Reformation as Discipline

October 29, 2011

As Reformation Sunday approaches, thoughts turn to the question, “What sort of reformation is necessary for the PCUSA to get back on solid footing with God in order to fulfill its mission?” The great 16th century Protestant reformers addressed this question with renewed focus upon the unadorned and uncorrupted gospel of Jesus Christ: “The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God” (Luther, Thesis number 62). Aware of God’s awesome power and holiness, Luther, for instance, trembled in his own repentance and called the Church to its own. The particular presenting problem (the sale of indulgences) was unique to that period in church history, but the need for thorough systemic correction was not. We are yet again in a time and place where the church must reform its ways and turn back to God in full obedience and faithfulness.

Last night I saw the marvelous movie The Way, starring Martin Sheen, about a man named Tom who travels to France to retrieve the remains of his adult son, who died while hiking the Camino de Santiago. He decides to complete the journey his son started, and along the way encounters many other pilgrims with their own issues. In one surprising scene, Tom’s backpack is stolen by a local juvenile. Discouraged and bereft, Tom is about to give up on the trek when the boy with his father comes into the local watering hole to return the pack and apologize for taking it. It was not the boy’s idea to humble himself thusly, but under his father’s stern discipline, the boy is required to carry Tom’s pack to the town’s border as a sign of repentance. Every parent can relate to the tension of such a moment, perhaps recalling in one’s own childhood a similar hard lesson.

The PCUSA is encountering its own learning opportunity. We could legitimately be accused of stealing from our people the most holy gospel, if we persist in saying that immorality is of no moment and biblical theology is of no consequence, that Jesus lacks the power to transform us even to the level of our identity, or that forgiveness for sin places an obligation upon us to reform—not to earn salvation but to give thanks for it. My hope for Reformation Sunday is that we would not shrink from the prophetic voices of our past but instead take heed of God’s Word and do it.

To conclude on this Saturday, meditate with me on the exhortation found in Hebrews 12:1-13. Stay with me here; this is not a short excerpt but it is relevant and a timely word, evoking the image so beautifully portrayed in the movie:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [all those saints listed as exemplars of the faith in Hebrews 11], let us also lay aside every weight [impediment] and the sin that clings so closely [so easily distracting], and let us run [much faster than walking] with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus [to learn from him] the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.  4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  5And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—
            “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of             the Lord,
                        or lose heart when you are punished by him;
6              for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves,
                        and chastises every child whom he accepts.”
7 Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?  8 If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children.  9 Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  1 0For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. 11 Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

1 2 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 1 3 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

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