GOD GAVE ONLY ONE REFORMATION
When we hear the word “Reformation,” our minds naturally turn to the great events of 16th Century Europe and such great men as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and their partners. And there can be little doubt that the Sovereign God, for His own good purposes, allowed these historic events to reshape the face of a continent, and to form much of the framework for the opening of another. We owe much to the religious thinkers of that dramatic turn in history.
But it may surprise some to find that the word “reformation” is also used in Scripture, for a much more important event. In Hebrews 9:10 (KJV), we read:
Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.
This reformation God gave brought about not only a change in a framework, but a change of God’s holy law (Heb. 7:12). From the gate of Eden, man worshipped at a specific time and place with specified sacrifices. For those in the line of promise and purpose, like Abraham, both place and form were divinely revealed. For multitudes outside the covenant line, both place and form were dim recognitions of such requirements. From the day of Moses and the formation of national Israel, God’s earthly chosen people, the exact form and place of divine worship was specified in great detail. We may call these requirements “the old-nature covenant.” Such law was “added because of transgressions,” Galatians 3:19. It was never intended to save, Hebrews 10:4, but to show the need of a Savior. God’s purpose of grace was prior to law. For all the major Old Testament saints, both the words “grace” and “faith” are used somewhere in Scripture. (For example, Genesis 6:8 and Hebrews 11:9 for Noah.) So “Salvation is one – Old Testament and New, Gentile and Jew” – Acts 15:11, Gal. 3:8, Heb. 4:2.
But the system of worships, with animal sacrifices and demanded ritual, was typical, all pointing forward to one great moment in history which God calls “the time of reformation,” when He Himself re-formed His system of dealing with us. And He did this “hapax” ” once, for all and forever, never to be repeated.” (Heb. 9:12, 26, and other uses). His new plan involves churches–local, visible congregations of scripturally immersed believers in His one gospel, each such body a “continuing incarnation” with Christ as Head and the Holy Spirit as the heart and blood stream pumping life through the body. And He promised that such bodies would continue, Matthew 16:28, 28:18-20; Ephesians 3:20-21.
Suppose some “charismatic” son of Aaron had tried to “reform” God’s law? In fact, such did happen. Read Leviticus 10 to see how God dealt with such. So, when, in the 4th Century A. D., a bishop in Rome and a Roman emperor moved to consolidate power in one central place, condemning those they called “Donatists” who wished to keep the simple New Testament pattern of local congregations, held together by “an amazingly strong rope of sand,” as some have noted, a major division took place in professing Christianity. From that point, we find the simple New Testament pattern under fire and often underground. The organized, powerful, “establishment” form of Christian faith, often quite sincerely, felt that allowing such schism would destroy the unity of Christendom.
And the “Protestant Reformation” was an attempt to move back to the standard of “sola Scriptura,” only Scripture, a commendable goal, Surely God allowed that breeze of fresh air to blow through the musty halls of religion to open a new world, along with the Renaissance in the intellectual and cultural world. And all were better off for it.
But, as has often been noted, Luther’s famed “Here I stand” was a stand “squarely on the fence.” For Protestant doctrine, claiming “only Scripture,” actually attempted to keep the framework of a state religion, and persecuted those who sought to keep the simple New Testament pattern in local self-governing congregations. A common “nickname” given such people at that time was “Anabaptist,” a title they largely rejected. One of the more familiar names in that group was Menno Simons, who often in his collected writing says: “I am NOT an Anabaptist! WE are not! We do not ‘rebaptize.’ only properly baptize those who have received a false act.”
In short, the famed Protestant Reformation came only half-way back to the sources, retaining infant
“baptism” and a state religion. God allowed it, in part to open the way to the “new world” as explorers newly freed from the medieval yoke broke forth into new horizons. And in the new atmosphere allowing for more individual liberty, true New Testament churches came out of hiding to boldly proclaim the one unchanging gospel, “how that Christ died, and that He was buried, and that He was raised.” Such churches are always in need of renewal and revival, but God gave only one Reformation, and that in the First Century A.D.
–R. Charles Blair, Sept. 2018