The Reformation: Why was it tragic?

This is the third of a three part series. Click here to read part one. Click here to read part two.

The What and the Why Behind the Reformation

The late church historian Jaroslav Pelikan said that the Reformation is helpfully understood as a “tragic necessity.” What was the Reformation and why was it necessary? In answering those two questions the magisterial Reformers play the role of hero, rescuing the church from the oppressive grip of the Roman Catholic Church, which had become corrupt with the practice of simony, selling indulgences, the sacerdotal system, and keeping the Bible out of the common language of the people. This is why we are Protestant. This is our inheritance and this is what we should celebrate.

The Loss of Biblical Authority

Yet, what is often left unsaid is that the Reformation turned the Bible into a contested book.[1] Different Protestant groups emerged. The church was splintered. Unity was fractured. The church was divided. The Bible became a contested thing among various groups, from Roman Catholics to Lutherans, from the Reformed to the Anabaptists, and seemingly countless others. As the different groups argued about Scripture, the Bible’s wider cultural authority waned. Disagreement on how to interpret the Bible was a standing invitation for skeptics and atheists. After all, if Christ can’t be divided (1 Cor. 1:13), but the church is internally divided, then maybe there is no Christ at all. It is precisely because Scripture gradually lost its position as culture’s highest authority—especially after The Enlightenment—that David Wells can say that the world now lives with a “crisis of authority” in which any remaining authority has been relocated to the self. The church is not unblemished from these developments.

The Self Becomes god

The church has been tutored by the doctrine of secular culture, especially the doctrine of individualism.[2] Robert Bellah calls it expressive individualism. David Wells calls it “the bloated sense of human capacity.”[3] We live in an age of choices, consumer choices superficially considered, but also religious choices. With the burden of individualism—choices—everyone is expected to realize their humanity apart from outside influences conforming or lording over them. It is worth pointing out that in the matrix of “free” consumer choices, it often goes unrecognized by the consumer that, for example, wearing all black, with black lipstick and black fingernail polish, is conformity to the corporate strategy of skateboard sellers and tattoo businesses. Nevertheless, the dogma of expressive individualism assumes that if an outside authority—like God—dictates a person’s humanity, then they are no longer human. It is a world where the “major remaining value is choice itself.”[4] In the secular scheme, to be authentic, to be authentically human, one’s unfettered libertarian choices must function as the primary value. Libertarian choices provide authenticity for what it means to be human.[5] The implication is displayed in the Star Wars movie series where the characters are often encouraged to trust their own feelings. If libertarian freedom is the supreme human value, then the feelings that arise from within must be followed. It is a failure to see that self-autonomy is not freedom, but a different kind of captivity, namely, slavery to self.

The Scriptures Alone

None of this implies that the Reformation created more problems than it solved. But, as we are careful to observe that the Reformation was necessary, we must also be careful to observe that it was tragic. Anyone who has ever lamented the existence of countless denominations feels the tragedy of division among the people of God. But it was a tragic necessity. Necessary because the Roman Catholic Church had perverted the Gospel of saving grace found in Jesus Christ. Tragic because the unintended consequence of rescuing the Gospel was turning the Bible into a contested book, which, in the view of the broader culture, lowered God down from the tower of authority. This, in turn, transferred authority inward to the self.

Humans are narrative beings. We collect stories to explain meaningfulness. One of the stories that Christians need to have is the story of the Reformation, the story of how the Gospel of Jesus Christ was recovered, and how the Word of God was set free from Rome. As we draw a line from the Reformation to the twenty-first century, we need to be reminded that we are a people designed to live under the authority of God as revealed in the Bible. We can’t forget that we are a people dependent upon God’s self-revelation. For Christians, authority is not derived from the deep places of the inner self, but from God, as he has revealed himself in a Book (sola Scriptura).


