On 21 August, a total solar eclipse travelled across the US for the first time in 99 years. I was a little embarrassingly uninterested, and the moment passed by without much more than a resolve to not look outside and damage my eyes.
I only recount this moment in hopes that a much more significant historic moment might not slip by us unnoticed: the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which happened on 31 October. By now, you have probably heard of this momentous occasion—for evangelical Christians, it is arguably one of the most significant historic anniversaries of our lifetime.
One of the greatest reasons it is so significant is that we are in no less need of that biblical gospel today than when it was so compellingly unearthed by Luther and the other Reformers 500 years ago. At its root, the Reformation was a rediscovery and recommitment to the biblical gospel: the gospel of salvation by the work of Christ alone; a free gift of grace that is grounded in the Bible alone; the gospel that is mediated to each person personally and directly, for God’s glory and our joy.
The work of reformation did not end with the Reformation. As sinful humans, we are in constant need of reexamining and ‘reforming’ our faith, to return to the true gospel in the places we have deviated—be that personally, congregationally or organizationally, or as a global church.
This is perhaps what Dr Chris Wright, then Chair of the Theology Working Group, had in mind when he called us to a 21st century reformation in the years before the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization:
The 16th century Reformation was criticized because it lacked missionary awareness and energy until much later. They were so obsessed with tackling abuses in the church that they neglected world mission. How ironic and tragic will it be if 21st century evangelicals are so obsessed with world mission that we neglect abuses in the church, and remain wilfully blind to our own idolatries and syncretism? If reformation without mission was defective, then mission without reformation will be deluded, self-defeating, and even dangerous.
The Lausanne Covenant, like the Bible itself, commits us to the integration of both. May God grant us the will and humility to respond with equal commitment.
By the grace of God, this is the very commitment of the Lausanne Movement: world mission impacted by character-changing, heart-shaping, and relationship-strengthening reformation. We desire now, as we did from the beginnings of the Movement, for the gospel to go forth to every person on earth in a way that is not only missional, but reformational.
The work of Lausanne is intimately tied to furthering this biblical gospel mission and the legacy of the Reformation from which it comes. Several recent or upcoming examples of this are:
- Wittenberg 2017 this past June, where this biblical gospel mission was the primary focus (you can watch a short documentary about this gathering or read my earlier blog post)
- Next year’s Lausanne Consultation on Nominalism, held in Rome, which will explore the biblical gospel mission especially regarding Christian nominalism, in hopes of producing helpful resources to equip the church in addressing this global issue
- Our latest publication by Michael Reeves and John Stott, The Reformation: What You Need to Know and Why—if you want to reclaim the Reformation and what it might mean for us today, I strongly commend this slim and impactful book (which includes insightful pieces by the authors, a timeline of the Reformation period, questions for reflection or group discussion, and Martin Luther’s 95 Theses)
These are important days. These are exciting days. These are historic days. Not only as we look back 500 years, but also as we look forward to how the Lord will use His people to establish His gospel—the gospel of our Lord, whose totality will someday eclipse the whole world.