An Unfinished Reformation


Sola Scriptura. Sola fide. Sola gratia. With these words (“Scripture alone,” “Faith alone,” “Grace alone”), men like Martin Luther and John Calvin began a revolution—or at least a reformation of the Church. The Protestant Church was born in that revolution, and we are the beneficiaries of their thought and dedication to the task of recovering the truths of the New Testament for the people of God.

At least one doctrinal emphasis of the Reformation gets little attention in both our doctrine and our practice—the concept of the “priesthood of all believers.” Luther, Calvin and their peers went to great lengths to correct the idea that we, as New Testament believers, need any human being to stand, as did the priests of the Old Testament, between God and His people. On the strength of New Testament texts like 1 Timothy 2:5 (“There is . . . [only] one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus)” and the great declaration of Revelation 1:6 (“[Christ] has made us a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father”), they insisted that every believer has both equal access to God and equal responsibility to dedicate his or her life to the task of bringing glory to Him by completing the work that He has assigned to us.

As believers, we rejoice in the fact that we have direct access to the Heavenly Father. Needing neither priests nor saints to intercede for us, we come “boldly to the throne of God.” The privilege of prayer is one that we treasure (though, in truth, we are often guilty of massively under-using this amazing gift). But too often we have accepted the privileges of being priests without taking on the responsibilities that go with them. While the Church of Christ is rapidly growing on most other continents, North Americans have spent more money, trained more workers, created more programs and built more buildings while experiencing little or no gain in the total number of disciples! While there are undoubtedly many contributing factors to this discouraging reality, one of them is clearly that we have been far too content to “let the staff do it.” Sadly, many American Christians would acknowledge some responsibility to “pay” and perhaps to “pray” for the advancement of the Kingdom while at the same time studiously avoiding their obligation to actively “work” for that end.

The practical genius of the early Alliance movement lay in its ability to mobilize the laity, the great sleeping giant of the Church. Founder A. B. Simpson often talked about using “God’s neglected resources” (the laity) to reach “God’s neglected people.” And the people in his church, New York’s Gospel Tabernacle, took that call seriously, launching rescue missions, healing homes and outreaches to the weak and fallen of every description. These ministries were sustained not by paid church workers but by volunteers who knew that they had been made to be “a kingdom and priests” unto God.

One of the core values of our movement states: Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully devoted disciple. In the constitution of the Evangelical Missionary Alliance, Simpson wrote these words: “The work of laymen is one of God’s chosen instrumentalities in this age . . . We do not disparage the ministry but God is calling His church to use all her resources and agencies.” That same document called for the mobilization of women both for work “at home and [in] the foreign field.” The early C&MA rallied the men and women of the church to do the work of the Kingdom, and the work of the Kingdom got done!

In South America, Africa and Asia the Church continues to grow rapidly as men and women respond to the call to do the work of the ministry. Scripture tells the stories of scores of ordinary people—shepherds and seamstresses, tentmakers and travelers—whom God has used in magnificent ways to accomplish His extraordinary work. The history of the Church reflects the same reality. Every major movement of God has been fueled by the passion of men and women who have embraced their identity as “priests” and given themselves without reserve to the work of the Kingdom.

To paraphrase the famous words of E. M. Bounds, what the Church needs now is not better methods (or more funding). What the church needs now are better men and women who are fully committed to completing the unfinished reformation.

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