Some Personal Reflections on the Protestant Reformation

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I am a first-generation Reformed Christian. Having been raised in the ecclesiastical tradition commonly referred to as the Black Church, terms such as reformed theology and doctrines of grace  were never mentioned. Nor were such names as John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, or Jonathan Edwards referenced or cited. Puritans theologians such Thomas Watson, John Owen, and John Bunyan were equally absent from the preaching I sat under. And the only Martin Luther that I ever knew was the noted civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who, interestingly, had his birth name (Michael) changed to Martin by his father in honor of the great sixteenth-century German reformer.1https://time.com/4998556/martin-luther-mlk-anniversary

Notwithstanding the supernatural role the sovereignty of God played in providentially exposing me to Reformed theology in 2009, it was faithful men like John MacArthur and the late R. C. Sproul who were instrumental in my coming to embrace Reformed theology. But of the five Solas that comprise the doctrines of grace—Sola Gratia (grace alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (glory of God alone)—it was the doctrine of Sola Gratia that was especially life-changing for me as God used that doctrine to free me from the erroneous doctrine of salvation by works that I had been taught for many years, a doctrine Charles H. Spurgeon described as “criminal.”2Salvation by Works: A Criminal Doctrine,” preached on April 18, 1880 at Metropolitan Tabernacle.

As an historic event, the Protestant Reformation may very well have been ignited on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church doors in Wittenberg, Germany. But today, more than five centuries later, the Reformation has become much more to me than a date in history. For me, the Protestant Reformation isn’t simply an occasion to be marked annually on a calendar, but is something very personal, because it is the Reformation that led to my own spiritual reformation; it was the doctrines of grace that God used to remove a veil of ignorance that had for decades blinded me to the truth—the truth of God’s unmerited favor toward undeserving sinners,3Romans 5:6; Ephesians 2:8-9. of his monergistic work in reconciling sinners to himself,4John 6:44; 1 Corinthians 1:30. and of his choosing before the foundation of the world those who would come to faith in him.5Romans 9:6-21; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:1b-2.

With all due respect to Martin Luther and those who, by the providence of God, have and will follow in his footsteps, the Reformation is not about one man. It never has been. The Reformation is fundamentally about the recovery of the biblical gospel of God. It is a recovery that is ongoing in the church even today, hence the phrase ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming). As was the case in Martin Luther’s day, the church today is filled with professing Christians whose minds and hearts are veiled to the spiritually emancipating truths of the doctrines of grace (as mine were at one point in my life). This is particularly true, I believe, with regard to the Black Church, which, more than any other ecclesiastical group within evangelical Protestantism, has been adversely influenced by the temporal abolitionism of the social gospel, the enslaving orthodoxy of black liberation theology, and the divisive and antagonistic orthopraxy of critical race theory.

The Reformation is fundamentally about the recovery of the biblical gospel of God.

It is through the unbiblical lens of woke theology,6https://css.cua.edu/humanitas_journal/church-of-woke; https://rratedreligion.substack.com/p/woke-theology a system of beliefs that, in part, encompasses the three aforementioned philosophies, that the Reformation is often posited as being of significance only to Christians who are ethnically white. Sadly, it is that unfounded yet oft-accepted assumption that has led many black Christians to reject the Reformation and Reformed theology outright. In woke theology, truth must first have a face in order to be accepted as truth. And, invariably, that face must be either brown or black—never white.

But that brings to mind a man whom I greatly admire and whom I believe is deserving of significantly greater attention and respect than that which has been afforded him over the years. His name is Lemuel Haynes (1753–1833). Haynes, who was born of a black father and a white mother,7https://www.biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/2012/01/16/the-rev-lemuel-haynes-hero-of-black-church-history is often referred to as “the black Puritan.” Not long after Haynes’s death, W. H. Morse wrote that Haynes “knew there was a heaven of joy where differences of color would not exist, or if they did, it would be no hindrance to the intimate union of saints.”8https://nationsmedia.org/historical-reformer-lemuel-haynes Morse could utter such laudatory words about Lemuel Haynes because Haynes found his identity in his Savior and not his skin color. As W. H. Morse astutely said of Haynes, “His face betrayed his race and blood, and his life revealed his Lord.”9https://archive.org/details/jstor-2713706/page/n11/mode/2up?view=theater

I believe it to be no disservice to the memory and legacy of Lemuel Haynes to say that the words of W. H. Morse are applicable also in describing what the Reformation accomplished—and is still accomplishing—in that it “revealed the Lord” to many from whom he had beforehand been hidden because of heretical teachings. But praise be to God that, as the apostle Paul declared in 2 Corinthians 3:16, “whenever a person turns the Lord, the veil is taken away” (NASB).

It is because of the Reformation that many souls have been turned to the Lord.

Thank God for the Reformation!

Soli Deo Gloria!

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Darrell B. Harrison

Lead Host Just Thinking Podcast

Darrell is is a native of Atlanta, Georgia but currently resides in Valencia, California where he serves as Dean of Social Media at Grace To You, the Bible-teaching ministry of Dr. John MacArthur. Darrell is a 2013 Fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI) of Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, and is a 2015 graduate of the Theology and Ministry program at Princeton Theological Seminary. Darrell studied at the undergraduate level at Liberty University, where he majored in Psychology with a concentration in Christian Counseling. He was the first black man to be ordained as a Deacon in the 200-year history of First Baptist Church of Covington (Georgia) where he attended from 2009 to 2015. He is an ardent student of theology and apologetics, and enjoys reading theologians such as Thomas Watson, Charles Spurgeon, and John Calvin. Darrell is an advocate of expository teaching and preaching and has a particular passion for seeing expository preaching become the standard within the Black Church.