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The Reformation and Pentecostal Christians
By Thomas H. Lindberg
God moves within time to accomplish His divine plan. One of His sovereign moves was the Reformation, launched October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther hammered his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Other godly men had sowed seeds of change for 150 years before this, bold act, but church historians date the Reformation commencing with Martin Luther.
What does the Reformation mean to us Pentecostals? Seven shafts of truth beam from it that still help light the path for us today.
The ultimate authority of the Bible
The pre-Reformation church did not hold to the Bible’s authority. For several hundred years scholastics had embraced Aristotle’s philosophy. Also, tradition had gained the upper hand over the authority of the Bible.
Reformers declared that the Scriptures were the final rule of faith and practice. For example, at the Diet of Worms, Luther defended his position by asserting, “Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture … I cannot and will not recant anything.” Sola Scripture (Scripture alone) became a cry of the Reformation.
As Pentecostal ministers we need to follow the reformers and maintain an unshakable commitment to the authority of God’s Word. Men and women who enter the doors of Assemblies of God churches must hear the authoritative Word of God preached. A sermon based on opinions, ideas, or current events is not sufficient. Nor should a sermon merely be a string of stories tied together by a biblical text. At a minister’s ordination he is handed a Bible, not a Reader’s Digest. We must preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).
As Pentecostals we desire to see converts rooted and grounded in Christ. The person brought to faith in Christ through the authority of the Bible will have an unshakable foundation.
Full acceptance with God
A second great principle of the Reformation was salvation by the free and undeserved grace of Jesus Christ. This became known as “justification by faith only.” The pre-Reformation church believed that faith in Christ plus good works earned salvation. Reformation theology stated that by the action of God alone (in the death and resurrection of Jesus), a confessing and believing person was saved from sin and totally justified before a holy God.
The New Testament doctrine of justification is vitally important for Christians to understand and enjoy today. Many who come to Christ today will have sordid backgrounds of bondage, drugs, alcoholism, and brokenness. They need to know that their sins are completely forgiven through Christ, and they are fully accepted by God.The Reformation trumpeted this glorious truth. Through preaching, teaching, and singing, Pentecostal churches must stress that regardless of one’s past sin, justification comes from God by faith alone.
The priesthood of all believers
A third principle that grew out of the Reformation was the priesthood of all believers. The pre-Reformation church maintained the tradition that a priest must act as mediator between God and the common man. Reformers insisted that access to God was granted to all true believers and from Scripture argued that prayer was available to all at any time.
The privilege and power of prayer for all believers is deeply rooted in Pentecostal theology and practice. That commitment and activity must continue. As Pentecostal ministers, we must believe in the biblical concept of the priesthood of all believers. Our prayers must extend beyond me and mine. Luther prayed for Germany; Zwingli and Calvin prayed for Switzerland; we should pray for our city, state, nation, and the whole world. The ministries of our churches have little value if they are not supported by the prayers of people in the church — a lesson from the Reformation.
Dependence upon the Holy Spirit
For a thousand years prior to the Reformation, little emphasis was placed upon the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. Reformers specifically gave place to the Holy Spirit in their doctrine and personal lives.
In his Institutes, Calvin declared that the reality of salvation is achieved through “the secret energy of the Holy Spirit through which we enjoy Christ and all His benefits.” Calvin also wrote of the testimonium, defined as the power of the Holy Spirit that attends the preaching of the Word.
Luther’s life gives us an example of emphasis upon the Holy Spirit in personal life. He said, “In domestic affairs I defer to my darling wife, Katie; in all other areas I am led by the Holy Ghost.
”The Reformation reminds us that without the Spirit of God we can do nothing. Our prayer should be, “Come, Holy Spirit, we need You.”
Sound principles of interpretation
Reformers not only asserted that the Bible possessed divine authority, they set forth a sober, objective hermeneutic. What emerged became known classically as the “Analogy of Faith,” which simply stated that Scripture is to be its own best interpreter.
We live in a day of fads. As ministers we dare not allow ourselves to be “carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). It is vastly superior to “contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
The power of a committed minority
The Reformation did not burst upon the scene and sweep across Europe because it had a power base of influential people and a majority on its side. The Reformation had humble beginnings and was initiated by a minority — a committed minority with godly convictions.
What an inspiration for Pentecostal pastors today. As a minority committed to biblical ideas caused the Reformation to sweep across Western Europe, so today a committed minority can make a difference in a city and our nation.
The primacy of preaching
One reason the Reformation changed people’s lives was because the Reformers were powerful preachers. For instance, Luther was a premier preacher who urged young ministers to give priority to preaching. He said, “Preaching is a means and a way, a pipe as it were, through which the Holy Spirit flows and comes to the human heart.
”Preachers today would do well to rediscover confidence in preaching. Great preaching does not need to degenerate into idolatry, pernicious pride, or the cult of personality that glorifies the messenger at the expense of the marvels of the message. Preaching is God’s plan — a divine method by which the body of Christ will grow and move (see 1 Corinthians 1 and 2).
Reformers believed that life, death, hell, and worlds unknown hung on the preaching and the hearing of the sermon. May God help us to embrace a similar view.
The Reformation was not a golden age of perfection, but God worked through it. Let us learn from the past, be faithful in the present, and be ready for the future. God promised a rising tide of His Spirit in the last days.
Thomas H. Lindberg, D.Min., pastor of First Assembly of God, Cordova, Tennessee