The Meaning Of The Reformation
Summer is a hard time to have to study for assignments and I’ve had two deadlines due at the end of January. One of them was for the module where we explore the Reformed roots of the Presbyterian church and what the reformed heritage means for us as a church and for us as ordained ministers in training.
As usual with the topics for this module, I anticipate a rather dull research period and an uninspiring writing time – it just doesn’t sound that interesting. This might be, in part, because I am accidentally Presbyterian and have never really been particularly interested in the politics and governance side of church. I have always been more interested in the life and guts of it, the living it out and learning to walk the walk part rather than the-who-is-responsible for what and in charge of whom.
But then, when I start looking in to the life and guts of the Reformation and see the energy and the passion that moved Calvin, Zwingli, Knox and Luther I find that there is much to admire and much to feel proud of as part of their tradition.
One of the best discoveries for me, and one that I think we may benefit from being reminded of, is the Reformers’ awareness that the passion that drove them to reform the church needed to be an ongoing energy within the life of the church, even of the Reformed church. Calvin was under no illusion that his way was the only way or the best way – he was convinced that the gospel called for fresh hearing in new times and new contexts. What was an appropriate response to the gospel in Geneva in the 1500s is not the pattern for the church to follow and uphold.
The pattern that Calvin hoped to instil in the Reformed church as a tradition was instead a continual return to a question: What is God up to here and now, and how are we called to respond to that? He would have phrased it a little differently, no doubt, but that is the basic question of the Reformed tradition. Where is the God, who is revealed in the life of Jesus, present and at work in our world now? What new wind of the Spirit do we discern in our neighbourhood? In our culture? In our families? In our church? What does our context and our current understanding of the biblical witness lead us to say about this God? And then what do we want to do in response, to live out our faith in love, grace and joy?
The Reformers were passionate to see lives and societies and the whole world transformed by the good news of the gospel as they understood it. They would be passionate for us to continue to ask their questions and find the answers that bring the ongoing energy of their reformation movement into our world now.