how to be Reformed on Reformation Day

It’s Reformation Day!

For the uninitiated, October 31 marks the official beginning of the sixteenth century Reformation — when Martin Luther kick-started Protestantism (although that was never his intention) by nailing his famous 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church.

The presenting issue for Luther was the corrupt practice of selling indulgences — a means by which certain representatives of the Church claimed you could ‘buy back’ souls out of purgatory. But this protest ran far deeper than that.

In particular, the Reformation is known for the rediscovery of God’s free grace extended through Christ as the sole basis for salvation. Hence, Luther’s insistence that people are justified by grace alone through faith alone.

What’s interesting, though, is that Reformed Christianity (usually associated with John Calvin rather than Martin Luther) tends to be known not so much for salvation by grace as for the doctrine of predestination.

But let me quote to you what a certain Twentieth Century professor of Reformed theology once said about predestination:

It is there primarily for Christian preachers deliberately and quietly to consider in all that they say. They will say many and other things better and more credibly if they say them with an eye on the God who can elect and reject and with whom alone is the power and freedom to know him truly. Once the doctrine of predestination is grasped, it is the death of all Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. It has always cropped up in church history when this foe has to be resisted. Yet I would not advise that it be presented too often or expressly. It is best to show in some other way that what is at issue here has been understood.

Yes. It’s Karl Barth. From an early lecture cycle published as the Gottingen Dogmatics (18.IV).

And you take his point, right?

The doctrine of predestination is important — vital even. It underwrites everything else. We’ll “say many other things better and more credibly … with an eye on the God who can elect and reject”.

In particular, it protects the doctrine of God’s free grace and opposes perversions of it (Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism).

But it’s not the thing we should talk about most frequently or loudly. It’s not the thing we should be known for — at least not over and above an emphasis on the goodness and love and grace of God put into action in Jesus.

That is how to be Reformed on Reformation Day … and any day!

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