I always have mixed feeling about Reformation Day. One the one hand, as an adventist who believes that we must all wait for the advent to be conscious together (Hebrews 11:40), I am glad to get away from the premature idea of “all souls day”. On the other hand, as heirs of the radical reformation, we resent the lack of attention to the variety of reformations and to the protestant persecution of anabaptists. We want to talk about the NEW (new covenant, new law, new ethic) and not only about reformation.
Yet I want to take time to remember, not the story of Luther and Calvin, but the significance of our being protestant. Though the Lutherans and Calvinists continue by means of infant water baptism to undermined the doctrine of justification by grace alone, we live in a time when most evangelicals are neither Lutheran nor Calvinist but reassure themselves with their family virtues and patriotic rituals. Reacting what they call “secularism”, the baptists and the mennonites now often sing the praises of the pope and anything that is “religious”.
Let us remember that the pope is still the single greatest cause of Christian disunity. Not only does the pope continue to reject the authority of the Bible and justification by faith alone, but also to insist that any Christian unity must recognize the authority of papal tradition. The success of Calvin and Luther, limited though it was, was that they refused to collaborate or be included in the false unity which taught that the grace of justification was given by water baptism and then maintained by our own works, instead of the death of Christ alone, outside of us. Despite their many failures, at this point we must appreciate the fidelity of Luther and Calvin to the theology of Romans 3:20-21–“For through the law comes the knowledge of sin, but now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed.”
The state Reformers understood that grace through our works is a rebellion against God’s way of grace. Justification through our law-keeping means not more obedience but more sin. Romans 5:20–“But law came in, with the result that sin increased.” Not the knowledge of sin increased; sin increased! The result of unity around the law-salvation of the pope is always more sin. To be protestant means saying that we are justified not by our life together or by our works, but only because of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have “become the righteousness of God in Christ” by God’s imputation of the one man’s obedience, even unto death. The Christian life is not the way we make payments back on our justification; the Christian life is the party the Father gives the returning prodigal. Neither our justification nor our life as Christians depends on our moral progress. Indeed, all our works are only acceptable if we are already justified before God.
This is good news! This is radical grace, not the grace with strings attached and “fine print” later. Our unity depends only on the cross where the son of God died for all those elect sinners who will be called out and gathered as God’s ecclesia. In the days of persecution, some anabaptists met together in little boats out on the river, away from the easy reach of the magistrates. Today our unity does not depend on getting more folks to leave their big barges and climb into our little boats with us. But neither does unity depend on us going ashore where we can be included in their rituals with them. We must not impatiently substitute our idea of unity for the biblical hope of unity.
I Corinthians 15:3 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ…. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep… 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
Jesus is already Lord and will reign until He has put all all His enemies under His feet. After the second death, after the death of death, after the end of death, ruling will be ruled out “so that God may be all in all”. Though we remember the failures of the Roman Catholics and the Protestants, let us not ourselves become elder brothers who refuse to enjoy the prodigal’s party. Though we have good reasons not to attend their meetings (see I Corinthians 14), we do well to remember that we are justified in spite of our meetings and our religion, alone by what Jesus Christ did, and not by what Christ has been doing among us. We are not saved because of our faith, because our faith is not Christ’s righteousness, even though our faith is God’s gift to us based on Christ’s righteousness.
Apart from the death of Christ, you and I have no more “spiritual capital” than the pope or the protestants who go to war to support capitalism. Being in this small canoe together is no sign of assurance based on our moral progress! We have been called out, set apart, constituted as holy, but not because God is going to enable us to meet the requirement of God’s law. Our fidelity to anabaptist rules about war, or water, or the Lord’s Supper is not something which can add to or subtract from the complete achievement of Jesus Christ, our Savior.
Grace for the woman caught violating family values, parties for parasites back for more money, food for the brothers who send Joseph down to Egypt, this is grace! Grace for the protestants who made martyrs of the anabaptists. Grace for those who used to be legalists who put their hope in their martyrdom rather than in Christ alone! Grace. Grace alone.
The nation-states have always appreciated the moralism of the churches to make for them “good citizens”, but those nation-states have nothing to gain from the good news of grace. The rulers are happy when we repress ourselves in methodist fear of losing our salvation. The NSA and Homeland Security are glad for us to police ourselves. But what do those institutions which operate by the abcs of this age have to gain from our teaching grace, and by our living as though we believed in grace?
