I preached this morning at Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Newport Beach, California. Today was Reformation Sunday, since it is the closest Lord’s Day to October 31st. I made my message fit the occasion. My stress was on the uniqueness and sovereignty of Christ as revealed in Colossians 1:15-23.
There are those who think that we should no longer celebrate the Reformation since the doctrinal truths of the 16th century do not matter any longer. Then there are others who suggest that serious ecumenism means we should give up our Protestant confessions and positions so that we can stop the feuding. On the far right there are those who are convinced that nothing has changed in the Catholic Church at all since the 16th century, at least nothing really important. I disagree with all of these responses.
I am of the mind that the Reformation should still be celebrated as a great time of renewal and awakening in the life of the Church. I also believe that important biblical truths were regained and some were discovered from a fresh engagement with Scripture in a new context. God’s Spirit was working in that time yet the division which resulted was tragic to my mind. I do not celebrate division. I long for unity. But I also do not think we can simplistically bury the gains of the era and now be ashamed of them in the light of modern concerns. The Reformation prompted the Counter-Reformation in Rome and even the best of Catholics will admit that this was desperately needed too. Holding my middle position displeases liberals, fundamentalists, the staunchly polemical Reformed and Lutheran parties as well as many conservative and polemical Catholics.
Can we pursue unity, as both a doctrinal and practical matter, while we also refuse to give up on important doctrinal emphases that require further dialog and struggle? I believe that we can and we must. My message this morning focused on "Christ alone" as the center-point for both theology and practice. I found it interesting that a recent lecture given by Catholic apologist, and former Protestant, Peter Kreeft, told a Catholic audience that the only way evangelicals would ever take their Catholic brothers and sisters seriously is to hear them speak more about Jesus Christ alone as the center of their personal faith and experience. I recognize that for a Catholic the Church is seen as the continued incarnation of Christ but this should not preclude a deep and expressed personal and individual love for Christ alone. Such an "evangelical" Catholicism" will lead many evangelical Protestants to the dialog that is really needed if we are to seriously talk about our unity. At the same time evangelicals need to know that they do not need to give up the most vital markers of their faith to enter into this dialog and thereby to pray for unity.
Celebrate the Protestant Reformation? Yes, I did. Celebrate it with triumphalism? I do not. I experienced great joy today in rehearsing the story of how God refreshed the Church in Europe in those dark days. I also long for the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace for the renewing of the Church, all of it, in our own day. May all who name the Lord Jesus Christ throughout the whole earth truly bow before him alone.