Five hundred years ago, the Protestant Reformation sought to change the church, to bring the focus back upon God. The Reformation had no intention of breaking free from the church in Rome but instead saw that the message of grace and mercy had been replaced with penance and indulgences. Due to these circumstances, Martin Luther spoke up and sought to bring the church back to God’s intended purpose, to spread the Gospel message to the world.
God used an imperfect person to bring change to the church. Those that seek to change the world must understand that they are imperfect and not worthy of praise, but rather deflect all of that praise to the Almighty God. The church, however, often looks to its leaders and seeks their elevation rather than focusing on the message. Thus, on this Reformation Sunday, we need to focus on God’s desire to constantly re-form us into His image and carry out the mission of the Gospel in our community and the world.
Saul is an example of an imperfect person, carrying out the mission of God. After Ananias had been with Saul, with sight restored, Saul was released to do the work of God in the world. Sharing the Gospel, proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior, and doing ministry work in Damascus caused Saul to develop some enemies. The people that were content with the status quo, those that said this is the way we have always done things, and those that were uncomfortable with Saul’s new message fought to destroy Saul and protect the status quo. This story invites us to look at Acts and see how Saul first interacts with the church.
23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews,[a] but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
The examples of Luther, Saul, and countless others remind the church that we need people in our midst willing to challenge the status quo and fight for reforms within the body. Often these reforms start within our own lives. What sin is still unresolved? The reformer’s perspective begins by recognizing the need to be transformed and renewed by the Holy Spirit, and with that renewal comes a desire to change the world. This desire recognizes that God holds the ultimate authority over us and not any organization or group found on Earth.
When we grant the ultimate authority over our lives to God, we relinquish all other pretenses through which we speak and instead ask the Holy Spirit to speak through us and for us. The Holy Spirit will always speak the truth and demand the same of each of God’s disciples. This orientation puts the reformer in a situation where they must immediately and wholly confront anything that runs contrary to the Message of the Cross and God’s love for the world.
God established the church to carry out the Almighty’s mission on Earth, to bring all of the created order back to God. The reformer’s voice calls the church to heed the call and get our hearts right with God. The reformer’s problems result from tribalism and looking at the world through only one particular lens.
Martin Luther never sought to break away from the Catholic Church but saw something that did not align with scripture and discussed it. This challenge made Rome nervous and resulted in his excommunication. When speaking to the Jews about Jesus, Saul challenged the notion that the Christ had yet to come, but instead of it resulting in a discussion, the Jews plotted to kill him. Challenges and reforms don’t often come easy, and they usually result in a great deal of animosity from the leaders and status quo.
However, our allegiance must lie with God and not with political or even religious leaders. This temptation plagues the church in America. Quickly the church aligns itself with charismatic leaders and politicians, and regardless of substance, many quickly fall prey to the trap. Instead of speaking the truth of God boldly to power, they usurp God’s mission in the path toward human ambition, which is why we need reformers in our midst.
The reformer can come from anyone led by the Holy Spirit, even those that once were enemies of the church. Saul was an enemy, and through the transformation of God, Saul became an evangelist and spoke the truth at his peril. We cannot fear this type of person in our midst, but instead, we must be willing to stand in Barnabas’ shoes in this passage as he vouched for Saul and provided testimony to Saul’s transformation. This testimony paved the way for the reformation of the church from just for Jews toward reaching out toward the Gentiles as well.
The church must keep its eyes open and its ears listening, as the Holy Spirit can speak through anyone at any time. This way, the church will be open to the necessary reforms. Thus the church operates as a reformed and always reforming congregation.