Reformation and Renewal


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Since some of us are celebrating the Reformation today. I don’t really care about Halloween, so I figure I should say something about the Reformation.

You might call me a reformed Catholic. I grew up in the Catholic Church. When I encountered Jesus Christ, the living Son of God, who shed His glory to become a man, walked in obedience to His own purposes, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again from the dead, my life changed.

When I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I left the Catholic Church for greener pastures and still waters. I have been involved with and visited many churches since then, and I am still looking for greener pastures and still waters. Along the way, I have learned that Catholics haven’t cornered the market on rigid structures and white-washed tombs.

I call myself a “spiritual mutt” because of my journey to Christ. Though I was raised Catholic, I declared Jesus my Lord and Savior for the first time in the home of a charismatic Methodist insurance salesman’s home. I sat at the feet of a grizzled Pentecostal man stumbling over his King James Bible, marveling at his understanding of the words he could hardly read. I went forward in an old-fashioned Southern Baptist revival to say a sinner’s prayer and to proclaim (over again) that Jesus is my Lord and savior. This all happened one eventful summer.

When I returned to my life, nothing was normal again. I met charismatic Catholics, including the priest in my college town. I rubbed shoulders with mainline Methodists and Presbyterians and Lutherans and charismatic Lutherans and “independent Christians”, and …. You name it.

I was heavily influenced by the Charismatic Movement. I read books on it. I learned that the movement was a ground swell of experience with the Holy Spirit breaking out across denominations all at once, bringing people of different denominations together in the unity of the Holy Spirit manifested in signs and wonders like the days of the early Church. It’s a fascinating history.

I began to see the charismatic movement like the Reformation, like the movement that began with Martin Luther, and the movement that began with John Wesley, and John Calvin, and on, and on, and on. I began to see that God moves in history through His Holy Spirit to emphasize (or re-emphasize) aspects of God, and the Gospel and knowledge of God that have gotten old and stale and have lost their meanings.

And, I also began to see, over and over, and over again, that we people have a tendency to want to set camp on the new ground that the Holy Spirit breaks and remain there… stuck, unwilling to budge or move on. Not that the reformation, or any other movement of God, is of no consequence or to be shrugged aside.

It’s just that we have this Pharisaical tendency to want to reduce a fresh movement of God into outlines and cold doctrines and rigid structures that cannot possibly contain the life and power of the Holy Spirit. These structures end up as broken vessels. They wear thin, get inflexible and become brittle.

If we aren’t willing to renew our wineskins periodically, the old ones wear out and don’t hold the new wine like they did when they were fresh.

This is not to say that there is no life in the various denominations. Old wineskins might still contain wine, though they leak and are susceptible of breaking. Broken cisterns might still hold some water. God is continually pouring Himself out to the Church, but our vessels that we have constructed on the ground where these movements took place in the past are inadequate to hold much of what God is doing without continual renewal.

We are like the several disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus. Jesus was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white. Moses and Elijah appeared, and a voice boomed out of the bright cloud. Can you image a more charismatic revival than that?[1]

And what was Peter’s response? Let’s make three tents, one for Moses, Elijah and Jesus, and camp here!

We want to camp on the mountains of the movements of God, but God doesn’t remain there. God is always moving on. Not that we should forget what God has done. Jesus told the disciples with Him to remember what they saw and recall it at the right time.

But, we don’t serve static doctrine; we serve a Living God. God doesn’t change, but we do. History changes. Circumstances change. God’s Word and truth is multifaceted. If we emphasize any aspect of it too much, we get out of whack. God is continually moving by His Holy Spirit to remind of us aspects of biblical truth that we have neglected or forgotten.

As it says in Proverbs, “It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.”[2]

I see denominations as movements of God that have stagnated into man made structures that are built to try to contain what God has done in the past, but instead they tend to contain (as in limit) what God is doing in the present. Perhaps, I am a bit cynical in that respect. I am willing to admit that.

Because of my journey to Christ and the path I have walked since becoming a believer, though, I view denominations, all of them, with suspicion. It seems that they have all camped out on some aspect(s) of biblical truth, building up doctrine, some of them in very elaborate structures, around those truths. Just as the Catholic Church was to me at one time a white-washed tomb, a beautiful cathedral of ornate ritual having little or no life in it (or so I thought), I see a little of that in each denomination and in each  expression of Christian faith that is not continually open to renewal from God.

I don’t want anyone to take this the wrong way. I am not saying that God is not moving in the Catholic church, or in any denomination or person who attends a denominational church. God is able to work wherever there are people willing to submit to him.

To be fair, as well, nondenominational and independent churches and people who go to them are no less human in their tendency to camp on a static understandings and expressions of faith in God. We are all like that.

Even the charismatic movement has exhibited that tendency. Today, we have Pentecostal churches that are no less structured in their adherence to doctrines than other denominational churches. The independent, charismatic churches are known today for unhealthy excesses that stress feelings and experiences over and sometimes to the exclusion of sound sound reasoning and biblical exegesis.

We are all susceptible to straying off the path, getting too far over to one side or the other on any aspect of biblical truth, letting go of sound doctrine while clutching a bit too tightly to pet doctrines, and getting into ruts in our thinking. We all have the Pharisaical tendency to want to reduce God to a set of definitions, rules and ways of doing things.

So on this day in which we remember the Reformation. I am not going to celebrate reformation, but renewal of the mind. We don’t need reformation as much as we need transformation and constant renewal of our minds, always testing to determine the will of God.[3] We need to be continually “renewed in the spirit of [our] minds”[4] as new, living creatures created after the likeness of God, having fellowship with Him and always being guided by His Holy Spirit in the way we think.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] Matthew 17:1-9 (And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”)

[2] Proverbs 7:18

[3] Romans 12 :2 (“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”)

[4] Ephesians 4:22-24 (“put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”)

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