Because we live in a fallen world, and all of us – even the redeemed – are still fallen and finite, there will always be the need for the church to continually renew itself, reform itself, and revive itself. When Martin Luther posted his now famous 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg Germany in October 1517, it was simply one of many calls for church renewal.
God has always raised up people to remind the church what its mission is, what its calling is, what its purpose is. Time and time again in church history we find the church starting to derail, and head off into trivialities, distractions, error or worse.
Just as individual believers need to be constantly reminded to stay on the straight and narrow, so do churches, denominations and the entire body of Christ. Indeed, one popular motto that appeared a century and a half after Luther posted his theses was “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda”.
It means ‘a reformed church, always reforming’. The work is always going to be ongoing, in other words. While a great revival, or reformation, or awakening, will do wondrous things in a local church or a much broader area, by their very nature they are not permanent.
God must continually break through afresh, and bring us back to where we are meant to be. We need to keep coming back to our first love. In his very important 1979 volume, The Dynamics of Spiritual Life, Richard Lovelace spoke to this theme.
He said that it is “a goal toward which many Christians in both the Catholic and Protestant communions are striving today”. He continues, “The Puritans and Pietists rediscovered a truth which is clear in the Augustinian tradition: the precondition of perpetual reformation is the spiritual revitalization of the church.”
Today the church is in as much of a need of a new and fresh touch of God as ever before, because there are many ways in which we have seriously gotten off track. Getting back to where we belong is always the need of the hour. Indeed, that is what biblical repentance is all about.
I write all this because someone just recently sent me an email in which a pastor offers “95 Theses to the Modern Evangelical Church”. I had not heard of these before, or of the author, but it all looked good enough to repeat here – at least in part. Here then are some of his theses:
1. The “church” at large has forgotten that the chief end of man is to glorify God. (Rom 16:27; 1Cor 6:20; Mt 6:9; 1Cor 10:31)
2. Christians ignore most of the methods, practices and principles found in the book of Acts. (Acts 2:42, 44; Acts 2:46; Acts 2:38)
3. Many treat “church” like any other social club or sports event that they might attend. (Acts 2:46; Heb 10:25; Acts 1:14)
4. We’ve made Christianity about the individual rather than the community of believers. (Rom 12:5; 1Cor 12:12; 2 Tim 4:16)
8. We take it too lightly that we have the blessing and honor of having God’s Scriptures in our possession. (Ps 119:16; Acts 13:44; Neh 8:9)
9. There has never been more access to the Word of God, yet so little reading of it. (1Tim 4:13; Neh 8:1-3; Ps 119:59)
10. Some read the Scriptures to attain knowledge, but do not practice what they read. (Jam 1:22; Mt 7:21; 3Jn 4)
13. The “church” spends more money on dog food than on missions. (2Cor 9:6; Lk 21:2; Acts 4:34-35)
14. We take lightly the cost of discipleship laid out by Jesus Christ and do not deny our lives. (Lk 14:33; Lk 14:26-27; Mt 8:19-20)
15. There is a lack of true discipleship and making others to be obedient disciples. (Mt 28:20; 2Tim 2:2; 2Tim 2:14)
20. We are living with an epidemic of cheap grace with flippant confession and shallow consecration. (Lk 14:28-30; Lk 14:26; Jam 4:8)
21. Since the inception of the Church, the Gospel had the requirements of repentance and discipleship. (Acts 2:38; Lk 14:26; Jn 8:31)
31. Modern day prophets are being stoned by criticism and neglect. (2Tim 4:3-4; Gal 1:10; Jer 1:7-8)
32. God’s prophets are ill-treated and shunned by most “Christians” considered too harsh or extreme. (Jer 6:10; Isa 6:9-10; Gal 4:16)
46. Run from churches where the worship leaves you cold, where there’s no sense of God’s presence. (1Cor 5:4; Ps 80:14-15; Jer 12:11)
47. Run from churches where you’re comfortable in your sin. (1Cor 14:25; Heb10:30-31; Heb 4:13)
I think you get the drift. The whole list is worth looking at. Many other such theses may well come to mind. But we need to continue encouraging one another and spurring one another on to love and good works. The aim, after all, is to present the church to Christ as a spotless bride. We have much work yet to do in this regard.