October 28th, 2018
On this Reformation Sunday it is altogether fitting that we take time to take stock and see where we are. First, we ought to note that the Church of Jesus Christ and the Presbyterian Church portion of it has not reached its prefect form. Neither have we achieved our final form, for we are the church. The church has been growing and shaping and forming and reforming herself for centuries. Starting with a tiny committee of 12 men, the church expanded to the early Christian community in Jerusalem and Antioch, and then, to a much greater organization and proliferation. And she has done this under the leadership of different people in different places and at different times, all caught up with the same vision.
Our roots as Presbyterians are to be found in the events of central Europe in the early part of the 16h century. We call these events the Protestant Reformation, but there were also Roman Catholic reforms underway as well. From the Protestant movement, though, we get the Latin expression, ecclesia reformanta, semper reformanda, which means, the reformed church, ever reforming.
In the 16th century there were three leading figures at work, trying to give leadership in reforming the Christian Church, where they were and where they found it, and to their peculiar contributions we as Presbyterians are indebted. These men were not a committee, believe it or not! They were not even really friends. I am not sure that they even met one another. Yet, they were almost exact contemporaries, and all were caught up in the urgent need for the church to be better than she was.
These three giants of the 16th century were Ignatius Loyola, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. In the short space of 25 years these three made immeasurable contributions to the church.
Ignatius de Recalde de Loyola had bee a soldier in the Spanish army. After being wounded and while convalescing, he read his Bible and a book about the lives of the saints. Through that experience he became converted to Jesus Christ. With the zeal of a convert and the discipline of a professional soldier, he applied himself to making himself better and his church better, as well. Out of his zeal and his discipline and his dedication to the demands of Christ, Loyola developed his famous spiritual exercises. Twenty years later, he organized and founded the even more famous, Society of Jesus, known to us as the Jesuits.
Loyola was not always in favor with the authorities, or in the good graces of the Pope. The Jesuits did not always have Papal approval. But they had a dedication to Christ, and their mission to spread the Gospel throughout the world. Furthermore Loyola was neither an adolescent nor an experienced idealist. He was 30 when he became a Christian, and 50 when the Jesuit order was established. He was neither a young man, or a learned man. For almost half of his adult life, he was a layman, so when he and six companions formed the Society of Jesus, they were all laymen. But, their desire to lead plain lives, take the Gospel throughout the world, and improve their church, motivated them. His legacy is part of our’s as well. His dedication to Christ and the discipline of the faith continue to influence the Church of Jesus Christ today.
The second of these giants of the 16th century studied for the profession of law. He was educated, holding bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Then, as he was crossing a field, a tremendous thunderstorm broke over his head. In his fright and terror, he threw himself to the ground and promised God that if he were delivered from this storm, he would become a priest. He was, and he did.
Actually, he became a priest before Loyola did. Luther became an Augustian monk. Before Loyola became a Christian Luther had already become a Doctor of Sacred Theology, already had nailed his 95 theses to the church door, had disputations with papal authorities and had been excommunicated from the Roman church.
Martin Luther was a tempestuous person, with the zeal of a convert and the emotions of a missionary. He certainly lacked the disciple of an army officer. With a flamboyant personality, he also had the tender sensitivity of a poet and composer. The range of his feelings for life and for the Christian faith are well represented in his two best known hymns: the tender, even sentimental Away in a Manger at one extreme, and the militant, musical battering-ram, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.
Luther was tempestuous, but tender. He was not disciplined but he was dedicated. He was often course in his language, but he was always clear in his meaning. His desire was to reform the church to which he belonged. Our best guess is that Loyola and Luther never met. Still, the legacy of Luther remains, because he gave the church dedication to Christ, and a sense of the inner, emotional, active Christian life based upon the biblical conviction of salvation through faith.
The third giant converted to Christ was John Calvin. He was a lawyer, and remained a layman all this life. He, too, wanted to reform and purify his church. But, he was different from the other two. He was a lean, hungry, scholarly type. His emotions were kept under rigid control, but where Loyola had spiritual discipline, Calvin had a rigorous, analytical, scholarly, mental discipline which he applied to the study of Scripture. Where Luther was explosive, as waves crashing upon a rocky shore, Calvin was like the steady, persistent river whose flow cuts wide and deep. It was dedication, and devotion, and careful, painstaking scholarship that made John Calvin the preeminent theologian of the Reformation, and to whom dozens of denominations are indebted, ours being one of them.
In addition to his study of Scripture, he sought to reform the government of the city of Geneva, through the governing council he imposed a strict discipline on his fellow citizens. As a scholar he created a university, as well. With all this discipline, things did not go very well for him, and he was not very popular, and was run out of town more than once, and begged to be allowed to return, more than once. His contributions remain with us today. I offer him to you as a representative of dedication to Christ, and particularly for a church he was determined should make a difference in the world.
These three men literally shook the world and changed the course of history in the western world. On this auspicious occasion, I am seeking to remind us all that Loyola, Luther, and Calvin have bequeathed to us, a imposing heritage. And each of them in his own way, subscribed to the idea of the Reformation slogan, semper reformanda, the church always reforming.
We, the church, today, are who we are because of their contributions. Just as they were uncomfortable with living with the status quo, so they would counsel us to always be engaged in the process of making the church we are better. And in so doing, we should rededicate ourselves to continue reforming ourselves, to recover the virtues and value of personal disciple as Loyola did, to recover the quiet strength and excitement of the spiritual life as Luther brought, and to seek a greater appreciation for regular and serious study of Scripture as brought to us by Calvin.
So I firmly believe that in the 16th century there was a need for a pattern of life, a way of worshiping, and a way to bring the content of Scripture to every person in the pew. Well, is the world of the 21st century different? If ever the world is looking for a way of living that makes sense, a way of worshiping that feeds the soul, a way of believing which speaks to the way we live today, this is the world, and now is the time.
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