On the first post, we dealt with two myths. First, the myth that the Reformers did not care about the outward unity of the Church, and second, the myth that the Reformers wanted each individual Christian to read the Bible on his own and interpret the Bible on his own. On this final post, I will offer two additional myths. We cannot detail all the various myths surrounding Reformational theology, but we will be content with these four.
The third myth is that the Reformers invented the idea of predestination. The Reformers certainly taught the idea of predestination, but they certainly did not invent the idea of predestination. Augustine many centuries earlier in response to the heretic, Pelagius, had a very developed theology of predestination. Augustine wrote:
“For not only has God given us our ability and helps it, but He even works [brings about] willing and acting in us; not that we do not will or that we do not act, but that without His help we neither will anything good nor do it.”
But beyond that, it was Moses and Paul who first said that God will show mercy on whom He will have mercy. John Calvin’s greatest work is undoubtedly the Institutes of Christian Religion. Evangelicals may get the impression that the only thing Calvin talked about was predestination, when in fact Calvin did not tackle the subject of predestination until the tail end of Book #3 of the Institutes. This means that you have to read more than 900 pages to get to Calvin’s position on predestination, and when you get there, you will find that Calvin talks about predestination in terms of how this truth will comfort us. For Calvin, predestination was a doctrine of comfort, not some ethereal and academic topic. The Reformers believed in predestination because Moses, Jesus, John, Paul believed it exalted the grace of God, so the Reformers taught it with full biblical conviction.
The final myth is that when the Reformers broke from Rome, they broke free from liturgical worship. “True Protestant worship is spontaneous and unconstrained by liturgical forms. Who needs a bulletin? Let’s just follow the Spirit.” This is the general belief of most evangelicals in America– that breaking from Rome is breaking from liturgy. Of course, everyone has a liturgy; some are thought through, others are not. And because of this supposed idea of how a Reformed Church should be, many Protestants have ended up with spontaneous and entertainment-driven worship. But here is the irony of all of this: before the Reformation, the people would gather to be entertained by the Roman Church. Now they were not entertained by skits and praise bands as many do today, rather they were entertained by seeing the priest do his magic. In those days, the priest would take the bread and wine and magically it would be turned into the substance of Christ’s body. But when the magic was done the people themselves did not take the bread and wine; only the priest took the bread and wine. The people just sat there and listened to the priest talk in a language that they did not know. It was a sort of passive entertainment. Do you know how the Reformers reacted to this magical trickery and this passive entertainment offered to the people? The Reformers said: “Enough of this!” “The Reformers rediscovered the biblical truth that the whole congregation is a priesthood called to offer up spiritual sacrifice before God.”
The Reformers insisted that the people together with the minister do the work of worship; that people instead of sitting down passively and watching the trained musicians or the priest do his trick were now going to become themselves living sacrifices unto God. So, instead of only the trained musicians in the choir singing, the Reformers began to take the laity, the common people, and trained them to sing. Luther, of course, was a much better trained musician than most of the Reformers, so he began to compose beautiful music. He began to train the congregation to sing robustly, not like monks, but like warriors. And Calvin, who was not musically gifted, hired a musician to put the psalms into music b. So, you see what is happening is that the passive nature of the people in worship, where only the professionals sing–that is in fact still prevalent in our own day– has much more in common with Roman Catholicism than it does with Protestantism. The Reformers wanted the congregation involved in the liturgy: in the singing, confessing, and every other part of worship. Therefore, the Reformers did not abandon the liturgy, they corrected the liturgy of Rome. Instead of only priests and trained singers involved in the church, while the people remain silenced, the Reformers involved the entire congregation in sacred worship.
Many of you who have probably visited a Roman Catholic Church may say, “The modern Roman Catholic church is not like the Catholic Church of the 16th century.” The modern day Catholic church has services in English and the people sing and the people take the bread and wine every Sunday. Do you know why this is the case? Because many years after the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholics realized that the Reformers were taking over the world and that they were losing the game and so they concluded: “We need to imitate the Protestants.”
It is not uncommon to have someone visit the congregation I pastor in Pensacola and say that our liturgy looks Catholic. But this means that they have bought into a myth. It is not that our liturgy looks Catholic, it is rather that anything that the Catholic Church does that appears in any way similar to what we do at our Church was learned from the Protestant Reformers, not the other way around. Do you think the modern day Protestant understands the Reformation? I would like to think they do. But every time you hear these myths stated remember what really happened. Remember and remind non-Reformed people that the Reformers loved the unity of the Church, they believed strongly that the people should read their Bibles in the context of the church, that the Reformers believed in predestination because the Bible taught predestination, and that the Reformers, not Rome, restored worship to the people.
Why do we celebrate the Reformation? Because the Reformers believed that the ancient paths of Moses and Paul were good paths and that we should walk in them and find rest for our souls.