With only a few days left until the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (Tuesday 31st October), how will you be celebrating?
Here are a few suggestions on how you can commemorate this important occasion if you don’t already have plans or need some ideas…
1) Prayer(s) of Thanksgiving
Whether you’re alone or gathered with friends next Tuesday, would you consider taking time to thank God in prayer for His mercy and kindness in bringing the Reformation about and allowing us to live in a time when we can benefit from its fruits.
There are innumerable things we could give thanks for on this occasion, but the main ones would be that we are able to access God’s Word and the clarity of the gospel of Christ in our own language, without being kept in the dark by a corrupted, religious establishment.
2) Read the Bible
One of the best ways to celebrate the Reformation is to go to the Word of God yourself and read it carefully and regularly. As you open your Bible this week and next, it is worth pausing for a moment to recall William Tyndale‘s part in the Reformation – risking his life and eventually losing it as a result of his dedication to ensuring the Scriptures were available in English.
If regular reading of God’s Word hasn’t been part of your life recently, the Reformation anniversary offers an opportunity for re-dedication to this crucial means of grace.
This is a strange suggestion to make for commemorating a historical event, but the very first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses read: When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. When we have a defective view (or practice!) of repentance our life of discipleship is dangerously askew.
The Catholic Church’s teaching and practice on repentance was one of its key deficiencies that drew Luther’s concern. Few of my readers would have a medieval Catholic view of what repentance looks like, but we are all prone to making it peripheral, rather than crucial to our relationship with God.
In the past week, have you taken any time to repent of thoughts, attitudes and actions that you know to be displeasing to God? Reflecting on the instigation of the Reformation confronts all of us to get serious about confessing our faults to God, asking for forgiveness and turning away from sin to Christ.
4) Familiarise yourself with some of the key doctrines and themes of the Reformation
Could you explain why you’re a Protestant to a Roman Catholic workmate? Or break down the meaning of justification by grace through faith to a child? Or talk about the “priesthood of all believers” with a new Christian? Getting clear in your own mind the truths that were recovered and emphasised by the Reformers is one of the best ways to make the most of this 500th anniversary.
Complacent evangelical churches become less Protestant as time goes on, because many of us fail to think seriously about how and why our movement started, what its core principles have been and how they apply today.
Here are some resources that will help you grasp these key truths:
Got Questions: Five Solas (brief)
Desiring God: What are the 5 solas? (more detailed)
Reformation Theology: Threefold Office of Christ (Prophet, Priest, King)
Timothy George on “The Priesthood of all Believers”
5) Read an overview of the Reformation
As a historical event, the details and timeline of the Reformation need to be known in order to appreciate its significance properly. In the lead-up to the anniversary, you might like to read a short overview of the events and after-effects of the Reformation.
9Marks: The Sunday before the 95 theses (in fictionalised short story form)
Monergism: Background to the Reformation (pdf)
Ligonier: Why the Reformation Matters (video)
Gospel Coalition: Top Ten Moments in Reformation History
6) Attend a celebratory Reformation service
Such a momentous anniversary is best celebrated with other Christians through corporate praise, reflection and hearing from God’s Word. If your church isn’t doing anything special to commemorate the Reformation, perhaps consider getting along to an event that is being held near you.
For those living in Brisbane (particularly on the Northside), City North Baptist Church will be holding a special service of celebration on Tuesday night of October 31st, which promises to be a great evening of fellowship and reflection. You can find details for that event here.
This weekend (28-29/10), there will be special events held at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, Annerley by the Reformation Fellowship of QLD. Queensland Theological College lecturer Dr. Mark Baddeley will speak on Saturday on the theme “What if the Reformation didn’t happen?” with sessions running 9am-2pm (with breaks for morning tea and BYO lunch). On Sunday afternoon, 2pm, at the same location, there will be a Reformation Thanksgiving service.
My own church, Enogerra Baptist, will be commencing a sermon series on the 5 solas of the Reformation from this Sunday morning at 9:30am. Sermon audio will be available online here, shortly after each Sunday.
Finally, for those on the Southside of Brisbane, consider visiting Hope Reformed Baptist Church in Slacks Creek for a Reformation-themed service this Sunday night from 5:30pm.
7) Read some biographies of the Reformers
One of the best ways to get into the Reformation is to read a bit about the lives of those God used to make it happen. You could of course peruse our own Protestant Profiles series here at Lion & Phoenix (particularly the earlier editions), but Desiring God has produced an excellent devotional series “Here we Stand” for use leading up to the anniversary, featuring short biographical accounts of key Reformation figures.
8) Watch the Luther movie or a documentary on the Reformation
I’ve not yet seen the Luther movie, so I can’t vouch for its quality or historical fidelity, but I’m keen to watch it during this season. Even if it turns out to have its deficiencies, I’m sure it will have the capacity to generate dicussion about the events it depicts. You may also like to watch a documentary detailing the events of the Reformation in place of a dramatisation. [Update: this documentary looks like a winner]
9) Read some of the key documents that came out of the Reformation
If you’ve never read Martin Luther’s 95 theses, there will never be a more fitting time to peruse them than now (this article may assist you with understanding the context and their ongoing relevance)! But there are many other things you could read to appreciate the early reformers. The introduction to Luther’s Romans commentary touches on key points of his theology that were at stake in the Reformation. If you’d like to read an actual book by the man, his Bondage of the Will is short and readily accessible online and in print.
You could also try a section of Calvin’s Institutes which covers Reformed theology more broadly, or read through the Heidelberg Catechism – one of the most important summaries of Reformed teaching in simple Q&A format.
10) Internalize the truths of the Reformation and live them out!
An appreciation of the Reformation will lead us to see that the purpose of our salvation (and therefore our saved life hereafter) is the glory of God (“to God alone be the glory” – the final sola of the Reformation). This will cause us to re-engage with crucial Scriptures like: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31, ESV) and “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1b).
An appreciation of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone will lead us to look less to ourselves, our achievements and abilities and more to the finished work of our crucified and risen Saviour. It will both humble us and make us hopeful: steering us away from self-exaltation and self-condemnation.
An appreciation of being the priesthood of all believers will lead us to get on with the business of ministering to other Christians, not leaving it up to the “professional clergy” (that is, expecting your pastor to do all the work of the gospel).
An appreciation of the Reformation will lead us to embrace the principle semper reformanda “always reforming.” We want ourselves, our families, our churches and our communities to constantly be challenged and changed by the truths revealed in the Word of God.
And an appreciation of the clear, bright and pure gospel recovered and re-emphasised by the Reformation will move us to share the precious good news of Jesus with others – far and wide.
How will you celebrate 500 years of God’s grace outflowing through the Reformation?