The Reformation and Doxology
Five hundred years! Today is the day we mark a half millennia since God brought Reformation to his church. Over these five centuries, Reformed biblical theology has spread far and wide. Its influence has infiltrated into various cultures and sub-cultures around the globe. For this, we ought to praise God and vigorously.
One of the surprising sub-cultures where Reformation theology has found a home today is American hip-hop. One of the leading voices in this development is Shai Linne. In the spoken word intro to his album Lyrical Theology Part 2: Doxology, Shai makes this astute observation: “If you have theology without doxology, you just have cold dead orthodoxy…If you have doxology without theology, you actually have idolatry.” He’s right.
Theology (the study of who God is and what he’s done) should lead us right to doxology (proper praise for God). The two belong together and must never be separated. So when we consider the Reformation, we’re not doing it right if we’re not ending up on our knees in adoration for God. There are all sorts of reasons why remembering the Reformation should bring us to worship — the chief being the recovery of the biblical gospel. Without that gain, everything else is meaningless. Praise God that he peeled away the ignorance, brought back the Bible, and brought widespread gospel preaching back to his church!
Let me mention three other reasons why we ought to be praising God today for the Reformation.
The Recovery of Certainty and Assurance
When many medieval Christians went to church, they were immediately confronted with an image of Christ. It was not an image of Christ as Saviour, but as the coming Judge of heaven and earth. The medieval church wanted to put the fear of Jesus into its members. You were always supposed to be afraid and wondering whether you would be good enough for him. You would never know the answer to that question until after you died. For the average believer, the prospect of purgatory always loomed. You could not be sure that you would go to God’s blessed presence the moment you died, because most likely you wouldn’t. What a horrible distortion of the Christian faith!
The Reformation brought back the Bible’s message of justification. If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are declared right by God. The Judge is now your Father. As his beloved child, you need not fear judgment. When you die, because of God’s verdict in your justification, you can be absolutely 100% certain that you will be going to his blessed presence. As one Reformation catechism put, “Our death is not a payment for our sins, but it puts an end to sin and is an entrance into eternal life” (Heidelberg Catechism QA 42). Praise God that we are not left wobbly and doubting! Praise God for the Reformation’s recovery of gospel certainty!
The Restoration of the Voice of God’s People in Worship
Prior to the Reformation, when you went to mass you mainly went as a spectator. Almost everything was done by someone else, mainly the priest and his assistants. Congregation members were typically passive participants. Since much of the service was in Latin, it could not be otherwise. The idea of congregational singing was known, but not widely practiced.
With the Reformation, this began to change dramatically. Christian worship becomes a more active affair for congregation members. They are not only to watch or listen, but also to participate and particularly in song. One of John Calvin’s priorities was the preparation of a metrical Psalter in the language of the people. This was because he understood that the congregation should be lifting up its voice in worship. In Reformed churches today, this continues to be the practice. We emphasize congregational singing, the priesthood of all believers melodiously lifting up the Name of God. We don’t go to church to listen to a choir sing or listen to soloists, but to lift up our own voices in praise to God. This is as it should be. Let’s praise God that we can praise him each Lord’s Day from our own hearts with our own tongues and lips!
The Humanity of the Reformers and their Example
When we look closely at the men whom God used to recover the gospel in the Reformation, one of the striking things is that they were just, well…men. They were not super saints. They had warts and blemishes. For example, Luther famously ran off his mouth and was known for saying some things a bit strongly, if not strangely — and even sometimes wrongly. Yet through their weaknesses, the power of God was made strong. God amazingly worked through weak and sinful men to bring something about that’s still having a ripple effect to this day.
They were people with families. When they faced death or martyrdom, they wrote like regular people because that’s what they were. If you haven’t already, you need to read the powerful last letter of Guido de Brès to his wife. See if you can read that without praising God for the example of this Reformation pastor. I read that letter and I can’t help but doxologize. God worked steadfast faithfulness in his servants and it was not in vain. The gospel for which de Brès died outlived him and spread far beyond his little corner of the world. God worked through them, through their humanity, and he left examples for us to follow.
There are many more reasons why we can be praising God today as we remember the Reformation. Along with the recovery of the gospel as number one, those three above certainly rank up there for me. They lead me to this:
Oh sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him…
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!