When our associate editor was in seminary, one of her professors used an illustration (seen to the right) to explain the popular perception of both Reformational and mainline Christians.
It was meant to be a joke, and like all jokes, it was funny because there is a sense in which the caricature is true (on the reformational side at least). Confessional Christianity has a penchant for theological discourse (that is, hardcore nerdiness), but that doesn’t mean that the conversation is only for the chosen few (that was another joke…). This is our pocket guide to some of the jargon.
(1) Union with Christ
Every doctrine related to salvation and the Christian life must be oriented around this touchstone of faith. No theory of Christian growth or development can obscure or ignore this central fact. In Reformation spirituality, the objective and subjective, external and internal, are linked inseparably by this reality. “In Christ” we are justified and are being sanctified.
(2) Justification by Faith Alone
“To declare righteous,” this courtroom term is the core of the good news. If we seek to attain divine favor by our own willing and running, we will quickly end up in either self-righteousness or despair. Progress in obedience comes only as we acknowledge Christ to be our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.
Here is another essential biblical word. Once declared righteous by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, we now grow in personal righteousness in union with Christ and his righteousness. In our salvation we contribute absolutely nothing except sin. But once regenerated by God’s grace (apart from our cooperation), we are free to cooperate with the Holy Spirit for the first time. Sanctification therefore—unlike regeneration, justification, and so on—requires our energies and participation. We grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, actively animated by the gospel. Both justification and sanctification are the gift of God by virtue of our union with Christ.
Also related to the “priesthood of all believers,” this Reformation doctrine emphasized the fact that everything we do honors God if done in faith. A ditch-digger is no less spiritual than a missionary. God has created each of us with certain gifts, and we are meant to find meaning and fulfillment not only in church-related things, but in our work and leisure as well. This doctrine, more than any other, was responsible for what has come to be identified as “the Protestant Work Ethic.”
Baptism and Holy Communion, in Reformation spirituality, figure prominently as “means of grace.” Baptism is the beginning of our life in Christ, and in Communion we feed on Christ—the Bread of Life—throughout our wilderness journey.
Excerpt from The Reformation Then and Now: 25 Years of Modern Reformation Articles Celebrating 500 Years of the Reformation, edited by Eric Landry and Michael S. Horton, forthcoming from Hendrickson Publishers January 2017.