The need for Reformation in our culture is seen at every turn. The Church has turned into a version of mental and emotional burlesque performance where any appeal that is made is made upon the basis of emotions or experience or the fear that the secret rapture might happen tomorrow. With the emasculation of the Church the rest of the culture has followed into eclipse. The family, when it is successful, has become merely a place for bed and boarding as opposed to a place for education and training. The schools continue to churn out slaves. The State keeps tending towards tyranny. The law is built upon relativistic sand. The arts produce ugliness that communicates that there is no such thing as beauty. In our economy we continue to punish those who save and reward those who build debt. The need for Reformation in our culture is seen at every turn.
The need will not be answered by attempt at renewal that is only moral at its base. What is wrong with our culture is theological and will not be altered by merely treating the immoral symptoms that pronounce the presence of theological disease. No, if we desire to heal the immoral symptoms we must destroy the theological disease from which all moral and cultural sickness emanates. The cure must be theological.
The need will not be answered by attempts at renewal that seek to alter people’s emotional responses. Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity — the 800 pound guerrilla in today’s Christian expression — will not answer our need for Reformation. Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity is more problem then it is solution. Indeed, one way we will know that Reformation is taking hold when we see the influence of Pentecostalism abate. With its theology of emotion and excitement Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity combined with its anti-intellectualism hasn’t what it takes to withstand the tidal wave of paganism that has drenched all of us, nor does it have the ability to provide the lasting answers to the larger questions that all cultures demand. Without Reformation we will die in our emotion.
The need will not be answered by appealing to people’s experiences. All the rage these days is “narrative theology,” which if handled rightly could be effective. However, “narrative theology” as it is handled by most of the Church is merely a celebration of everybody’s different life-stories. It is nothing more then Schleiermacher on mescaline. This can not and will not bring Reformation. Without Reformation we will die in our experience.
The need will only be answered by thinking rightly about God – or we could say by a Holy Spirit driven restoration of right Theology. That which the Church and culture is dying of is the disease of thinking wrongly about God. This wrong thinking about the God of the Bible is the disease that produces all of our foul immoral symptoms. The first place that our wrong thinking about God reveals itself is in our worship and doxology. Thinking wrongly about God we worship wrongly. Worshiping God wrongly we reinforce wrong thinking about God. Reformation in the Church, in the family, in the schools, in the law, in the economy, in the political order, and in the arts — Reformation that will heal wherever it flows — will first be seen in the repair of our theology and doxology.
The battle that we face today in our times and in our culture hence is not primarily between Republicans and Democrats. It is not primarily between Islam and Secular Humanism. It is not primarily between Liberals and Conservatives. The battle that we face today in our times and in our culture is the Battle of Theology. The question that confronts us is, “How Then Shall We Think About God.” Here is where the battle lies and should we answer this question wrongly, or allow people who have answered it wrongly to be our ecclesiastical and cultural gurus we shall die.
As a people then, we will suffer increasingly or decreasingly to the degree that we get our Theology wrong. The more a people think wrongly about God the more they will inflict themselves with all kinds of neuroses, psychopathic and sociopath behavior, and just plain strangeness. To the contrary, only Reformation can cure the ecclesiastical and cultural malaise that is characterized by these kinds of maladies.
As we turn to II Kings 22-23 we see Reformation as the remedy for what ails people who have embraced a culture of death.
I.) Sola Scriptura – Formal Principle Of Reformation (vs. 22:11)
Josiah realized that God’s people had disregarded the authoritative source of God’s rule over His people and such a realization led to deep anguish. The Reformation that washed over ancient Israel occurred because the Scripture was restored, and with the Scripture restored people began to think rightly about God.
In the Reformation in the 16th century this idea of Scripture alone was thought of as the “Formal Principle” of the Reformation. It was referred to as the “Formal Principle” because in returning to the Scripture alone as the authoritative source of theology much that was sloppy and inferior in thinking about God was challenged and removed.
This idea of Sola Scriptura is part of what we confess as a Reformed Protestant body of believers,
“We believe that [the] holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein…Neither may we consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with those divine Scriptures nor ought we to consider custom or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God… Therefore, we reject with all our hearts whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule” (Belgic Confession VII).
Before the Law was rediscovered in the II Kings account and before the Scriptures were rediscovered in the Reformation it was no longer the case in most quarters of the Church that the Scriptures were the authoritative source of theology. What had happened is that autonomous reason and tradition had been lifted above the Scriptures.
