Summary: Jesus' message to the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6 teaches us about our present need for reformation.
On October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. That might seem strange to us, but it was the normal manner of conducting scholarly debate in Luther’s day, as evidenced by his preface to Ninety-Five Theses:
Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore, he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
What followed was a list of ninety-five propositions that Luther wanted to debate. This list included propositions such as:
• When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
• It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.
• The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
Luther’s action is recognized by many as the start of the Reformation. Luther’s goal was to reform the Roman Catholic Church. However, he was eventually excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church, and he became the leader of the Protestant Reformation.
We are the spiritual descendants of Martin Luther. In 1507, ten years before Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Luther was ordained as a priest in Erfurt and started studying Theology at the University of Erfurt. During his studies, he came into contact with the ideas of the Humanists and embraced their slogan “Ad Fontes!” which means, “Back to the Source!” For Luther, this meant the study of the Bible in its original Hebrew and Greek. That commitment led Luther to study God’s Word, so that God eventually enlightened him as to the correct understanding of it.
While we are the spiritual descendants of Martin Luther, we have seen great spiritual declension in our day. There is an urgent present need for Reformation in our day too.
For the next few weeks, I plan to focus on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Today, I want to address the present need for Reformation. And in the coming weeks, I want to address the key truths of the Reformation that still need to be understood and implemented today.
As I thought about an appropriate text to discuss our present need for Reformation, I came across Jesus’ message to the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6. I believe that a reflection on the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6 will help us consider our present need for Reformation.
Let’s read Jesus’ message to Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6:
1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
“ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. 4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ” (Revelation 3:1-6)
The last book written by Dr. James Montgomery Boice before his untimely death in 2000 was titled, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? The subtitle of his book tells readers what he was trying to accomplish: Recovering the Doctrines that Shook the World. Boice began his book by noting three books that appeared in the early 1990s. These books evaluated the evangelical church. The titles of the three books was revealing. They were No Place for Truth by David F. Wells, Power Religion by Michael Scott Horton, and Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur. Yet, as Boice noted, the subtitles were even more revealing. The subtitle of Wells’ book is Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? The subtitle of Horton’s book is The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church. And the subtitle of MacArthur’s book is When the Church Becomes Like the World.