with the demanding work of the church. John refused. He was headed for Strasbourg the next day and simply was not available. Farel persisted. In his frustration he swore an oath that God would curse all of Calvin’s studies if he did not remain!

John began to sense that God had a different plan for him than he had thought. He later writes, “I felt as if God from heaven had laid his mighty hand upon me to stop me in my course”. John remained in Geneva.

William Farel had persuaded John Calvin to remain with him in Geneva to help the work of the reformed church. After only eighteen months changes in Geneva caused both Calvin and Farel to be banished.

John Calvin of Geneva

For three years Calvin worked hard for the Reformation in Strasbourg as pastor of a small church of French refugees. He met such greats as Martin Buber and Philip Melanchthon, but he never met Martin Luther. He began re-writing his Institutes to deal with the growing questions about the Reformed Faith. While there he also wrote musical versions of the Psalms to be used in worship.

When the situation changed again in Geneva, Calvin was invited back. The situation was different. Calvin had become a well known and respected theologian and reformer. He also had gotten married to his chosen wife, Idelette. On this basis Calvin was able to reorganize the structure of the church and the city of Geneva to conform to biblical orders (Pastors, Teachers, Elders and Deacons). He founded an Academy for training the children in 1559.

The work load became immense. His health began to fail. Calvin suffered migraines, lung hemorrhages, gout, and bladder stones. When he couldn’t walk to his pulpit and lectures he was carried.

As the gospel became known to the general public, opposition grew. The fallen human heart finds the teachings of Scripture to be offensive. He does not want to accept that God is really the Sovereign Lord over his creation, and that man is a fallen creature redeemed by grace through Christ alone. People would set their dogs on Calvin as he walked by. They would fire guns outside the church and shout to disturb his preaching. There were even anonymous threats against his life.

Calvin continued faithfully, but due to his serious disposition it was hard for friends to comfort him or to get his mind off the work and the persecutions. In his failing years he finished a final re-writing of the Institutes (1559), and published lengthy commentaries. He continued his teaching even from his death bed. Friends warned him to take it easy, but he replied, “What! Would you have the Lord find me idle when He comes?”

John Calvin died in Geneva on May 27, 1564 just a few weeks before his 55th birthday. He left behind a very complete study of almost every verse of Scripture, and a thorough analysis of the biblical foundation for all the basic beliefs of the Christian Faith. By his own request he was buried in a simple unmarked grave somewhere in Geneva.