The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation
By Michael Reeves
B&H Publishing, 2010, 207 pages
In the process of becoming legalized by the Roman Empire and subsequently adopted as the official state religion, the early Christian church began incorporating many of the beliefs and practices of its pagan predecessors. By the 15th century, the Roman Catholic church had very little in common with the primitive, New Testament church. The message of salvation by a personal, saving faith in Jesus Christ had devolved into clerical imperialism, ritual, and ceremony. In addition to its hopelessly compromised theology, the church had become an open cesspool of greed, corruption, political intrigue, and immorality.
But then something absolutely wonderful happened. Beginning in the 14th century (some would argue for an even earlier date), men and women began rising up to challenge the church’s autocratic position through the power of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. The flame of reform reached a tipping point in the early 1500s when Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin broke from Rome completely in their endeavor to return the church to simple saving faith in Jesus Christ. With the translation of the Latin Bible into the vernacular and the invention of the printing press the Roman church was unable to get the horse back into the barn despite the anathemas, inquisitions, and executions.
I’ve read several books on the Reformation over the past year and this easy-to-read primer is one of the best. Reeves writes with much wit while also delivering on the historical essentials. He doesn’t put the Reformers on a pedestal. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and the rest were all flawed sinners saved by God’s grace. Some monarchs definitely exploited the movement for political and economic advantages and it took succeeding Reformers to move the church even farther from Roman error. But the Holy Spirit accomplished a great work through these early Reformers and we should be grateful for their courage and fidelity to the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. In addition to the three principals, Reeves devotes quite a bit of attention to the Reformation movement in England.
Most people who flock to today’s evangelical mega-churches know little or nothing about the Reformation. Catholics talk about Jesus, grace, and faith and that’s good enough for many. But Catholicism hasn’t changed any of its important doctrines since 1517. It still teaches the same gospel of sacramental grace and merit. Catholics can never say they are saved because they must continue to attempt to merit their salvation right up until the day of their death. Reeves confronts those evangelicals who declare the Reformation is over. In this era of ecumenical compromise and the betrayal of the Gospel, the Reformation must continue. Roman Catholics (and unsaved Protestants) remain as a mission field.
As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, if you should decide you would like to read a non-academic introduction, this well-written, short book would be an excellent choice. It’s readily available from Amazon.