The Unquenchable Flame

The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation, written by Michael Reeves, the Theological Advisor for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship.  Reeves has written a concise and comedic history of the sixteenth-century Reformation.  To use the adjectives “concise” and “comedic” to describe a history book may seem oxymoronic, but both words fit the bill.  Not only this, Reeves’ account is accurate, balanced, and thoughtful.

Space would not allow for sharing all of the most significant points that this little book brings to light, but I must note at least the following four:

1)  The Reformers, while far from perfect in a variety of ways, risked all for the sake of returning the Church to a biblical understanding of the gospel: grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, God’s glory alone.

2)  Opponents of the gospel hate God’s word.  The Roman Catholic Church and its devotees feared the translation of God’s word into “common” languages more than anything else because they knew it would lead to the questioning of their authority regarding church tradition and popish dogma.  We can find a correlation with today.  Today, many professing Christians hate the expositional preaching of God’s word either out of fear or flat out boredom.  Those that fear it do so because it challenges their traditions and preconceived notions of God, not to mention that it brings them face to face with some of the most difficult texts in Scripture such as, “He who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matt.24:13); and “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him.” (John 6:44).  Those that find it boring usually do so because they want their flesh fed (John 6:25-27) or are simply indifferent (1 Cor. 2:14).

3) The heart of the Reformation was not political but religious.  Now admitedly, the radical fringes were quite political, and even the mainstream reformers found themselves inextricably intertwnined in political issues.  The heart of the Luthers, Calvins, and Zwinglis, however, was one of religious intent.  For the likes of these, the Reformation was about the truth of salvation.

4) Related to the previous point, the heart of the Reformation was justification by faith alone.  If all other things could be agreed upon, yet it remains that the marked difference between Catholic and Protestant was and is the doctrine of justification by faith.  Luther said, “Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised even if heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed.” because it is the belief “on which the church stands or falls”.  Reeves concurs, “Justification was what made the Reformation the Reformation.” (p.176).  It is here that the line must be drawn and maintained.  For the Catholic, justification by faith is the process of becoming more holy and thus becoming more worthy of salvation.  For Reformers, justification by faith is the declaration of God that the sinner, whille still a sinner, has been given the righteousness of Christ.  The argument may seem to be a mere wrangling over words, and at one level that is true; but it is so much more than that.  What is at stake when one wrangles with these hot-bed words?  The gospel itself.  The Catholic side says one must develop a righteousness, with God’s help, that will result in salvation.  The Reformer says one must simply receive the righteousness of Christ by God’s grace through faith in Christ, which results in salvation.

In conclusion, we must ask with Reeves and many other contemporary figures, “Is the Reformation over?  Reeves, and I with him, give a resounding, “NO!”  As long as the enemy continues to lead so many (including Protestants) into the error of thinking that the sinner can muster up a righteousness of his own in order to obtain salvation, the Reformation must continue to cry, “Solus Christus!”

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta

John Calvin, justification, Luther, Michael Reeves, Reformation, sanctification, The Unquenchable Flame

Comments (5)

  • Jeremy, I've not read the book, but it sounds interesting! Number 2 is incredibly critical for our present situation. I pray that we'll all long to be as biblical and as enthralled by the Word as possible. Numbers 1 & 2 are important to understand as well. I'm sure you've heard Servetus thrown around in books and conversations as fodder against the Reformers, particularly Calvin. They certainly made some mistakes but overall got it right. Number 4 really sums up the Reformation. Rome sided against the Bible and the Reformers, saying through the Council of Trent, "If anyone teaches that justification is by faith alone, let him go to Hell." Of course, the Bible says the very opposite in Galatians 2:16. I'm thankful that these men risked their necks for the truth of God's Word!

  • Right on Ben. Number 2 was mostly an inference from what Reeves was saying. Regarding Number 1, Reeves admitted several imperfections (and even sins) of the Reformers; and he did address the Servetus issue in a direct way. The Council of Trent really should be a great warning to Protestants that there is a real and significant difference between the Catholic dogma and the biblical texts. My Christian history reading needed buffing up, and this was a great little volume for that. Thanks for the comments.

  • Great review and write-up. Sounds like you are really being studious at this present time, using your time wisely. I applaud you and appreciate you. BTW, I have read about half of the elder book you lent me. One quick comment-when I was in seminary working as a janitor at a school, an older Christian gentleman worked there and we always had conversation. He asked me very seriously one day, "Do you think Calvin and Luther were genuine Christians?" His question was in regard to these men's failures (Calvin=Servetus; Luther=his general crudeness). I assured them they weren't perfect, but they fighting a battle to re-establish bibliacl truth as the foundation of the Church. They were in essence "re-learning" biblical truth from the ground up. Not an easy thing to do. We need some of their zeal, I need their zeal today.Brad

  • Thanks Brad. I hope the book edifies you and your ministry and brings glory to God. Thanks for your insight. I think it's very easy for Christians today to be "Ethno-Christnic". We look at our own cultural-Christianity and tend to think it superior to other Christians in the world today and of yester-year. It's ironic, isn't it, that we tend to judge such men as Calvin and Luther when we see the generally sad state of Christianity in today's America? I pray God give us a zeal (with knowledge) for His glory and truth.

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