Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment! Today, in honor of Reformation Day, we’re revisiting a post that was originally published back on August 26, 2016 and has been slightly revised.
The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation
By Michael Reeves
B&H Publishing, 2010, 207 pages
After Christianity became legalized by the Roman Empire and subsequently adopted as the official state religion, the early Christian church gradually began adapting and incorporating many of the beliefs and practices of its pagan predecessors. By the 14th century, the Roman Catholic church had very little in common with the primitive, New Testament church. The Gospel message of salvation by God’s grace though a personal, saving faith in Jesus Christ had devolved into clerical imperialism, legalism, and ritualism. In addition to its hopelessly compromised theology, the Roman 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 the Good News! of salvation via 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 return the horses back into the barn despite the anathemas, inquisitions, and executions.
I’ve read several general histories of the Reformation 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.
Those who attend today’s “seeker-friendly” evangelical mega-churches generally hear little or nothing about the Reformation. They are not aware of the irreconcilable differences between Roman Catholicism and Gospel Christianity. Roman Catholics talk about Jesus, “grace,” and “faith” and that’s good enough for many. Sadly, these days we even have popular evangelical pastors recommending books by committed Catholics to their unwary congregations and media audiences. But Catholicism hasn’t changed any of its important doctrines since 1517. It still teaches the same false gospel of sacramental grace and merit. Catholics can never say they are saved because they are taught 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 betrayal of the Gospel, the Reformation must continue. Roman Catholics (and unsaved “Protestants”) remain as a mission field.
Today, we mark the 502nd anniversary of the Reformation. I praise God for raising up Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and the other early Reformers to restore the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. If you should decide you would like to read a non-academic introduction to the Reformation, this well-written, short book would be an excellent choice. It’s readily available from Amazon here.