I reflected on the state of Christianity in the world today, as it is Reformation Day; I both rejoiced and wept at how things are going. Today is a day to remember the Protestant Reformation－a time that saw ordinary men standing up against the adulteration of the truth of the gospel.
The then little known Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses in Wittenberg in 1517, challenging the status quo of that time. The impact of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation has been enormous on global Christianity. In contrast to the extra-biblical traditions and works-based practices of Roman Catholicism, Luther called the Church back to the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Luther believed the Word of God (rather than tradition or papal decrees) was the supreme authority for the Christian faith.
In the process of bringing the Scriptures to the common person, Luther translated the Bible into German, published numerous books and sermons of biblical teachings, and composed numerous hymns based on biblical themes. Many of his hymns are still sung today.We now gladly and gratefully enjoy the fruit of what Luther, and the rest of the reformers risked their everything for, though we easily forget the work they accomplished.
When Luther was brought to a hearing before the church, the court attempted to force him to recant all that he had said. Luther’s response is often quoted: “I cannot choose but adhere to the Word of God, which has possession of my conscience; nor can I possibly, nor will I even make any recantation, since it is neither safe nor honest to act contrary to conscience! Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God! Amen.”Luther, like the rest of the reformers, stood firm for the gospel in ways that were costly. Looking at the current landscape in Africa, we cannot avoid the gross dilution of the gospel – its distinctives and imperatives – those teachings and practises that take from the centrality of Christ.
These are a bone of contention and forever will be. We are called, as the church, to contend for the truth that was once and forever delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Now, allow me to clarify something here－something which I feel is often overlooked when we speak out about false teachers and faulty doctrine. The beef here is not denominations. I am Baptist and reformed, yet I believe with all my heart that brothers and sisters in other denominations who have put their faith and trust in Jesus are family. Denominational differences are usually based on secondary doctrines where we can afford to argue. But the moment we compromise on primary doctrines, which have adverse effects on the meaning of the gospel, we are called to separate. For example, we cannot argue that Jesus is both God and man (John 1:1, 14, 8:24, Col. 2:9, 1 John 4:1-4).
If you believe that Jesus is not God, you do not fit into the mould of an orthodox Christianity. That’s a primary doctrine. Another example of one such primary doctrine is that the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4, Gal. 1:8-9). Friends, these are truths that make Christianity distinct.
However, we can argue (hence denominations) on certain things like pre-, mid-, post-trib rapture; pre-, a-, or post-millennialism; continuation or cessation of the charismatic gifts; baptism for adults or infants; musical Instruments in church; and the list goes on.So, when we talk about ‘contending for the faith,’ we are not talking about spending countless hours arguing on credobaptism vs. paedobaptism, for example (though there is room for debate and discussions on the subject). We are warned that in the last days there will be men who will bring destructive heresies and will fleece the flock – deceiving others and being deceived themselves.
News flash: these dudes are already here.
Africa knows them well.Passages like Acts 20, and 2 Peter 2 tell us that false teachers will arise, bringing with them destructive heresies, distorting the truth and destroying the faith of some. Moreover, it is clear that these teachers will come not only from outside the church, but also from within the body of Christ; (Acts 20:19) hence we need to test EVERYTHING by Scripture (1 Thes. 5:21). Some of these dudes sound okay, but they stay in business seeking to make gain by godliness.Now, in dealing with these false teachers, I notice three groups of people.
Mr. Coward here knows all the truth and knows all that’s going wrong but he decides to keep quiet, because he is scared of the cost of speaking out. Yet, as Paul instructed Timothy, we are to zealously guard the purity of the message God has entrusted to us, and for good reason (1 Tim 1:18-19; 6:20; 2 Tim. 4:2-5). The comfort in which cowardly people walk is this: they don’t want to seem offensive or get on people’s nerves. This sounds very romantic until you think deeply about some simple things. Who in the world stood for the truth and never offended someone? Or who stood for Christ and walked with him and had everybody wanting to invite them to their house for dinner?
So, should we be out there just looking for ways to offend people? Absolutely not! That would be sinful. But we will see that the more we proclaim the message of the Bible, the more people are offended by it. The Bible cannot only be used for preaching, teaching and encouragement, but it is equally valuable for correcting and rebuking (2 Tim. 4:2). My advice: Mr. or Mrs. Coward, get over yourself. You are not the point. Jesus is. We should count all our ‘reputations’ as rubbish in light of Him. We should stand up for the truth and speak out when we have to
2. The critic
This one is the one who is constantly out telling people ‘not to judge.’ This is the most foolish thing anyone could say. Are you serious? The context in which the Bible abhors judging (Matt 7) is on hypocritical judging – telling people not to do something that the one casting judgment is doing!Otherwise, we have all the right to take what the Scriptures teach, test it against a teaching or practice and boldly declare it truthful or false.
So, Mrs. Critic here seems not to notice that by her definition, telling people who call out false teachers ‘judgemental’ is also judgemental! Usually, these people are zealous and yet ignorant. They have sincere intentions but are sincerely wrong in their sincerity. My advice: Study the Bible more. Read sound books. Understand what the Bible says about false teaching and the stand the Christian should take concerning them.
3. The comrades.These are my favourite people! These are the men and women on the front lines speaking the truth in love as the Bible has commanded of us. These are those who love God more than their reputations and are willing to lose it all.The Lord Jesus set the example: he was killed for what he believed and what He believed was truth.Then the Apostles all died brutal deaths at the hands of God’s enemies.
Then all the martyrs throughout church history died for the faith.These are men and women who will not be silenced by anything and God is looking for such.When Martin Luther decided to be a comrade and not a coward or critic, we see the expansion of the Protestant Reformation through Europe, influencing the work of John Calvin in Geneva, Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich, and John Knox in Scotland. The Reformation Luther led also sparked the Anabaptist (free church) movement and the English Reformation.
These movements, in turn, influenced the spread of Christianity to the Americas and throughout the world where European exploration took place. South Africa, India, Australia, and New Zealand all felt the impact of Luther’s hammer in Wittenberg.We are were we are because one man decided to stand for the truth and God used him to restore precious facets of our faith which had been lost over the years.
As Stephen Nichols says, “The real main character in Reformation Day is not Luther. It’s the Word of God.” We must continue standing on it.