[1] Michael Legaspi, The Death of Scripture and the The Rise of Biblical Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[2] Before we get carried away with describing the influence of individualism on the modern church, Christians must be unafraid to make careful distinctions. Individualism that walks into autonomy is headed for a collision course with the God of the universe. But individualism that emphasizes personal responsibility is virtuous. See Marilynne Robinson, When I was a Child I Read Books: Essays (New York: Picador, 2012), 90.  

[3] David. F. Wells, Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 52.

[4] John Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), 69.

[5] In The Social Contract Jean-Jacques Rousseau says, “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.” And “To renounce freedom is to renounce one’s humanity.”


Jason Cherry is a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

The Reformation: Why was it Necessary?

This is the second of a three part series. Click here to read part one. Click here to read part three.

Justification by Faith Alone

If the formal cause of the Reformation was the restoration of Scriptural authority in the church (sola Scriptura), then the material cause of the Reformation was the recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone (sola fide).

During the Medieval period, the Roman Catholic Church taught that salvation was earned through participation in the seven Catholic sacraments, which infused grace into the individual. The Medieval Church had a saying that God “would not deny his grace to those who do what lies within their own power.” In other words, they taught that God saves those who help themselves.

In contrast, the New Testament declares that Christians are “found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phi. 3:9). Martin Luther called this “alien righteousness,” the idea that God declares believers just from righteousness outside of themselves, that of Jesus Christ.

The Corruption of the Roman Catholic Church

Ecclesiastical corruption was rampant during the medieval Roman Catholic Church. They engaged in simony—selling powerful church offices to the highest bidder. Bishops and priests engaged in absenteeism, receiving a full salary but never showing up to minister to the people. Immorality was disgustingly common, most notoriously Pope Alexander VI (1431 – 1503), who had ten illegitimate children. Then there was the greed and materialism: Acquiring lots of lands and then renting it out at high prices, charging fees for confession, baptism, and indulgences.

Luther was incensed when he saw Johann Tetzel peddling indulgences. Tetzel traveled around the Holy Roman Empire selling indulgences to knock years off purgatory for dead relatives. The effect was that uneducated peasants thought they were purchasing salvation for their dearly departed. The real intention of indulgences, however, was to raise money for more church building projects. Tetzel’s sales jingle illustrates the absurdity of it all, “As soon as the coin in the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs.” In Luther’s ninety-five theses, he puts indulgences in his cross-hairs. Thesis #27, “There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of purgatory immediately when the money clinks in the bottom of the chest.” Thesis #32, “All those who believe themselves certain of their own salvation by means of letters of indulgence, will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.”

Declared Right with God by Faith in Christ Alone

Justification deals not just with the question of how can people be right with God, but how can sinful people be right with a holy God? Psalm 130:3 frames the problem this way, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” The answer: Apart from Christ, no one could stand no matter how many indulgences are purchased.

Romans 3:23-26 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

And so it is that justification by faith is where God declares a believer just because the righteousness of Christ is counted to their account. Faith is the instrument by which Christ’s perfect righteousness is counted to sinners. People don’t earn God’s forgiveness. Christ earned it for them. It is the doctrine of sola fide, justification by faith alone in Christ alone, which remains as the central affirmation of the Reformation.


Jason Cherry is a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

The Reformation: What is it?

This is the first of a three part series. Click here to read part two. Click here to read part three.

The Story

It is Wednesday, October 31, 1517. Just eleven years earlier the world saw Leonardo da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa. In the little town of Wittenberg, Germany Martin Luther is about to make history. Luther is an Augustinian Monk who teaches at the local university. As he looks over the city’s preparations for All Saints Day, Luther knows something no one else does: Justification (i.e. becoming right with God) comes by grace, through faith in Christ, not by works. The next day hundreds of people will line up to pay money to see a collection of religious relics. The Roman Catholic Church had taught the people that viewing the relics earned them an official indulgence that would pardon their sins. During the Medieval Period, the Roman Catholic church no longer based their teachings upon the Bible alone.

