If reformation is going to happen in the church today it must begin with reformation in our hearts. When we divide over issues, each side believes its arguments have more veracity and necessity. These arguments claim to find scriptural, confessional, or constitutional warrant.
Modern automobiles have built into their braking system a warning sound that tells the driver when the brake pads are wearing thin: the dreaded squeal. It is as unnerving as Robert Shaw’s fingernails on the chalkboard in the movie, Jaws. But this squeal serves a purpose. It indicates that we need to have our brake pads replaced as soon as possible.
Now if you’re like me, you may ignore the squeal until it goes away, and then an equally unnerving sound of metal grinding takes its place. I’m a procrastinator by nature. But I also loathe the idea of taking my car to the shop to get it fixed. I’ve even tried to fix the brakes myself. This has been successful at times, but an abysmal failure at others. I don’t want to go to the effort. I don’t want to pay the cost.
In my physical life, I see signs of aging: becoming heavier, hair turning gray, balding, and getting wrinkles. When I get up in the morning, I hear creaking and cracking; I feel aches and pains. I let this go on for a while before I finally go to the doctor, where I’m told I need to change my diet, get more exercise, etc. But all these factors are warning signs I’m getting nearer to my end; the death all God’s creatures must die.
But I don’t want to change. I don’t want to put forth the effort. I don’t want to pay the cost of replacement, nor do I want to reform my habits. I think all this shows, at least in myself, a propensity to maintain the status quo. However, with everything external to me, I want the status quo to be upended.
When it comes to my church and my denomination, I see the warning signs rather clearly. I run headlong onto the freeway of ecclesiastical travel, and attempt to stop every car with squealing brakes. I burst into the doctor’s office of the church’s clinic to add my own warning, so that the patient, who needs far more help than me, will implement changes in habit. “Why don’t you get that fixed?” I’ll mutter under my breath. “Why didn’t you take the doctor’s advice?” I’ll retort. I believe others need more reformation than I do. But I am the one who needs fixing first. I need to repent and confess my own sins. Reformation starts with me.
When we look at the lives of the Reformers, I think we focus too much on how they stood against the ills of the Church, instead of how they dealt with the ills within themselves. Luther wouldn’t have reformed anything if he had not had so much concern about his own sin. Calvin couldn’t have sought to reform Geneva without reforming himself first. It is hypocrisy to believe reformation needs to happen over there or changes need to be made in those people, without first considering what reformation and change needs to happen in our own hearts.
If reformation is going to happen in the church today it must begin with reformation in our hearts. When we divide over issues, each side believes its arguments have more veracity and necessity. These arguments claim to find scriptural, confessional, or constitutional warrant. But they may also have an unhealthy belief that the other side simply doesn’t understand the issues or the validity of the other side’s argument. And if change is to come of it, they don’t agree the changes proposed by the other side will benefit their side of the issue and will be too difficult and costly to implement.
Does God want to confuse and confound us in these divisions? We have to think about that carefully. God could be using the division as discipline or worse, judgment. We know the enemy wants us to be confused and confounded. But how much of our division do we bring on ourselves with the result of pleasing the enemy rather than pleasing God? If each side of the question took a step back and asked God to forgive their sins and to reform their hearts, don’t we believe He would grant that request? And, if in granting that request, don’t we believe God will bless us with the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Don’t we believe He would send us reformation?
God is a God of reconciliation as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. He is in Christ reconciling the world, not imputing our sins to us, but giving us Christ, who knew no sin, to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Stephen Charnock, in “A Discourse of God’s being the Author of Reconciliation,” made the point that God reconciles us, but not our sins. “God and sin are irreconcilable enemies, so that where there is peace with one, there must be war with the other. Fire and water may sooner agree than God and sin, than a peace with God and a peace with sin.” If we want true reformation and unity in our denomination, I suggest we see our sins as the enemy, not the fellow across the aisle, or the speaker at microphone 3. I suggest that if we reformed ourselves our church would be reformed. Perhaps if we weren’t so ready to maintain the status quo of our own spiritual lives, we might be able to see a way forward to a place where we may all agree.
I am by no means accusing others of not confessing their own sins. But how are we doing in our corporate confession of sin? If our confession is deficient, could it be this is one of the causes of our divisions? Paul says divisions are necessary, but I do not believe he is saying that sin is also a necessity in our divisions.
One speaker at the recent Presbyterian Church in America General Assembly indicated that when GA was held at his church years ago there was a call to repentance over the issue of race. There are many important issues facing us as a church today. I’m not de-emphasizing the issues. I’m emphasizing that if they are causing unhealthy divisions, then we need to repent and pray.
Perhaps the PCA Administrative Committee will consider basing the theme of next year’s GA on a call to repentance and forgiveness for the divisions within our denomination. The AC can urge Presbyteries and churches to use this year to commit themselves to pray and work for unity of the church. There is no harm in urging this and it may actually lead to healing.
There are squealing brakes and dire prognoses in our church indicating that there may be unhealthy divisions over important issues. And we must all endeavor to do what we can to heed the warning signs. The cost of fixing our issues will have to be addressed, as well as the monumental effort it will take to reform ourselves. But the first step must take place in our own hearts. If we believe God requires this of us first, then we can believe He will hear from heaven and heal our hearts and our church.
Originally published on the Aquila Report by the author of this site.