Reformation Lessons for Preachers – Part 2

Yesterday I quoted at length from Mike Reeves’ message on Justification (available on  Mike was addressing the intriguing question, “Why is it that Luther started the Reformation and Erasmus didn’t?” The first part of his answer focused on the contrast between their views of Scripture.  For Erasmus the Scripture was to be revered, but could be squeezed to fit his own vision of Christianity.  For Luther the Scriptures were the only sure foundation for belief, the supreme authority allowed to contradict all other claims.  Now for the second part of Mike’s answer to the question:

But it wasn’t just the authority of the Bible that made the difference, it was also what they saw as the content of the Bible.  For Erasmus the Bible was little more than a collection of moral exhortations.  The Bible is all about urging believers to be more like Christ the example.  Luther said, that’s just turning the Gospel on its head.  Our issue is sinners first and foremost don’t need to copy someone, sinners need a Saviour!  Sinners need, first and foremost, a message of salvation!  . . . Without the message of Christ’s free gift of righteousness, his free gift of himself and all that he has, there would be no Reformation.  Justification by faith alone was what made the Reformation the Reformation.  . . . It was this gracious message of a sweet Saviour’s free gift of righteousness that made life changing ministries life changing.

Reformation is not a moral spring clean.  It’s not a revolution against the old ways, anything old fashioned and ritualistic.  It’s not just about opening the Bible, but not finding the message fully.  This is a profound challenge for the church today – what message do people hear?

Our attitude to Scripture is the foundational issue for our preaching.  The message we preach from the Scripture is the more visible issue in our preaching.  Do we stand, no matter how much contemporary culture, even church culture, not to mention the attacks of the enemy himself, are arrayed against us?  Do we stand and preach the message of Scripture, because we are absolutely committed to Scripture, because we are absolutely committed to the God who gave us the Scripture?  Do we preach in light of these simple yet profound lessons from history?

Reformation Lessons for Preachers

There could be no end to posts dealing with lessons for preachers from the Reformation.  I’d like to focus in on one today, then another tomorrow.  Both of them were brought out very clearly in a series of messages by Michael Reeves on Justification (available, and well worth listening to, on  In the final session of a great series of talks, Mike asks “Why is it that Luther started the Reformation and Erasmus didn’t?” Let me quote the first part of Mike’s two-part answer to this question:

Why is it that Luther started the Reformation and Erasmus didn’t?  Because Erasmus is the one who unleashed the Greek New Testament onto Europe.  He was getting the Bible out there, so why didn’t he start the Reformation?  Well, even though Erasmus was a constant and deep student of the Scriptures, the Scriptures didn’t actually do a lot for him because of how he treated them.  Erasmus kept banging on about how vague the Scriptures are (which is very convenient for his own theology), and so he gave them very little practical, let alone overruling, authority.  So although he looked at Scripture, the message of Scripture could be tailored, squeezed, adjusted to fit his own vision of what Christianity is.

The only way to break out of that suffocating scheme and achieve any substantial reformation and change in the world – well, it took Luther’s attitude, that Scripture is the only sure foundation for belief.  The Bible had to be acknowledged as the supreme authority.  It had to be allowed to contradict and overrule all other claims, because if it couldn’t do that, it itself would be overruled and hijacked by another message, as it was with Erasmus.  In other words a simple reverence for the Bible was never going to change the world, even quite a high view of the Bible was never going to do much.  Sola Scriptura.  Scripture alone was the indispensable key for change.  Without acknowledging that the Bible has that supreme and foundational authority there would be no Reformation.  No Reformation in peoples’ hearts, no Reformation in the world.

That final emboldened text is well worth a “selah” for preachers.  On this matter are we an Erasmus, or a Luther?

TheologyNetwork.Org Article

A modified form of an article I wrote a while back has now been posted on . . . here’s a taste:

True exposition should not be boring, for we would not want to give the impression that God gives of Himself in self-revelation in a way that is boring.  True exposition should not be disconnected from real life, for in the incarnation we see God giving of Himself, His ultimate self-revelation, in the most relevant manner imaginable.  Perhaps if more preachers would truly grasp the need for effective hermeneutics in their sermon preparation, perhaps then we would not have so much occasion to point the finger at others and complain of dumbed-down diet sermonettes abounding in our generation.

But is improved hermeneutics enough?  The article makes a further move that I believe is critical and often overlooked.  To read the article, and then look around at the excellent resources, click here –

At Least A Minor Study in History?

As those who preach, we have a whole raft of subject areas worthy of our study.  Central, in my estimation, is the ongoing engaged and dynamic personal study of Scripture.  We also must be studying the people to whom they preach, what they struggle with, their life experiences, how they think, etc.  Then there are numerous other areas of study, some of which might motivate you to buy books and read, others of which might only serve to cure insomnia.  But what about the subject of the history of preaching?

I know some reading this are avid readers of biography, church history and even preaching history.  I am also sure that some are definitely not.  Here’s a brief quote on the subject from David Larsen, writing in the Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society:

The history of preaching can encourage our hearts (as in the providential appearance of significant Biblical preaching in the most unlikely places and at the most unexpected times) as well as warn us about the perils and pitfalls which surround the practitioner of the craft at all times. Our times call for the wise and judicious balance which attention to history provides.

So for those less inclined to the history of preaching, where to start?  There are several (often multi-volume) series of books that address the subject directly.  Yet in many cases they, like most historical writing, tend to focus in one area, but remain blind to another.  Perhaps the best place to start is with biography of a preacher you find intriguing or encouraging – a Spurgeon, Sibbes, Luther or Edwards.  Perhaps it would be worth getting David Larsen’s A Company of Preachers and starting there.

One thing seems clear though, to ignore the past would be naive and might condemn us to repeating errors unnecessarily, or perhaps to leave our hearts weakened by missing the blessing offered by some of these great preachers.

(Here is an accessible starting point – take a look at this introductory article to Richard Sibbes that was just posted over on – click here)