Semper Fi, Semper Reformanda: We’re Not Done Yet

This message was given at the Reformation Heritage Celebration on October 31, 2021.

If I had to venture a guess, I would say that there aren’t many other historical events that you get together to celebrate, especially ones that happened long before your life.

Maybe you think of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, or Easter, his death and resurrection. Both are very important. Or, you think of our national holidays. As a country we celebrate our Independence Day, or the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Both shape our identity as a nation, as a united people.

Likewise, we gather today to celebrate as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, to celebrate an event that shapes our identity as a nation, as a united people in Christ. 500 years ago God used a number of flawed but faithful men and women to reclaim the gospel and reform the church.

And just like our Independence Day or Christmas, the Reformation is not just a historical footnote; it has continued relevance to us today, who stand in its legacy. Part of the reason we celebrate the Reformation is because we’re not done yet. Today, too, there is a need for reformation.

Semper Fi, Semper Reformanda – if we are to be faithful, we must always be reforming according to the Word of God.

Christians in all ages, no less in 2021, are called to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.

Read with me Jude, verses 3 and 4.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. 

Long before Martin Luther, Jude called Christians to contend for the faith.

In this last session of our short celebration, I want to encourage us all to continue the reformation of the church by contending for Christ with kindness that we are His Creation. 

We’ll have three points:

First, contend for Christ.

Second, contend with kindness.

Third, contend that we are His Creation.

First, contend for Christ.

Look with me again at Jude 3.

Jude was writing to early Christians, those he says share a common salvation.

There is one, only one, salvation. All who have it share it in common with everyone else who has it. Salvation in Jesus Christ is available to all, simply by grace through faith.

And Jude was eager to write about that salvation, but he found he had more pressing matters.

We see four simple truths here in these verses, the building blocks of our charge, to contend for Christ.

First, there is a faith once delivered to the saints.

When Jude mentions the faith, he is not talking about our subjective belief in God. He is talking about the content of that belief, what we believe.

The faith. The truths of the Bible. About Jesus, his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. About God, his justice, his wrath, his mercy.

About man, our creation, our rebellion, our salvation. About God’s dealing with his people through his covenants through generations.

He is talking about the propositional truths that define reality.

And this faith is delivered to us. We didn’t discover these truths through philosophical inquiry. They were given to us by God, through revelation.

They are recorded for us in his inspired Word.

In other words, there is objective truth with a divine source.

There is a faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Second, that faith is worth contending for.

You know, there are some things that are true that are not worth contending for.

The scientific name for the common black ant is the lasius niger.

That is true. But it is not worth contending for.

It is insignificant. It won’t change your life. Preserving that truth won’t help, forgetting it won’t harm you.

Sorry to any entomologists here, the scientific name of ants doesn’t have ultimate value.

But, some truths are so valuable that they are worth contending for. And the truths of the faith, the truths that have been delivered to the saints, are worth contending for.

They pertain to eternal matters. They are truths about our purpose, our joy, and the glory of God. These propositions, and not others, teach us of the way, the truth, and the life–the only way to the Father, the only way to the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.

We all have the popular image of Luther standing at the Diet of Worms, refusing to recant his writings. When Luther stood before the Holy Roman Emperor, he knew that the charge he faced, the charge of heresy, could mean his death.

But he knew the truths he was contending for were worth it. They were so valuable, for himself and for the whole world, that he would rather face death than forsake these truths.

They’re more important than life.

It’s why William Tyndale would rather die than stop translating and why John Calvin would rather live in exile than stop preaching.

This faith is worth contending for.

Third, this faith is threatened from within the church.

You see in Jude 4, false teachers were creeping into the church. They, by their teaching and conduct, were perverting God’s grace and thereby denying the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus told his disciples false teachers would come. “Beware,” he told them, “of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Their true identity is hidden, allowing them to creep in unnoticed, like Jude reports.

Paul would say to the elders of the church of Ephesus that men will arise speaking twisted things. Peter says false teachers will secretly bring in destructive heresies, and many will follow them.

Clearly there are threats against the truth in every age, from beginning to now.

The faith is threatened by false teachers.

And fourth, every genuine believer should contend for the faith.

Jude says the faith has been delivered to the saints. Not to the pope or bishop. Not to the pastors or teachers. Not even the church as an institution. It was delivered to the saints, to each person who has received God’s holy calling.

To have faith in Christ is to be commissioned to contend for the faith that is in Christ.

Every genuine believer should contend for the faith.

