How the Church Reforms
The following is a summary of the sermon I preached on February 19, 2017.
HOW THE CHURCH REFORMS
Part 3 of Reformation Now! Psalm 50
February 19, 2017. The Cornerstone Church.
The first new car Kim and I ever owned was a bright red 1988?? Chevy Nova - that was really a Toyota Corolla. We bought it in London, ON. When we first got it, I treated it like a baby. I washed and waxed it. I kept the interior spotless. I parked it away from other cars so it wouldn’t get dinged. A month later, the thrill had gone and it was just a car. It got dirty and stayed dirty and someone wrote in the dirt, “CLEAN ME.”
The 2,000 year history of the Christian church mirrors my Nova. From time to time, the church loses it shine. Bad teaching. Corrupt leadership. Compromised lifestyle. Over and over again, someone needs to say, “CLEAN ME!”
In church history, that cleaning process is called the REFORMATION OF THE CHURCH. There is a constant need for church reformation
TODAY, I want to answer three questions:
Why is church reformation vitally important?
How does reformation happen?
What needs reforming today?
This is the final part of our series on REFORMATION. Each week, we’ve looked at a psalm. Today, we’re in Psalm 50. It’s a call to Israel to reform. They were breaking God’s covenant laws and he was coming to judge them. We can use Psalm 50 as a blueprint for the reformation of the church.
QUESTION #1: WHY IS CHURCH REFORMATION VITALLY IMPORTANT?
Because we are God’s church and we should reflect God to the world. Look who God is: “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” - v. 2
Zion was the name of the hill in Jerusalem on which God’s temple was built. It’s a picture of heaven on earth; the place from which God blazes in glory.
“Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, 2 beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. 3 Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress.” - Psalm 48:1-3
When the Lord Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth, he was Zion. He was God shining forth - in humility and compassion and dying on the cross. And then Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and he transferred the glory of Zion to us, to his church:
“Christ gave up his life for the church 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious (RADIANT) church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.” - Ephesians 5:25-27 NLT
Christ has set us apart for God and made us acceptable to him by the word of the Gospel in which we trust so that will be the radiant church - shining God’s glory into the world. When we don’t do that - because of some problem in our beliefs or our behavior - it robs God of glory. It veils his radiant beauty. And that’s when the Lord will call his church into a season of reformation.
In the 1400s, when the church in England was full of corruption and immorality and false teaching and the true Gospel had been lost, God raised up John Wycliffe and gave him a brilliant mind and a gift in linguistics. Wycliffe recovered the true Gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And Wycliffe translated the NT into English so that everyone would hear the Gospel.
Reformation is vitally important so that our beliefs and our behavior reflect the perfections of God for all the world to see - and worship him.
QUESTION #2: HOW DOES CHURCH REFORMATION HAPPEN?
Reformation happens when we listen to God in reverent fear. Every reformation begins when our fear of God is bigger than our feeble efforts to be the church and to live the Christian life on our own terms.
“Our God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest. 4 He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people.” - verses 4-5
Who’s church is it? Who’s life is it? Can our ideas and ways survive the devouring fire that is our God? Reformation is holy awe of God in action.
In Revelation 2-3, there’s an example of God speaking to his church, calling the Christians into reformation. here, the Lord Jesus spoke to the seven churches in Asia Minor. He pointed out four main areas in need of reformation:
Church in Ephesus: reform their love for Jesus.
Church in Pergamum: reform their doctrines.
Church in Thyatira: reform their behavior - idolatry, immorality.
Churches in Sardis and Laodicea: reform their devotion to Christ and his cause.
Reformation happens when the church listens to Jesus in reverent fear. How do we hear Jesus? He speaks in his Word and through faithful Bible teaching. I call it REFORMATION THROUGH PROCLAMATION.
Martin Luther explained the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s this way: “I translated the Bible into German and while I slept it did its work.” He was being modest. His was also a bold, courageous, faithful, preacher and writer. The Word written and the Word preached ignited the fires of reform.
QUESTION #3: WHAT NEEDS REFORMING IN THE CHURCH TODAY?
What is the Lord of the church saying to the Cornerstone today?
A. He is saying, “Let me be God” - verse 7. This is the reformation of worship. “I am God, your God.” - verse 7. This reminds us of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” - Exodus 20:3. We are called to worship one God only and to refuse spiritual allegiance to anything else.
Reformation is needed whenever we forget that God is the potter and we are the clay. The Lord is supreme in the church and in our lives. He’s the blazing center and the sole object of worship.
“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. 3 Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!” - Psalm 34:1-3
B. He is saying, “Depend on me” - verses 9-15. This is the reformation of the Gospel. Whenever we drift from pure worship, we will also drift towards a false gospel. The Lord reminded Israel about their absolute need for his deliverance - something they could not do by their own strength. In any case, God did not need their help.
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine … call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” - verses 12, 15.
Reformation is needed whenever we forget God is the Savior and we are the saved. We receive salvation. We do NOT achieve salvation. We cannot and we must not add anything to the finished, sufficient, once for all work of Christ. God does need our help.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus …” - Ephesians 2:8-10a
C. He is saying, “Follow my ways.” - verses 16-23. This is the reformation of life - our way of life; our lifestyle. When we get worship wrong and the Gospel wrong, it inevitably leads to a deficient lifestyle.
“To the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips? 17 For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.”” - verses 16-17
Reformation is needed whenever we forget that God has said, “be holy as I am holy.” - 1 Peter 1:16. Jesus calls us to follow him. He calls us to kill the old life. He calls us to live a new life in which we do what he teaches. Paul reminded Titus that the grace that saves will also sanctify:
The grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, 13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. 14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. - Titus 2:11-14 NLT
Thomas Aquinas felt God’s call to reformation of life. He lived in Italy in the 1200s. His parents sent him to the best schools so that he could become a powerful churchman - a bishop with lands and wealth. They wanted him to take full advantage of the corruption in the church of that day.
Aquinas was brilliant. His writings became the standard texts for medieval thought and theology - Summa Theologica. He could have easily schemed his way to wealth and power. But he walked a better path because he loved the Lord Jesus and he loved his church, and he wanted to serve her, not abuse her.
So, he joined the Dominicans - the monks known as the Order of Preachers. They were sickened by the corruption in the church, so they took vows of poverty and focused on Christ-exalting service.
His family were so angry, his brothers kidnapped him and held him captive for 15 months trying to get him back on track. He refused and he went back to his humble life of study and writing for the Lord because he loved Christ and he loved Christ’s blood-bought, radiant bride.
In reverent awe of God, let’s work and pray, trust and obey for reformation. Let’s be radiant Christians in a radiant church. So that by our reformation, we might draw the world to the Cornerstone and to Christ himself.