On this day in the year 1517 Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. Luther’s theses contested the selling of indulgences, certain teachings on purgatory, the sacraments, and many other practices and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. This bold challenge that Luther presented to Catholicism is understood to be the harbinger of the Protestant Reformation, a movement named as such because it protested the corrupt practices and teachings of the Catholic Church and aimed to reform the Church.
Just as Luther protested and sought to reform the Church of his time, Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander, began a reformation of their own in the early 19th century on the American frontier. The Campbell father and son team, however, had a different goal in mind than Luther. The Campbells sought to break down the barriers that had divided Christians which were spawned by the Reformation: the numerous denominations among Protestantism. They believed that the denominations that separated Christians were a primary obstacle to the conversion of the world to the Gospel of Christ. To break down the denominational barriers, the Campbells heralded the call to unite all Christians upon biblical truth. This call is recognized to have been officially given in Thomas’ work The Declaration and Address in 1809. This reformation that the Campbells began eventually became known as the Restoration Movement. The spirit of that movement continues on today in churches that go by the name of Christian Church or Church of Christ.
Although the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and the Restoration Movement of the 19th century had different goals, there was certainly a common thread: both observed a problem with the church and both desired to do something about it. In other words, both were attempting a “revolution” of a theological sort. Interestingly, the basis for both theological revolutions was the call to biblical fidelity. The Reformation dictum was sola sciptura (Scripture alone) and the Restoration Movement’s was “the Bible alone.” Both saw that the solution for the wayward church was to rediscover scriptural authority.
Just as there was a need for both the Reformation and Restoration to call the church back to biblical authority, there is a need today for such a call. The church today frequently appears to be too willing to accommodate cultural beliefs and practices at the expense of biblical teaching. For instance, Michael Horton in his book Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church discusses the disturbing trend in evangelical sermons to focus upon personal transformation and therapeutic concerns, which mirrors the American culture’s obsession with the self. As a result, the Bible becomes merely a guidebook for morality (at the very best), while Christ and his cross are shown the church door.
But it is not just in sermons where the lack of biblical fidelity is a problem. The lack of biblical fidelity plagues Christian colleges and seminaries. In 1996, the book The Coming Evangelical Crisis: Current Challenges to the Authority of Scripture and the Gospel foretold the coming (and now present) problems arising in theological studies, especially concerning the doctrines of Scripture, God, and salvation. Later in 1997, Milliard Erickson’s little book, The Evangelical Left, chronicled the theologians and scholars who were espousing such unorthodox views. Some of these views have now come to full fruition, including the denials of inerrancy (i.e., that the Bible is truthful in all it records), God’s foreknowledge (i.e., that God knows the future), and even the substitutionary atonement (i.e., that Christ died in the place of sinners). In fact, the denial of God’s foreknowledge has become so widespread that it now has its own name: open theism.
The denial of these orthodox theological views are not unique to evangelicalism in general. These views are being widely accepted even among churches, colleges, and seminaries of the Restoration Movement, of which I am a part. For example, the popular periodical among the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, the Christian Standard, presented articles that were not only sympathetic to open theism but ones that promoted it (see Paul Kissling’s article “Open to Open Theism—Part 1 and Part 2” for the former and Knofel Staton’s “How Much Does God Really Know?—Part 1 and Part 2” for the latter).
What is needed, then, is another Reformation. In a time when orthodox Christian beliefs are being surrendered, it is necessary for “Luthers” and “Campbells” to arise in order to defend and proclaim biblical truth. It is also necessary in times such as these to think critically and clearly about theological issues. This is one reason why The BLADE has arisen: to defend and proclaim truth at a time when theological uncertainty is prevalent in the church and in scholarship. As the motto for The BLADE says, The BLADE exists to “sharpen your mind to defend and proclaim the truth by serving the church and building the scholar.” Will you join the The BLADE on this journey? Happy Reformation Day, and happy birthday to The BLADE!
Peter Jay Rasor II