So, now, 500 years after the Reformation and 2000 years after Jude wrote to those early Christians, we too have the charge to contend for Christ.

The faith is worth contending for from every threat, by every believer.

Yes, we know that the truth will win in the end. We’ve read the last chapter, we know how the story ends. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to fight for it.

Imagine our contending a battlefield, and God the Commander in Chief:

“Just because the brilliant Commander in Chief promises victory on the beaches doesn’t mean the troops can throw their weapons overboard. The promise of victory assumes valor in battle. When God promises that his church will be kept from defeat, his purpose is not that we lay down our sword and go to lunch, but that we pick up the sword of the Spirit and look confidently to God for the strength to fight and win.” John Piper

Christian, contend with confidence in the coming conquest, for Christ.

But the language of warfare might make you think our role is to obliterate our opponents.

I think we have a lesson to learn from Luther. He actually did recant some things at the Diet of Worms, so to speak.

Some of the writings he was asked to recant were attacks on individuals.

Of those writings, Luther said, “I confess that I have been more bitter and vehement against them than is in keeping with my Christian estate and calling.”

Our second point today, contend with kindness. Contend with kindness.

Luther acknowledged that, in his attacks, he was too bitter.

It is common, when such valuable truths are at stake, and when under assault, to become severe and defensive.

But we serve a Savior who, when also under the threat of death, was always gentle and lowly.

The command is to contend, not be contentious. We can disagree, and not be disagreeable.

You know, culture catechizes. So many people have observed that our current political culture is teaching us to be contentious and disagreeable.

Today, we are exposed to the messages of our culture 24/7–through facebook, Twitter, websites, television.

And, unfortunately, all that media wants your attention, and attention is most reliably driven by anger and hatred.

The best way to get people coming back isn’t to have a calm and balanced approach. It is to make everything nuclear, to foment anger.

Yes, the media has a financial incentive to make things contentious, because controversy sells.

If you’re anything like me, the articles you linger on, the ones you’re prone to share with your friends, are the ones that make you angry.

All that to say, brothers and sisters, we have a unique opportunity to contend for the most important truths ever, but to do so with kindness.

Paul wrote to Timothy, in 2 Timothy 2:24-26, that this is not optional. To contend with kindness is the command of God:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Paul uses terms like kind, patient, and gentle to describe how Timothy must be.

He roots this in the hope that it is God who grants the repentance to know the truth.

Paul is saying that our opponents cannot change themselves, they must be changed by God.

Listen to how John Newton used that to encourage us to gentleness in our contending:

“Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, they who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistency be offended at their obstinacy: but if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose.”

In other words, the heirs of the Reformation, those who call themselves Calvinists, have most reason to be kind!

We know, just as when we opposed God, our opponents have no power to change themselves. God must grant it.

Newton says our opponents are more proper objects of our compassion than our anger.

But that’s not what the world will teach you.

So, let me encourage you to turn off the TV, to scroll on facebook and Twitter less. Read your Bible, pray, and spend time with people more.

This is why our churches are not interested in entertaining Christians. We only have a short time on the Lord’s Day to equip the saints for the week to come.

A diet of cotton candy will not do. We need the steak of God’s Word, of the gospel.

We need the reminder, week in and week out, of God’s kindness to us, meant to lead us to repentance – Romans 2 says.

We need the reminder of how He loved and died for us when we were his enemies – Romans 5 says.

We need to be empowered to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave us.

The power to contend with kindness comes to us by God’s Spirit, through the gospel.

Jesus did not revile when reviled. When he suffered, he did not threaten.

He willingly laid down his life as a sacrifice for our sins, bearing on the cross the just punishment our misdeeds deserve. Now, by faith in Christ and repentance from sin, we can be forgiven.

And the Spirit of Christ lives in us now, to give us the same power, to treat others in the pattern of our Savior.

Christians, live as salt and light in this world. Contend for Christ, with the kindness of Christ.

To be specific:

  • This means encouraging people you disagree with – if they say one true thing in the middle of 100 false, honestly and joyfully affirm that – “you are so right!”
  • It means not slandering or passing gossip about your opponents.
  • It means saying more to God in prayer for an opponent than saying to others against an opponent.
  • It means behind humble enough to recognize when it is a matter of opinion, and Christians have liberty to differ.
  • It means using a tone that avoids unnecessary offense, words that are good for building up, that give grace to those who hear, as Ephesians 4:29 commands.
  • It means obeying the command of James 1:19, to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

Contend for Christ, with the kindness of Christ.

