Paul reminds us that Abraham was saved by grace. We should know that obeying God’s laws isn’t the golden key that unlocks heaven’s doors for us (see Romans 4:4). So, go tell your people that all their being good isn’t getting them anywhere. This is the point at which all great religious reformations start.
Abraham reformed the religion of his day by rejecting the civilized temples with their rituals of offerings, guaranteed to bring good luck, and set out on that long walk that happens when you simply listen to God. “Take a right here,” God says and Abraham does. This is faith in its most refined and reformed state.
Jesus emphasized humility and told individual’s who were poor in spirit that God’s Kingdom had already granted them admission. He rejected the classism of Israel’s religious leaders. His reformation went face to face to tell people that they were okay. It distributed soul-healing freely.
The apostle John continued the extradition of early Christianity from the Jewish emphasis on ritual. “The day is coming when people won’t worship on this mountain, or in Jerusalem, but in spirit and in truth.” This reformation stripped away place, race, religious practice, and family ties from the list of qualifiers for getting you into heaven.
Soon, the early church was battling gnostics and mystics and people who said you had to ‘know’ (or Grok) some deep secret in order to be saved. The early church fathers tried to reform a rag-tag fellowship that was getting too woo-woo to do any good. They grounded the faith in scripture and stuck to a cannon that excluded useless metaphysical speculation.
Then came Constantine and his mother, Helena. They married church and state and it took 1,200 years for reformers to divorce this hell from heaven.
Then came Wesley who preached to coal miners on their way to work and offered them the sacraments, even though they didn’t have water to wash their hands. His reformation had a simple question, “How does your soul fare today?”
And now the postmodern church stands in need of reforming. Tell your people its not about good deeds. Stop telling cute kitten stories. Every reformation before us has struggled to speak the truth. It’s a counter-intuitive thing, requiring both prayer and courage.