If we want reformation, we have to start with ourselves. We have to start bringing the gospel itself out of darkness, so that the motto of every reformation becomes post tenebras lux — “after darkness, light.” Luther declared that every generation must declare freshly the gospel of the New Testament. He also said that anytime the gospel is clearly and boldly proclaimed, it will bring about conflict, and those of us who are inherently adverse to conflict will find it tempting to submerge the gospel, dilute the gospel, or obscure the gospel in order to avoid conflict.
I’m always puzzled when I see church billboards announcing a coming revival. They give the times and the dates when the church will be engaged in revival. But I wonder, how can anybody possibly schedule a revival? True revivals are provoked by the sovereign work of God through the stirring of His Holy Spirit in the hearts of people. They happen when the Holy Spirit comes into the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37) and exerts His power to bring new life, a revivification of the spiritual life of the people of God.
This kind of thing cannot be manipulated by any human program. Historically, no one scheduled the Protestant Reformation. The Welsh revival was not on anyone’s agenda, nor was the American Great Awakening penciled into someone’s date book. These epic events in church history resulted from the sovereign work of God, who brought His power to bear on churches that had become virtually moribund.
But we have to understand the difference between revival and reformation. Revival, as the word suggests, means a renewing of life. When evangelism is a priority in the church, such outreach will often bring about revival. However, these revivals of spiritual life do not always result in reformation. Reformation indicates changing forms of church and society. Revivals grow into reformations when the impact of the gospel begins to change the structures of the culture. Revival can produce a multitude of new Christians, but these new Christians have to grow into maturity before they begin to make a significant impact on the surrounding culture.
Reformation can involve a change for the better. We must not be so naïve as to think that all change is necessarily good. Sometimes when we feel that we are in the doldrums or that progress has been stultified, we cry out for change, forgetting for the moment that change may be regressive rather than progressive. If I drink a vial of poison, it will change me, but not for the better. Nevertheless, change is often good.
In our day, we have seen the rise of what has been called the “New Calvinism,” which tends to focus primarily on the so-called five points of Calvinism. This movement within the church has attracted a great deal of attention, even in the secular media.
Yet it would be wise to not identify Calvinism exhaustively with those five points. Rather, the five points function as a pathway or a bridge to the entire structure of Reformed theology. Charles Spurgeon himself argued that Calvinism is merely a nickname for biblical theology. He and many other titans of the past understood that the essence of Reformed theology cannot be reduced to five particular points that arose centuries ago in Holland in response to controversy with the Arminians, who objected to five specific points of the system of doctrine found in historic Calvinism. For the purposes of this article, it might be helpful to look at both what Reformed theology is and is not.