Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reformation Day musing

Reformation Monument

Today is Reformation Day. On this day 492 years ago, on Oct 31st 1517, a non-discreet German monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church (Schlosskirche) in Wittenberg, Germany, in protest especially of the Roman church's sanction of the selling of indulgences by the infamous marketeer Johann Tetzel. This act was the flash point which started the great Protestant Reformation, and forced the professing Church to take a stand on whether it desired Reformation according to the Word of God, or whether it desired power and the philosophy of Man more than the things of God. As it is in the time of the Pharisees, it is the unlearned "Northerners" who embraced the Scriptures, while the learned scholars and humanists in the "South" [Europe] rejected the Gospel for their own profits and philosophies.

492 years later, and the Church is in a worse shape than ever before. All manner of heresies which Tridentine Catholicism did not even descend to flourish within the walls of the professing churches, reformed, evangelical or otherwise. Ancient heresies denounced by various church councils, like for example the Christological heresy of Sabellianism, flourishes in so-called Evangelical circles (ie T.D. Jakes). Although Tridentine Catholicism by its denial of the Gospel of Justification by Faith Alone is heresy, even its proponents would be horrified by what is being promoted in what calls itself the Roman Catholic Church today. Inclusivism, Embrace of Evolutionary theory, not to mention ecumenical endaevors with the "Protestant heretics" and worse still, the Eastern [Orthodox] schismatics and Muslims, would make the Tridentine delegates spin in their grave.

The need to reform the church is getting more and more desperate by the day. The issues to speak out against and the supplantation of error by the truth of Scripture are too many to be counted. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Mt. 9:37-38). Far from being near to completing the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20), we are nowhere near it, and moving further from it by the moment.

Yet despite this, we can take heart in the fact that God is sovereign and in control. We are not to despair of the situation, but to do all we can because God has already gone on ahead of us. While reflecting on the needs of the Church, the following lyrics from a hymn came to mind.

Tho’ with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed
By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up – “How long?”
But soon the night of weeping, shall be the morn of song

or in Chinese:

教会历尽了苦难,世人讥笑毁谤,
内争分裂她身体,异端叛道中伤,
圣徒儆醒争相问,黑夜到底多长?
哭泣将变为歌唱,转眼即见晨光

As it is stated in Scripture,

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.”

(Rom. 9:27-29)

The Church exists and perseveres in this world only by the power of God. It is God alone who substains her such that we are not destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah. In context, the whole of Romans 9 is on the doctrine of election — God's sovereign election of those who would be saved and those who would be passed-over and damned. The Church being made up of the elect are therefore also preserved and substained by the power of God alone. Without God, the Church would be similar to the case of National Israel, rejected by God and as void of life as Sodom and Gomorrah.

It is this understanding of the electing and preserving power of God that gives us hope for the Church, because God is the one who saves His people, who keeps them (Jn. 6:39) and who promises that the Church will never fall (Mt. 16:18b). When we look at the devastation in the churches therefore, let us look with the eyes of faith to see how God is at work even in the midst of great apostasy. As in the days of Elijah, there are 'yet 7000 people who have not bowed the knee to Baal' (1 Ki. 19:18; Rom. 11:4). As it is written:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God's reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (Rom. 11:1-5)

God has not rejected His people, and neither has He abandoned His Church. The true Church of God is the remnant chosen by grace, and as such we can hope. God will always have His people even in the darkest times and places.

Let us therefore look with the eyes of faith and thus not be disheartened at the circumstances around us. Continue to press on in faith, knowing that in the end God will triumph through us. And "soon the night of weeping, shall be the morn of song"