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Keep Reforming

Monday, August 29, 2011 | Comments (15)

I’m grateful for the widespread response this series of blogposts has generated, including all the feedback we have received from people who disagree about certain points. Yes, a few vocal critics have replied with mocking or misrepresentation, as if to illustrate the validity of some of my central concerns. But most of the response we have received (including a lot of the dissent) encourages me—because it comes from young people who seem genuinely thoughtful about the dangers I have tried to highlight, and I trust they are genuinely committed to cultivating a thoroughly biblical worldview.

That being said, I’d like to give a final word of encouragement to my Young, Restless, Reformed friends: Keep reforming.

Semper reformanda (“always reforming”) is one of the enduring slogans often associated with the Protestant Reformation. The origins of the phrase are murky and probably date from the late 1600s. But the kernel of the idea is true enough: Until we are glorified—until we are fully, finally, perfectly conformed to the exact likeness of Christ—we as saints individually, and the whole church collectively, must always be reforming.

The idea is not that we should change for the sake of change. You can be sure that whoever first penned that slogan was not urging Christians to stay abreast of every wind of earthly fashion in order to suit someone’s shallow notion of “relevance.” Nor does the principle of semper reformanda require us to rewrite our doctrinal standards every generation in order to keep in step with the constantly-changing dogmas of human philosophy.

On the other hand, real Reformation is not about slavish subscription to one particular set of seventeenth-century confessional standards—as if the magisterial Reformers or their immediate successors reached a level of ecclesiastical and doctrinal perfection beyond which further reform is impossible. According to that view, you’re not truly Reformed if, for example, you reject paedobaptism or you employ musical instruments and hymns in your worship rather than strictly limiting your singing to metrical psalms sung a capella.

John Calvin was under no illusion that the Reformation had reached its goal in his lifetime—or that it would get there in a generation or two. He wrote,

Christ "loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish," (Eph. 5: 25-27.) Nevertheless, it is true, that the Lord is daily smoothing its wrinkles and wiping away its spots. Hence it follows that its holiness is not yet perfect. Such, then, is the holiness of the Church: it makes daily progress, but is not yet perfect; it daily advances, but as yet has not reached the goal. (Institutes, 4.1.17)

Here’s the point: the only true and valid reformation occurs as we align our beliefs, our behavior, and our worship with the Word of God. In fact, the full, unabbreviated version of the Latin slogan is Ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei (“The church Reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God.”)

God’s Word is the only true standard we have a divine mandate to conform to, and it is the ultimate standard by which we will be judged. Success or failure in ministry therefore cannot be evaluated by numerical statistics, financial figures, popularity polls, public opinion, or any of the other factors the world typically associates with “success.” The only real triumph in ministry is to hear Christ say, “Well done.”

So let me close this series with an earnest practical exhortation to my friends who are young, restless, and Reformed—especially those who aspire to positions of leadership and influence in the church:

Don't squander your good theology and your opportunity to make an impact by selling out to stylishness, self-promotion, or mere popularity—thus guaranteeing your ministry a short shelf life and no lasting influence.

The great leaders you admire from past generations—the architects of the Reformation theology you say you love—do not occupy that heroic stance in our thinking because of their wardrobe, cultural savvy, musical style, or ability to identify with the behavior and tastes of the unconverted.

What has given them an exalted place in our thinking is purely their clarity of doctrine, the carefulness of their exposition, the way they exemplified virtue, and the zeal with which they served our triune God. In short, they were wholeheartedly committed to the truth of Scripture above every other value, goal, or pastime.

In other words, their influence endures precisely because they transcended the shifting preoccupations of human style.

Now let’s be completely candid: Many (perhaps most) evangelical celebrities from the past half-century or so will never be remembered like the Reformers, because they will pass away with their own self-styled faddishness.

Whatever you do, don’t let that happen to you.

John MacArthur


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#1  Posted by Anderson Esteban  |  Monday, August 29, 2011at 1:59 PM

...most) evangelical celebrities from the past half-century or so will never be remembered like the Reformers, because they will pass away with their own self-styled ... I love this point, definitely a lot of contemporary reformers will be forgotten soon because they just had the purpose to show their own philosophy of the gospel, their own style in music in fact their 'own' interpretation of the Bible, throwing away (not all of them, but most of them) the bases of the gospel, I mean the doctrine and instead embrace new mixed view points.

Surely we remember to Charles Spurgeon as the prince of preachers.. we remember to John Calvin for the doctrine of predestination... we remember to John Bunyan for the Pilgrim Progress, and I think we remember to Isaac watts for his hymns.

I will remember to Pastor John Macarthur as a great master of the truth. Me as a young men wish to be remembered as a really young restless reformed with the old paths and the faithful doctrine.

Blessings!!

#2  Posted by James Coates  |  Monday, August 29, 2011at 5:06 PM

Can't we just drop the whole 'restless' thing altogether???

