Why the Reformation Still Matters: Because of the Sacraments

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016One of the books I continue to read this year of remembering the Reformation (500th anniversary!) is Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016).

Each chapter touches on a significant doctrine rediscovered by the Reformers, showing why the return to that particular truth was important for that time and why it is still important for the church today. I have been informed and inspired by what the authors have written. While repeating the great truths God restored to His church during the 16th century, Reeves and Chester present them in a fresh and lively manner, calling us to be true Protestants and Evangelicals in this hour of history.

The next chapter I read this evening is Chapter 8, “The Sacraments,” to which they add the subtitle “Why Do We Take Bread and Wine.  The authors do not hide the fact that this was the most contentious of the Reformers’ doctrine, as Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin differed significantly, even vehemently. But they also point out the great progress these men made – each with a particular contribution – in returning the church to the biblical doctrine.

At the end of the chapter, the authors make some good applications based on the heart of the Reformation doctrine on the sacraments:

We live in a culture where everything is about response and feeling. And our contemporary evangelical culture is deeply imbued with this subjectivism. We need to understand that the gospel is entirely outside us. The gospel is not my response. The gospel describes the objective reality to which I am to respond.

This is why the link made in the Reformation between Word and sacrament is important for us today. Calvin said, ‘Let it be regarded as a settled principle that the sacraments have the same office [that is, function] as the Word of God: to offer and set forth Christ to us, and in him the treasures of heavenly grace.’

And from there they go on to say,

So it is helpful to think of the sacraments as embodied promises. Their validity lies in the One who makes the promises.

…When Luther was struggling, he would go into the courtyard and shout (in Latin), ‘I am a baptized man.’ There is an objective reality when the sacraments are celebrated in the church. Their meaning is not in my response or feeling. The meaning is the gospel embodied in the sign. But the sign is designed to evoke my response and feeling. So we receive it as a promise from God – as a pledge of his intentions. So baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not primarily signs of our subjective experience or faith or response. They are signs that point us to the gospel [pp.157-59].