The Reformation is important to us at Christ Church. We cherish it, we study it, we identify with it, we seek to live in the light of the Gospel clarity that characterized so much of this historical moment.
But what was the Reformation? In short, the Reformation was a succession of surging renewal movements across Europe in the sixteenth century that changed the religious landscape profoundly. Leaders like Martin Luther (apart from whom, as J.I. Packer notes, the Reformation is “as unintelligible as Hamlet would be without the Prince”), John Calvin, and Martin Bucer sought to reclaim the biblical purity of the Apostolic Gospel. What was at stake for these Reformers was the Church’s perception of God’s glory in human salvation. They were persuaded that, over the course of time, theology and Church practice had become too anthropocentric: too concerned and preoccupied with the strength and the merit of the human person in the quest for salvation. As the Reformers studied the Church Fathers, especially St Augustine, and as they studied the Scriptures, they discovered that the Gospel shouts and proclaims joyfully the unique triumph of God over sin and death: the matchless power of God, manifested in weakness on a Cross, to save those who, on account of the depths of their sin, could never save themselves. It is God’s work from beginning to end.
Karl Barth, the towering reformed theologian of the twentieth century, wrote in an early sermon at Safenwil that Jesus Christ “proclaimed one word: God!” This theocentric message was the clarion call of the Reformation, to bring the Church back to the Godness of God, to “let God be God,” as Luther writes, so that his glory might shine without peer in the praise and devotion of his people.
The Reformers wanted the Church to know God again. They wanted the Church to know a glorious God who speaks inimitably through the Holy Scriptures: the only sufficient rule of faith and the final authority for how we may know God and enjoy Him in Jesus Christ. The Reformers wanted the Church to know a glorious God who chooses us in Christ before the foundation of the world, so that our salvation can never be boasted about as the outcome of our own choosing, or willing, or exertion, but understood always and only as the outcome of God’s mercy. And the Reformers wanted the Church to know the glory of God uniquely presented in the Person of his Son, Jesus Christ: through whom all things were created, for whom all things were created, by whom all things hold together, who alone reconciles us to God through his death on a Cross, who alone is the Head of the Church, and who alone is the substance of the Church’s proclamation so that “in everything he might be preeminent.”
The Anglican Church was the unique branch of the Reformation in England. Protestant leaders like Thomas Cranmer, John Jewel, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley were deeply sympathetic with the Reformation on the Continent and profoundly influenced and shaped by its key leaders. But unlike some of the Continental Reformers, the Reformers in England did not, to use an admittedly imperfect metaphor, throw out the baby with the bathwater. The English Reformers recognized that what was being reformed, the Catholic Church, had, along with its errors, passed down traditions that were worthy of the Apostolic Gospel. If the Church was being reformed, it was also being reclaimed. The historic orders of bishops and priests, for instance, were not annulled but elevated to their true calling: to be guardians of orthodoxy and faithful ministers of Word and Sacrament. The liturgy (the structure of the worship service) was not abandoned but purified from unscriptural elements. The seasons of the Christian year and the lectionary (the Church’s reading plan of the Bible) were not spurned but embraced as helpful ways to admire Christ. Vestments (distinctive dress for the clergy) and ritual gesture (such as kneeling for communion) were not cast aside but simplified and rightly ordered to highlight the centrality and certainty of the Gospel. The Lord’s Supper was not reduced to a bare memorial and intellectual act but esteemed as an effectual and instrumental means of grace and a true communion with the real presence of Jesus Christ. Confession and absolution were not eliminated but underscored as the Gospel ministry of the Keys, ordered and commissioned by Christ, so that struggling sinners with bruised consciences could hear and receive from an ordained priest, as from Christ’s own lips, the good news of pardon and peace.
In these ways, the Anglican Church sought and still seeks to hold together historic traditions and the convictions of the Reformation in one Christ-exalting, Gospel-treasuring Church: a gathering of believers who are content to be known—merely—as reformed Catholics. “To Cranmer,” as J.I. Packer writes, “Protestantism was precisely a quest for catholicism.” And this Anglican quest, again to quote Packer, catches “the substance and spirit of biblical Christianity superbly well,” and also provides “as apt a model of the way to confess the faith in a divided Christendom as the world has yet seen.”
At Christ Church Kelowna, we invite you to experience the substance and spirit of biblical Christianity, to taste and see that the Lord is good, to know the glory of God as it shines through the Gospel, and to confess with us the faith that has been passed down to us from the Apostles and heralded so clearly by the Reformers: that though we had no strength and our hearts were far from God, the grace of God that appeared in Jesus Christ, bringing salvation for all people, proved stronger.
And the grace of God will always prove stronger to those who put their trust in him.
Soli Deo Gloria