We’ve seen Jude command Christians to contend for the faith, and in the example of Christ how we are to do so with kindness.

Finally, Contend that we are His Creation. Contend that we are His Creation.

The Reformation of the 16th century reclaimed doctrines that had been widely lost or neglected for centuries.

But just because they’ve been reclaimed doesn’t mean the work is done.

As one theologian put it, one generation believes the gospel, the next generation assumes the gospel, the following generation denies the gospel.

Our charge is to continue to contend for those truths, to carry them forward to the next generation. 

But, we also have a unique opportunity to contend for the faith that no generation before us has, exactly.

Every generation of Christians before us has affirmed that mankind is God’s creation, and made in his image.

Genesis 1:27 contains one of the most explosive truths in the Bible:

So God created man in his own image, 

in the image of God he created him; 

male and female he created them.

Both men and women, as men and women, have been created to reflect God… we his creation, to be like him.

It isn’t brown eyes or curly hair, but the fact that we are moral, rational, spiritual, creative, relational, and more – like God, our maker.

Many Christians have observed that, in the 21st century, we face unparalleled confusion about what it means to be God’s creation as human.

Just think of it. At root of abortion, transgenderism, same-sex attraction, and racism–and what four issues could be bigger–you will find a misunderstanding of what it means to be human, made in God’s image. 

Each is a denial of the dignity of mankind, or a rebellion against God’s order in his creation of mankind.

The defense and celebration of abortion is a denial that every person, no matter how small, no matter how developed, no matter where they are, no matter how dependent they are, is worthy of life and protection.

The ideology of transgenderism is a denial that every person is created by God good, even though marred by sin, and that our gender is a good gift given by God, not created by our society.

The same-sex revolution is a denial that we receive our identities from God, not from some our desires, no matter how fixed they feel.

Racism is a denial that every person, regardless of ethnicity or cultural background, is equally made in the image of God and worthy of our respect.

And this is ignoring the advent of cloning, custom humanity; or AI, artificial humanity; or the metaverse, disembodied humanity.

It’s not alarmist to say that our society’s understanding of what it means to be human has changed at an alarming pace.

Carl Trueman wrote a wonderful book this year about the history behind these changes, called The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. He begins with this observation:

The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.” My grandfather died in 1994, less than thirty years ago, and yet, had he ever heard that sentence uttered in his presence, I have little doubt that he would have burst out laughing and considered it a piece of incoherent gibberish. And yet today it is a sentence that many in our society regard as not only meaningful but so significant that to deny it or question it in some way is to reveal oneself as stupid, immoral, or subject to yet another irrational phobia.

Within thirty years, he observes –from the death of his grandfather to now–what was culturally considered incoherent is now celebrated.

The Wall Street Journal published an article this week that observed the decline in church membership in recent years, and cited a survey that says it is because young people feel a disconnect between what young people believe and what the church teaches.

Christians, do you want to know how we must contend for the faith with the kindness of Christ? Listen.

This article cited a survey of more than 100,000 young people of various faiths, and found that 71% of those surveyed, and I quote, “care about gay rights.”

Now, unfortunately that’s quite an ambiguous phrase, but it does tell us one thing: young people who identify as religious are confronted with this subject like never before.

The article, of course, suggests that if we want the church to continue we must change our teaching. And some have. False teaching, our world’s view of what it means to be human, is embraced in our churches. It is creeping in, maybe unnoticed, celebrated.

Brothers and sisters, the call is for us to contend for the faith with the kindness of Christ.

So here, at the end, one way we can carry on the tradition of the Reformation into the 21st century: to know, love, and commend the biblical doctrine of mankind created by God in his image.

Read a good book on it. I’d recommend “Created in God’s Image” by Anthony Hoekema. It’s beefy, but like I said, a diet of cotton candy will not do.

Parents, teach your children that they are made in the image of God. Whenever you have an opportunity, affirm that your child is made by God, as they are, and that’s a good thing. Reinforce the fact that the gifts God gives, like gender and sex in marriage and children, are good.

We need to contend for the faith by teaching our youth about the issues of our day with patience, compassion, and conviction.

These are not taboo topics–we need to talk about it, with the wisdom and grace of God’s Word and the offer of the gospel. Abortion and homosexuality are not the unforgiveable sins, they do not make you untouchable by God’s grace.

His mercy is more.

May we see a Reformation in our day. Contend for Christ with kindness that we are his Creation.