This year the evangelical community celebrates 500 years of the reformation, since Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg, protesting against doctrinal and moral corruption in Vatican. Although Luther never intended his invitation to the students to discuss the questions he had raised in his Theses to be divisive; this is what nonetheless happened, courtesy of the newly invented printing press in Germany.
What was intended for classroom discussion and perhaps in-house reform quickly became a national and global reformation and revolution that led to a seismic divide between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestants!
And as the evangelical community worldwide prepares to remember this moment in history, there are many indications that the reformation is not yet over, and perhaps never will be until Christ’s second coming. It is crucial for all us evangelical Christians to keep to heart these red-flags.
My time this morning at First Baptist Church of Danvers on the north shore of Boston reminded me of this continual need for the reformation. This church has seen over 200 years of faithful preaching of the gospel of Christ. And as Dr. Edward Keazirian took us through Romans 1:16-17, the very text that turned Martin Luther’s understanding of the righteousness of God on its head, ushering him ‘into heaven’ so figuratively and speaking, I thought about my country Uganda.
With the shift of the center of Christianity from the Middle East in the first century AD to the shores of North Africa for the subsequent four to five centuries later, then to Europe and America, it is projected that that center for Christianity is shifting now towards South America, Africa, and Asia again.
For Africa, studies show that Sub-Saharan Africa will be predominantly Christian in the next 50 years. As a result, the rest of the evangelical world will expect Sub-Saharan Africa to provide leadership to the church, as its sister to the North of Africa did faithfully for the early formative years of Christianity.
And that is what concerns me. Uganda, which is my home country is considered the 6th most Christian nation in Africa. And as the greater evangelical world is marking 500 years of the reformation, here, in the heart of Kampala, many are excited about a self-styled ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles.’
There is a resurgence of false gospel fellowships almost everywhere, so much so that the gospel is veiled, and many are confused as to what the message of redemption is. With the pendulum swinging from the extremity of Pelagianism to another extreme that Dietrich Bonhoeffer would call ‘cheap grace,’ and others in the middle between the two extremes, there is an evident need for the reformation. We do well to remember that it is less than 150 years ever since Christianity was introduced to the Ugandan population, and that even then, it was hijacked and used as a colonial tool.
There was minimal time and emphasis placed on biblical discipleship, and a clear preaching of the gospel in its pure and fullest forms. This is why today the question that every evangelical must continually ask themselves is ‘what is the gospel?’, and ‘do I believe it?’
The Reformation and Scripture
Luther insisted, even in the face of death, that his conscience is held captive to scripture. If the reformation was a song, sola scriptura was its first verse. There cannot be a reformation without the centrality, supremacy and sufficiency of the written Word of God.
As mentioned previously in my article titled Why Cults Thrive in Uganda, the core problem with the evangelical community in Uganda is its neglect of scripture. The self-styled ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’ in Uganda do not know scripture, and indeed, they do not like scripture. On many of these ‘prophetic’ gatherings, more often than not, no scripture is read, and no Bible is necessary. All that takes place are predictions about the weather or falling choppers or the Oscar Awards.
But the grounding of every Christian is God’s written word. We must hear, read, study, memorize and meditate on God’s Word, daily. The pulpit must be a place of the expounding of scripture to the congregation, not an entertainment podium. The hearts of men need to be reformed, not with prophecies about falling choppers but with the enduring word of God. We must purpose to know nothing among men than Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:1-5).
And we must avoid looking at God’s word as medicine that we only take when we feel we are sick. Like Joshua, we must not let scripture depart from our hearts and lips. We must also nail God’s word to our doorposts and gates to look on when we go out and come in. We must have it on our foreheads as our identity. We must bind them as a sign on our hands so that we know what we ought to do.
Every Christian must study God’s word personally. This personal learning is what Luther insisted on, this is what Scripture demands, and that is what pastors must emphasize. The pastors must not be Shephards of parasites, and they must not encourage the tendency of Christians to just rely on the Sunday sermons only to continue.
The Reformation and The Centrality of Christ
Typical of all cults is the worship of an individual leader. Ugandans should not be surprised by what happened this week with ‘Prophet’ Elvis Mbonye. Any who study scripture and know the heart of man should have expected it. Cult hero worship is a consequence of movements that displace Christ and His word from the messages they proclaim. When we don’t allow God’s word to inform our worship, we should not wonder at our misdirected worship.
It was the displacement of Christ that led to the Pope claiming to be His substitute.
If the reformation is a song, Solus Christus is the chorus. The primary task of every preacher is to exalt Christ alone, so high that everyone can see Him without hindrance. And the chief mission of every believer is to behold Christ alone. For this reason, the messenger of the gospel should be so transparent that in exalting Christ, the messenger is invisible to the beholders of Christ, just the same way one sees the liquid through the transparent glass without any obstruction.
When we speak more of the ‘man of God’ than we do speak of God, it is proper that we reevaluate our relationships with God, and it is suitable as well for this ‘man of God’ to reevaluate his relationship with God.
Again, we must purpose to know nothing among men except Christ and Him crucified. It was John Calvin who rightly mentioned that the heart of man is a factory of Idols. When we lose sight of Christ, we will sink in our idolatry.
How Then Shall We Live
The writing on the wall is visible. As the world marks the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation, the Church in Uganda needs reformation. We must come back to God’s written Word. We must preach the gospel with clarity, and we must live the gospel. The reform in the Church doesn’t have to be stirred up by one charismatic leader as Luther; it just requires the people who are called by God’s name to humble themselves, pray, and seek God’s face through His word.
We must be ready to confront the current false teachings with boldness, unintimidated by the ‘anointing’ and status of the so-called ‘men of God.’ We must challenge the status-quo, with God’s word as final, and with the sufficiency supplied by Christ, who is both our Lord and Savior. Do not believe anything anyone says without checking again with scripture, to ascertain whether such a teaching agrees with the textual, historical and cultural context of the text.
But also, read. Read your Bible prayerfully, and read such authors as have been consistent Bible expositors. You can find excellent resources at:
Desiringgod.com, timothykeller.com, albertmohler.com, thegospelcoalition.org, ligonier.org, timchallies.com, monergism.com, aomin.org, rzim.org, gty.org.
With those, you shall get to know much more.