The Reformation was the Reformation because it made a serious effort to allow the Scripture to have pride of place in and over the Church and thus in and over the lives of God’s people.
Now if we are to have another Reformation again something like this has to occur again. It needs to occur again for in much if not most of Christianity in the world what has happened is that the Formal principle of Scripture is no longer Sola Scriptura. In Pentecostal quarters for example the formal principle is Scripture and direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. In Roman Catholic quarters for example the formal principle remains Scripture and tradition and autonomous reason. In Anglican or Episcopalian quarters for example the formal principle remains Scripture, Church Authority, and autonomous reason. In Emergent Church quarters for example the formal principle remains experience plus culture.
Unless God is gracious to give us a return to Sola Scriptura our Churches will continue to ape our pagan culture. Unless God is gracious to give us a return to Sola Scriptura we will continue to think wrongly about God.
Now, here we must have a word about what Sola Scriptura isn’t.
If there was a temptation once upon a time to over privatize Scripture in the hands of the corporate magesterium, there is in our time a temptation to over privatize Scripture in the hands of the individual, so that Sola Scriptura becomes Solo Scriptura. We must say that just as no group of people can stand over the Bible dictating to it what it says, so no single individual is allowed to stand over the Bible dictating to it what it says. If it was wrong for the Church to wrest Scripture away from God’s people, it is equally wrong for individuals to wrest Scripture away from the Church.
This is simply a plea to realize that as individuals we must read the Scriptures with the Church.
II.) Sola Fide — Material Principle Of Reformation (22:13)
“Our Fathers have not obeyed the Words of this book.”
Here the implicit idea is that God’s people, through their disobedience had defamed and defrauded God of that which was rightfully His – that is Glory.
We could say that by and in their disobedience they had attempted to de-glorify God.
Now this brings us to what was referred to as the Material Principle of the Reformation.
Material Principle = The central doctrine in a theology taught by that theology.
In the Reformation there was subtle disagreement on the Material principle.
Lutherans – Justification by grace alone
Reformed – The Glory Of God
The teleology or the end or goal of the Material principle for Reformed people has always been the exaltation of God. As Reformed people we look at the Material principle of Lutherans and what we tend to see is a theology that finds its final destination in man. We prefer instead to see justification by grace alone as serving the higher principle of God’s glory all the while insisting that justification by grace alone isn’t the end but rather is the means to the end of living to glorify God in all that we do. Reformed people insist that when God saves us through faith alone in Christ alone it is always for the end of God’s glory alone. God does all that he does, including saving His people, for His glory.
As we turn to the II Kings account we see that God’s people had failed to give God glory (22:17).
III.) No God But God – The Consequential Principle Of The Reformation (23:5f)
One way we will know that Reformation has come to us is when we begin to tear down the false gods that give meaning to our times, our cultures, our churches and our lives.
Here in II Kings we see how the gods are toppled. The account is straightforward but I think we little appreciate the cultural upheaval that is communicated in this text.
In order to get a sense of that we must realize that cultures find their meanings and definition from the religions and gods that define them. When Josiah attacks these gods and religions he is, as we would say, attacking their way of life – their mode of existence. Josiah is not merely assaulting the gods, he is assaulting the web of life in which the Israeli’s lived. He was attacking their cultural paradigm.
The same kind of destruction to false religions and gods happened in the Reformation. You can hardly read a history of the Reformation without coming across statues and religious art being destroyed because of the idolatrous nature that it was associated with in the minds of the people. Historical accounts record how people thronged into churches to bring out the Holy art and destroy it.
Indeed so great was the horror of the Reformers for the idolatry that many believe they over-reacted in becoming icon-phobes. But given the superstitious era in which they lived one can understand their reaction.
We, in our times, have lived through the kind of “way of life” assault on a culture that Josiah brought against the “way of life” of his people.
The nearest thing to this that has happened in our lifetimes is what happened in the iron curtain countries after the fall of the iron curtain. The people were rejecting the faith that had been foisted upon them and what Lenin and Stalin had pursued was visited upon their own heads as their statues and images were ripped town from city squares.
Anyway … you’ll know if in your lifetime you see Reformation because when Reformation comes the old gods are going to fall in such an obvious way you won’t be able to miss it. You’ll know if Reformation comes in your lifetime because your way of life will drastically change just as it drastically changed for the Israelites in II Kings. 23 and just as it drastically changed during the Reformation.