I tend to miss bandwagons, and though I read my fair share of Reformation articles over the last few weeks, I didn’t write any. But I did listen yesterday to a sermon preached Sunday by Rev. Howard Brown to our local Lowcountry presbytery. Howard is a PCA pastor in North Carolina who is also originally from the Lowcountry of South Carolina. As an African American, his experience of the rich history of this part of South Carolina is distinctly different than mine. He came back home to preach on the Five Solas, but he did so with an honest assessment of the issues in our culture. He was BRUTALLY HONEST, with no attempts at that good (but unhelpful to long-term, real change) Southern coping mechanism of smoothing over uncomfortable situations.
Rev. Brown was brutally honest. But not without HOPE. Because that’s what the Five Solas give us. Not hope for humanity 500 years ago, but hope for humanity now. The emphasis in this 500th commemoration shouldn’t just be on what Luther did hundreds of years ago, but on what this understanding of the gospel brings us in THIS moment. Because the Five Solas are worthless if they don’t speak into this cultural moment, and Rev. Brown reminded us that they indeed do.
This hope of the gospel reclaimed through the Reformation gets lost unless it is seen in contrast with the fallen nature of mankind. Rev. Brown didn’t let us shy away from the fallen nature of humanity in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, with its parking lots paved over black cemeteries with the bodies still in them, the headstones removed to make pavers in white owned front yards. Personally, I have witnessed the devastation up front of the segregationist private academies that dotted South Carolina after integration, only allowing blacks to enter their schools when forced by the federal government in the mid 80s. And just two years ago, we had 9 black Christians brutally murdered while worshiping at church simply because they were black.
By Scripture alone … we know the truth of God, including the worth of those created in His image.
By grace alone … we are brought back into relationship with the Creator God, and by grace alone we are equipped to obey His commands on loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
By faith alone … we are saved, not by any version of cultural good works.
By Christ alone … are we brought to and sustained in this faith, and by union with Him we are able once more to be imitators of God who love our neighbor and treat them with their inherent dignity as image-bearers of God.
For the glory of God alone … we persevere in a hard cultural work, not looking to set ourselves up as great social justice warriors. For we can not turn men’s hearts to love their neighbor. We can not even turn our own hearts. Only God can do that. We give glory to God alone and humble ourselves in praise to Him for any healing and reconciliation that the gospel brings to our communities.
Jesus likened this gospel to a little leaven. Put a small amount in a lump of dough, and it eventually leavens the whole lump. He also likened it to a tiny mustard seed that grows into a twenty foot mustard bush. The point is that it doesn’t look at first at times like this little gospel seed has the power to change anything, and yet it does. May this season of reflection on the Five Solas of the Reformation give us hope anew that, in this cultural moment, one not so different from Luther’s, we have hope for an even greater reformation, one that includes the dignity of Jew and African image-bearers in a way that Luther’s did not. Because the reformed church is always reforming.