You might say the major Reformation, and all mini-reformations, happen for a long list of reasons.
People grow sick of the church’s theological trash stinking to high heaven and decide to wheel it to the curb. They abhor the cancers of corruption worming their way through the soul of the ecclesial hierarchy. They are dismayed over closeted creeds mildewing, muscular singing atrophying into the blubber of emotionalism, and want to vomit every time they catch a whiff from a pulpit exhaling the halitosis of moralism or legalism or self-helpism.
All these may have a part to play.
But ultimately all reformations happen not because people react but because God acts. He reforms. He looks down from heaven, has mercy upon his starving children, and ends the famine of the Word by sending the rain of the Gospel. The good news, and that good news alone, is the catalyst behind any true reforming work in the church.
Mere moral reform has the shelf life of a beach sandcastle right before high tide.
Mere political reform is like vacuuming the house while the roof is on fire.
But Gospel reform is God’s lasting and liberating labor.
Only the Gospel will reform the church because only the Gospel is LIFE. And that life is Jesus. Not Jesus and your-pet-project, not Jesus and your-moral-crusade, not Jesus and your-plan-to-improve-society. “Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus,” as the old hymn insists.
This life of God in Christ is for a dead world full of dead people mimicking life badly. The life of God in Christ seeping into every pore of the church and vivifying all it touches. The life of God in Christ which breathes vitality into the church’s worship once more; raises up preachers who are electrified by a proclamation that determines to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified; gathers young people who are sick of cotton candy spiritualism and starving for the meat and drink of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
This life of God in Christ, this Gospel, will be the only reason a tiny rural parish, a whole denominational body, or vast swaths of the church are reformed. Because the church is once more nailed to the Godman who is nailed to the cross. United with Jesus in his death that we might share in his life. And, sharing in his life, become once more a bright and beaming light in this world instead of one more flickering neon bulb in the marketplace of helping institutions.
Oh, dear God, fill our lips, and fill your church, with this Gospel. Make it the blood in our veins, the breath of our lungs, the light of our eyes, the totality of our being. Make this Gospel gush from our pulpits and stream into the dead seas of shame and guilt to desalinate them and fill them with life and hope again. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, and make your church a temple of mercy, a sanctuary of grace, a spring of life that wets all sin-parched lips with the dew of heaven’s love found solely and fully in Christ.