The Moral Virtues in Great Fear
Formed the Cross & Nails & Spear
And the Accuser Standing By
Cried out Crucify Crucify
If Moral Virtue was Christianity
Christ’s Pretensions were all Vanity
The gospel of justification does not complicate the simple difference between approving and disapproving killing. That is why we are anabaptists, and not only protestants. But the Roman Catholics can have no experience of unity in the gospel until and unless they learn the difference between what they are doing and what God DID (Romans 8:3) to unify all the elect in Christ. And since none of our different churches died on the cross for us, the unity of those who do trust in what God did in Christ does not depend on our keeping each other in the same church.
The Catholics (and most of the “Protestants”) agree doctrinally that the doctrine of grace alone through faith alone is NOT the doctrine on which their church stands or falls. They celebrate their doctrine that their “sacrament” is not what they do but what God is doing. Thus they exclude those of us who read no “sacrament” in the Scripture. Even though they cannot explain rationally their doctrine of “union with Christ”, they still want us to agree that take Christ in by our eating of the bread and drinking of the cup.
Though Roman Catholics and Protestants and Anabaptists may have different doctrines, they all are always attracted to use the violence of coercion for “the greater good”. All three groups tends to be identified with a prescribed set of practices rater than with ideas and doctrines about what God did in Christ.
Is our hope that that these groups will come live in our little canoe with us? Do we “envision” (as missional entrepreneurs) that these folks will “shop” at our church, and see what we see, and do what we do? Or can we learn that faith is God’s gift and not the lack of a rational argument against faith? Faith is not about how much we make ourselves do or how much we can make ourselves believe. Faith is the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ causing us to look to Jesus Christ so what we depend on what Jesus Christ already did by His death and resurrection so that we do not depend on what we believe that Jesus Christ is doing in us and in our church.
Grace is not for the nice people, who don’t need it. Grace is also not useful the way parents and politicians want it to be. Isn’t it wonderful that Jesus Christ has already done enough so that we don’t have to con ourselves into believing that God has to “show up” every Sunday in the presence of authorized clergy?
For freedom Christ has made us free. We don’t have to have Jesus “warm up our hearts” in our daily quiet time. Romans 6 even says we don’t even have to sin to get more grace. Romans 5—we stand in grace. We talk about how we do church, because we have learned that it’s a mistake to think that our doing church is God doing church. So now that we know that, what are we going to do? What are we going to do, now that we know that our doing is not what causes God to bless us? II Cor 5:19—not counting their sins against us!
But surely there’s got to be more to life than “merely” that, doesn’t there? More than “only” not having our sins imputed to us? At the end of the day, I say, NOT SO MUCH. Who in our day cares about not having sins credited to them? Who cares about that? Can’t we now get over that basic fact, and get on with it, and concern ourselves now with moral progress? Our sins are not counted against us. Do you hear that anymore? Who in our age now is so selfish and individualistic to still care about if their sins are counted against them? WE ARE. I Am.
But isn’t it dangerous for God to not count our sins against us? Maybe it’s so, maybe it’s not. Maybe there’s a not yet aspect of our justification in which God’s work in us by the Holy Spirit will be brought in as an additional factor, so that we can now still have various forms of motivations, including the beauty of threats and the loss of assurance, and whatever else that works to get us on the move…But the parasites and the prodigals say to the elder brothers, take it up with the Father, who now gives the party…
But wouldn’t it be better now, in the present fight against secularism and liberalism, to keep a stoic stiff upper lip and not “rock the boat” about grace, and accept the “tension” between grace motives and other motives? So what if some works are not done from a clean conscience but done in order to keep clean the conscience clean? Why rock the boat just because grace happens to work for you, when being a pastor of a group which is more than a small sect means that we get along with people who operate out of different motives. .
But those on the shore want to rock our little boat, to turn it over. if you really believe in grace, they tell us, you could get alone with the rest of us, with other doctrines, with other motives. And we say: the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, and this little boats is not theirs, though they kill us, though they command us to bring our babies to their big churches, though they cut us off from their “means of grace”. If God has elected those who are predestined to grace, this does not prove that God has predestined them to be the mediators who hand out that grace.
Of course the Magisterial Reformers failed in many ways. They went back to the local magistrate to keep the “peace” which is maintained by the “order” which is ensured by authorized violence. Protestants have not been very gracious. Don’t just look at Lutheran Germany, look at the guns owned by the Protestants of America, at the crusades of armed democracy. In the name of grace, God’s law has been changed, reformed, modified, cheapened, so that the life and example of Jesus Christ can be ignored.
We dare not let the politicians and the teachers of virtue turn the story of Jesus into some general truth about everybody having God for their same father so that we all accept each other, no matter what our motives may be. Philippians 3: Beware of evil workers—“we boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh”. Even though Paul knew that this would mean “sharing in his suffering and becoming like Him” (Philippians 3:10), Paul’s great gain was to “be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of our own that comes from the law, but a righteousness that comes through the obedience of Christ.”