To be true to the values of the Reformation, we have to understand the cultural shift that has taken place in our society since the 1960s, and respond to it. That was the provocative challenge presented by Chris Hand, pastor of Crich Baptist Church in Derbyshire, at this year’s “God’s Glory Our Joy” Conference held in Warrington on 14 October.
Chris Hand said, while Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones was preaching about the doctrines of grace at Westminster Chapel, a cultural revolution was taking place just a short distance away on the King’s Road in Chelsea. According to Chris Hand, Dr Lloyd Jones and the other reformed evangelical leaders of the 60s failed to analyse it.
Fifty-or-so years on from the 1960s, reformed evangelicals today may have the “light” of the Reformation in their heads, but do they have the passionate “fire” of the Reformation in their hearts? Chris Hand said this subject had caused him to face some searching personal questions as a reformed baptist pastor.
The conference theme was “Remembering the Reformation”. John Palmer, pastor of Bethany Evangelical Church in Leigh, Greater Manchester, spoke about the historical events leading up to the Reformation. He reminded us that, in Luther’s day, some of the false practices of the Roman Catholic Church were relatively recent developments, and Luther was not the only one who was raising objections.
Stephen Murphy is Pastor of Dundalk Baptist Church, Co Meath, Ireland. He spoke about “Luther’s Legacy: Our Debt to the Reformation.” He said, as an Irishman looking across the sea, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation seems to be no big deal in Britain. It should be a big deal, he said.
Referring to the five solas of the Reformation, he emphasised the great blessings that flowed out of it. And he asked, would there have been a CH Spurgeon without the Reformation? Stephen Murphy also preached the closing sermon of the conference looking at Hebrews 10:1-18.
But it was Chris Hand’s provocative challenge which caused most debate. As in previous years, a follow-up seminar for church officers was held on the the Friday after the conference, to discuss issues that had been raised. Was it really fair to say that Dr Lloyd Jones, and evangelical leaders of his era, failed to analyse the cultural revolution of the 1960s?
There was a famous interview in 1970 between Joan Bakewell — a committed feminist and a voice of the 1960s revolution — and Dr Lloyd Jones in which he shows himself to have a clear understanding of contemporary cultural trends. Also during the 1960s, other evangelical figures like Francis Schaeffer were warning Christians about the cultural shifts taking place. Perhaps it was simply that Christians were not listening.
However, if Chris Hand is right, if we must be true to the character of the Reformation by analysing the culture and responding to it, then do 21st century evangelicals have a proper analysis of the culture we live in today? Do we truly understand the monumental shift there has been in our society in the last half century? The follow-up seminar discussed this vital question, which deserves a conference all of its own.
The cultural revolution of the 60s — which was a rebellion against the institutions of society — has now become embedded within those very same institutions. The values of ‘progressiveness’ are now promoted by government, by education, by entertainment, and by the news media. And they treat evangelical Christianity with deep suspicion.
How do we share the gospel of Christ in such a challenging environment? Some churches have chosen to cuddle up to the culture, adopting its methods within the church. As a result, many of them are thriving numerically. But perhaps they have failed to heed Marshall Mcluhan’s words, “The medium is the message.” Are they undercutting the power of the gospel by the way they are presenting the gospel?
Surely churches today must be prepared to be counter-cultural. Churches should be places where sustained preaching counters the soundbite infotainment of television; places where stable loving families counter a society where families are undermined; places where deep and lasting relationships counter the shallow and short lived relationships of the virtual world.
If we are prepared, as Chris Hand suggests, to truly analyse the cultural shift that has taken place since the 60s and be counter-cultural, maybe then we will have the passionate “fire” of the Reformation and not just the “light”.