#3  Posted by Mark Cooper  |  Monday, August 29, 2011at 7:30 PM

Excellent points Pastor John! Thank you for this series! Thank you, also, for your love and concern for our younger brothers and sisters in christ.

Bottom line: Renew your mind....Not your wardrobe! :-)

#1 Anderson Esteban: Well said....I love your reference of Pastor John being "A great master of the truth". Right on.

#4  Posted by Mary Elizabeth Palshan  |  Monday, August 29, 2011at 8:25 PM

I, too, have enjoyed this series of posts. People of all ages can benefit from your years of learning at the Lord’s feet. I know I have, and many of my friends have, too.

What I find interesting, when it comes your admonition to “grow up”, is that no matter what the age, we are all still in that process. But somehow it is uniquely different with the very young-at-heart. Young men and women are into fantasy/mythmaking (some are not, most are), and not very good at reality. Young women desire the knight and shining armour type husband, and refuse to accept their faults, and then spend a lifetime trying to raise them to be the godly men Christ intended them to be.

The other mythmaking, by young men especially, is that they believe they are invincible. And when there are no mountains to climb or flood victims to save, they resort to “on the edge behavior” like alcohol or drug abuse to get their thrills, which is destructive behavior, but gives them the sense of manliness.

I was watching Toy Story Two the other night (I haven’t grown up either), but it is about the only thing on T.V. I can find decent to watch. And Stinky Pete reminded Woody, “Andy cannot take you off to college with him, you know.” How true this is, and Stinky Pete comes nowhere near the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, and he is even the scourge and great antagonist of the cartoon. We all have to leave our childhood and toys behind and go off to college. This is difficult even for adults to do sometimes. However, the advantage to being gray headed, is that we have seen many, many funerals, many wars, many divorces, many children die in infancy, and this brings reality home for us, and we add our years of experiences to Scripture, and say-yup, God is right, each and every time. There is a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to die. “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity (Ecc 12:7-8).”

Young people do not contemplate the eternality of life (some do, most don’t), because satan gives them the impression that they are immune to any and all tragedies. Death comes to no one who is so fair, beautiful and lovely, and is nothing more than a make believe phantom in the music of the night. They are lulled to sleep by such melodies; blind to the reality of it. It touches not the young-at-heart, but is reserved for someone in another time zone, somewhere “East of Eden.”

It is Carpe Diem for all the young and restless; live life to its fullest. Seize the day because nothing exists beyond this silly life anyway.

Glad you are trying to wake many of us up. We all need the admonition to “grow up.” It seems you are a lone voice, sadly, but so was John the Baptist. Keep on encouraging us, we all need it!

#5  Posted by Scott Davidson  |  Tuesday, August 30, 2011at 12:28 AM

Young and old alike should remind themselves daily of this verse. 1 Peter 1:16 for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." What is God's Holiness? Younger Christians need to study and learn what God's Holiness is and be Holy. More mature Christians need to come along side and demonstrate what God's Holiness is and be Holy. I see so many young people who profess to be Christians yet have, if not a love of the world, a bigtime flirtation with the world.

#6  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Tuesday, August 30, 2011at 5:02 AM

I saw Toy Story 3 and kinda shock to see that young man wanted to bring his doll to college. If I kept my dolls, I am not grown up. lol. right. God bless.

#7  Posted by Anderson Esteban  |  Tuesday, August 30, 2011at 7:21 AM

Yes, Indeed.. Pastor John one of my biggest influences of The Word.

#8  Posted by Darren Gruett  |  Tuesday, August 30, 2011at 7:50 AM

What a great series this has been. As one who aspires to leadership within the church, I am grateful for the sound advice that has been offered here. Along those same lines, I have been studying 1 Timothy with some of the leaders at my church, and it has been sobering and convicting. I am beginning to see that I am at a crossroads, and that if I am ever to attain what God has in store for me I will have to give up some things and devote myself wholly to God and His Holy Word. Thank you so much, for your clear teaching which has been so much of a blessing.

#9  Posted by Louis Tullo  |  Tuesday, August 30, 2011at 7:57 AM

Dr. MacArthur,

Thank you so much for your wisdom as a pastor and teacher. Since embracing Reformed theology, your guidance has been such a blessed supplement to my study of God's Word and the way in which I live out my faith.

While I am 24 years old and believe in the doctrines of grace, I don't consider myself a YRR necessarily. I'm not a fan of hipster fashion. While I do have an occasional glass of wine, I don't spend any significant amount of time in a pub drinking. In spite of being young, I am learning more and more to keep myself from being ruled by restlessness. That all being said, you're encouragement to grow up in faith and life, and keep reforming is something that I really take to heart. The culture I live in does everything to get me to prolong my adolescence and if I give in I know that will most certainly keep me from growing in the plan Christ has for my life. It's difficult though because there's a deceptive comfort in avoiding adult responsibility. I implore you to continuing praying for my generation - that we would have strength to bear our Crosses and die daily.

