How do you reform a church? Like Luther you let the Word of God do its work.
However, Reformed churches have understood the Word of God to be saying certain things. From the time of the Reformation confessions and catechisms have been written to summarise the faith for believers. In the continental Reformed churches the three forms of unity have been central – Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort.
In the British churches the Westminster Standards are central. The Westminster Confession and the Shorter and Longer Catechisms sum up the Christian faith in a Biblically faithful way that has yet to be surpassed. As such, I had the idea of using the evening service at Hall Gate to preach on the Shorter Catechism. Here’s the first sermon. I’m not sure how successful it is as I’m an expository preacher usually but I hope you find it edifying:
What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever
I’m an intense walker. Whenever I’m out and about I’m totally focussed upon where I need to go. My eyes are fixed on the pavement in front of me and I’m often deep in thought. I’m in my own little world. This was made clear to me on the occasion when one of my best friends, who I’d lived with through university and afterwards, had to walk right up to me before I recognised him.
In the week before Holy Week I had the great privilege of attending New Word Alive with Kerry and my daughter Hannah. It was a great week of teaching and fellowship and came as a real tonic for the soul. As I’m always at the front on the Lord’s Day I don’t often get to join with my family in worship so the highlight for me was attending sessions with Hannah in her carrier on my chest and Kerry holding my hand.
One of the sessions I attended was a seminar given by Carl Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. His topic was Martin Luther, and his provocative subtitle for the talk was “I drank beer, the Word did everything.”
It was a wonderful lecture. After reminding us of Luther’s life and thought, Trueman applied some of these lessons to our modern day.
He reminded us of Luther’s theology of the cross. Christianity is not about glory in this life. Our pilgrimage can be full of sadness, darkness and failure. Everything we do must be lived in the light of the cross. If Christ suffered in this life then why should we expect any different?
In practical terms this helps us to avoid the pitfalls that our culture places in our way without us even realising it. For Trueman this is often the pitfall of “success”. He gave the example of his church in the States. It has 100 members. It doesn’t grow much. People come. People go. From the outside in an American context it looks small and failing. But here’s the thing – it has more people in it than the church in Corinth at the time of Paul’s letters.
It was a great encouragement to be reminded of this as someone who ministers to “small” churches.
Second, Trueman’s subtitle reminded us of Luther’s theology of the Word. God’s Word preached will accomplish its purposes. We’re not dependent on gimmicks or programmes or ad campaigns. Just preach the Word and let God do his work.
Luther came to break with the Roman church because his conscience was in thrall to the Word of God. He committed his life to preaching and teaching that Word. Trueman challenged me to look at my life and see if I was true to the theology I hold. I was also encouraged to carry on and persevere in the task of establishing a Biblical ministry.
Perhaps, rather than looking to a fancy ad agency in London, the URC could look to the works of Luther instead for some direction?