There are many things that we can boast in as Protestants. We can boast in our large tomes of theology. We can boast in the massive extent of the Reformation that happened 500 years ago. We can take pride in the all the beuautiful work written by Calvin, Luther, Turretin… We have produced some of the greatest intellects in history. We have launched mission projects across the world. And yet…
We are divided. We have infighting. Many of our ministers fall. Satan throws up walls against the advance of the gospel. We are reluctant to call each other to repentance. We are reluctant to repent. Our theology isn’t as developed as we want it to be. There are still so many people who need to believe in the gospel. We really have a very hard time finding unity in doctrine and in life.
But maybe our only boast is in the cross of Jesus Christ. If so, then we really can boast in our weaknesses, so that the power of Christ might rest upon us (2 Cor. 12:9). “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” When we boast in the cross of Jesus Christ, we really can turn, look our weaknesses in the eye, and build on the foundation that He has given us.
“When I am weak, then I am strong.” This is a boast that looks up to the cross of Jesus Christ. It isn’t a whiner trying to find comfort in the fact that he is whiny and the Bible allows it. It is a bold boast and a desire to grasp onto the power of Christ and claim it as his own. But in order to do that, he must look his weakness in the eye, and in its place see the power of Christ.
When I look at the weaknesses and sins of the Reformation, following its inception 500 years ago, I also see the power of Christ in the work of many pastors and leaders in reformational churches. I grew up in one such family. I grew up recognizing weaknesses, because you can’t get away from them. But I also never stop being astounded by the power of Christ. This is why I can boast in the work which I saw growing up, because at every turn I saw the power of Christ at work in preserving His servants and His Church, in advancing His gospel, in softening hearts and ears to the message of the gospel. All of a sudden His work takes the foreground, and our work is small because He is great.
Notice that in the title, I referred to it as “the eve of the Reformation.” I did not refer to it as “the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.” We are always on the eve of the Reformation because we look to the power of Christ and His ability to fill the abundant weaknesses of Protestantism with the power of the gospel. The Church in the West might be on the cusp of its death, but when it is on the cusp of its death, it is also on the cusp of new life, because that is the pattern that Christ established for His followers: death and resurrection.
I am reminded here of the words of Latimer to Ridley as they prepared to be burned at the stake underneath the fierce reign of Mary Queen of Scots who hated the work of Reformation and the advance of the gospel in England. It is an example of Christ’s power in weakness, and as such is a cause for us to boast in the power of Christ. As they were being burned as heretics outside of Balliol College in Oxford in the year 1555, Latimer encouraged Ridley to persevere with these blood-chilling words: “Play the man, Master Ridley. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
May we too play the man as we face head-on the temptations and dangers of our own time including money and sex and fame, and the desire to keep our mouths shut and/or change the message of the gospel rather than face the scorn of the academy and those in positions of cultural and political power. May God fill our abundant weaknesses in the midst of this with the power of the gospel. And may we light a candle in North America, which by God’s grace, will never be put out.