One thing I feel I have to state is that in the midst of your necessary works of correction there were some elements of your tone and choice of words in respect to issues of drinking and clothing that disappointed me. While I was able to see the underlying point of what you were communicating, the way in which you said certain things (i.e. likening the fashion-consciousness of certain pastors to little girls) seemed a bit childish to me. I think for a lot of people, rather than igniting passion for spiritual growth, comments like these ignited anger and hardness of heart. I would encourage you to embrace Paul's words to have our speech seasoned with salt - both for the sake of the body of Christ and the world who is certain to scrutinize the way in which we relate to each other.

Again, thank you so much for this engaging series. In spite of expressing one of my frustrations, on the whole your posts benefited me tremendously. I felt it was much better for me to try to communicate what I felt in an intelligent and loving manner than expressing my frustrations in an ungodly way. You have accomplished such great things over the course of your ministry that have glorified Christ tremendously. I can't wait to see how God continues to use you over the coming years. Please know that there are young believers who want to grow and look to you for guidance. Embrace the call on your life to lovingly lead them.

In Christ,

Louis Tullo

#10  Posted by William Stinson  |  Tuesday, August 30, 2011at 8:27 AM

I think this is a good time to review John's sermons this is from 2001

The Exclusiveness of the Gospel, Part 1

Selected Scriptures | Code: 80-233

#11  Posted by Chris Lemi  |  Tuesday, August 30, 2011at 4:33 PM

One thing that I have learned throughout this series is that even a highly respected Pastor can be wrong on certain Biblical principles. Like Louis, post #9, I was very disappointed in Pastor Macarthur in that he let his own personal bias/opinions get in the way of what Scripture teaches. It is too bad that as vehement and uncompromising as he is on sound doctrine, that he fails to see where he is in error here, or if he sees it, refuses or fails to address it. Nevertheless it was a good learning point for me, and learning something new and growing from it can only strengthen and edify an individual and the Church.

Coram Deo

#12  Posted by Rudi Jensen  |  Wednesday, August 31, 2011at 3:08 AM

#10 William Stinson

This is the best comment in this series.

I have spent several months with the sermon series "Delivered by God", one of John MacArthurs masterpieces.

Search for: 260_Delivered-by-God

#11 Chris Lemi

This is for you also. Coram Deo? This is what that series is about. A true delivered Christian, to the Glory of God.

Liberty is not what you are allowed to do, but what you are delivered to do.

Christ is Lord.

#13  Posted by Chris Lemi  |  Wednesday, August 31, 2011at 12:00 PM

#12 Rudi

I don't understand you, what do you mean by "delivered from", and by referencing that it was for myself?

#14  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Wednesday, August 31, 2011at 3:21 PM

Chris Lemi #11

"One thing that I have learned throughout this series is that even a highly respected Pastor can be wrong on certain Biblical principles. Like Louis, post #9, I was very disappointed in Pastor Macarthur in that he let his own personal bias/opinions get in the way of what Scripture teaches. It is too bad that as vehement and uncompromising as he is on sound doctrine, that he fails to see where he is in error here, or if he sees it, refuses or fails to address it. "

Chris, I fail to see the accuracy in your assertion quoted above. If anything I believe John has been more than gracious to many who have pushed the visible church headlong into worldliness.

Men such as Calvin, who many say they follow in his footsteps but when you get right down to the actions by these same ones they take a completely different road (see JM's latest webcam interview about the subject!), dealt with error in a much harsher fashion. For example...take a look at his intro to his Treatise on Predestination!

"I propose, now, to enter into the sacred battle with Pighius and George, the Sicilian, a pair of unclean beasts (Lev. xi. 3) by no means badly matched. For though I confess that in some things they differ, yet, in hatching enormities of error, in adulterating the Scripture with wicked and revelling audacity, in a proud contempt of the truth, in forward impudence, and in brazen loquacity, the most perfect likeness and sameness will be found to exist between them. Except that Pighius, by inflating the muddy bombast of his magniloquence, carries himself with greater boast and pomp; while the other fellow borrows the boots by which he elevates himself from his invented revelation. " John Calvin

Kudos to the GTY staff and to John MacArthur for being a light to a quickly dimming church.

#15  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Wednesday, August 31, 2011at 6:18 PM

#9

We are all sinners. We must not keep our sinful selves as well our own manners of living, like lifestyle, clothing, and etc. What John MacArthur is saying to me is Jesus said to first wash inside of me then wash outside of me.

Keep on learning in Christ. Sometimes things bothers us from God's Word that I went through that and confess my sins. Not holding it in. I don't glorify God when I did that. Just sharing a thought. God bless.