Not knowing the revolution he is about to start, Luther nails a rolled-up piece of paper on the door of All Saint’s Church. Intending to start a debate among scholars about the practice of selling indulgences, Luther has no idea that one day his actions will cause many to change the name of “All Hallows Eve” to Reformation Day. On this piece of paper, Luther has written ninety-five theses that critique the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. If you are Protestant, this is your story. 

The Others

Luther is not alone in starting the Protestant Reformation. Others came before him speaking with boldness against the heretical practices of the Catholic Church. In the late 14th Century, there was Oxford scholar John Wycliffe who courageously spoke out against the destruction of the gospel by the Catholic Church. In 1415 John Hus was burned at the stake for insisting that people be allowed to read the Bible in their native language. Before being burned at the stake Hus said, “My Lord Jesus Christ was bound with a harder chain than this one for my sake, so why should I be ashamed of this rusty chain?”  Nevertheless, October 31, 1517, is still the day we celebrate as the day the gospel was rescued and the truth of Christ’s free grace was liberated.

The Protestant Tradition

To be Protestant is to inherit Reformational truth. In the year 2020, over 500 years after Luther started the Protestant Reformation, the American church sees denominations piled on top of denominations, not to mention church associations, church networks, and para-church groups. The reason there are so many bizarre forms of Christianity is because of discontinuity of what it means to be Christian historically.

To speak of recovering the past in our present-day is a dangerous business. Be prepared to receive aspersions: Antiquated, irrelevant, unpractical, backward-thinking. Such aspersions in the church are often the conflation of tradition and traditionalism. Jaroslav Pelikan nuanced the difference, “Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition is the living faith of the dead . . . And it is traditionalism that has given tradition such a bad name.”

The Ultimate Cause of the Reformation

“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” Luther’s words before the Diet of Worms in 1521 clarify the formal cause of the Reformation, namely, to restore biblical authority (sola Scriptura). The Bible has sole authority in the life, faith, and practice of Christians. Not the Pope, but God, through his Word. Not Scripture plus tradition, but God, through his divinely inspired Word alone. So, what is the Reformation? In part, it is an attempt to restore the authority of God’s Word. Salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture alone, unto the glory of God alone. This is the tradition we have inherited. This is the tradition the church needs to recover.


The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities by Jaroslav Pelikan

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton

Jason Cherry is a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

What if Christians taught the Christian Creed?

G.K. Chesterton once said that “the educationist must find a creed and teach it.” It only makes sense that Christians should be committed to teaching the Christian creed. The creed is a declaration, but more than that, it is an argument that what we believe is true and anything to the contrary is wrong.

For Christians to believe a creed is to be convinced of an argument. And since an argument involves multiple parties, believing a creed is a contest that says one creed is better than another. Everyone must decide between the faith of Paul or the faith of Darwin; the faith of Augustine or the faith of Marx.

The goal of the preaching and teaching ministry at Trinity Reformed Church is to find the Christian creed and teach it. This is a decidedly polemical activity. The goal is not that church members can go to work, dressed all business casual, and win an argument in the board room. The goal is that they see the Christian creed as truer and more beautiful than the secular creed.

Among the masses there is a movement—call it a creed—that wants to dispense with definite religious convictions. Emotions are creed enough, they say. Feeling a certain way is creed enough, they say. The absence of conviction gives the mind freedom, they say. It is the church’s affable agreement with this creed that is accountable for its decline in public influence.

There is much talk of civility today. For most, that means retreating from the Christian creed into the abyss of, “But, I feel . . .” With a stiffened spine the church must remember that the only way to respect another’s creed is to have one of their own.


Jason Cherry is a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

What is it? Explaining the Gist of Good Preaching

It is hard to swiftly and accurately explain what makes for good preaching. So, for now, it is enough to say a few brief things about it that will push Christians toward an obedient intolerance of the contemporary, trans-denominational preaching that Christians endure today. Here are four ways of explaining the gist of good, God-honoring preaching.

1. When preaching to the choir

When preaching to the people of God, the preacher ought to give more insight into what God’s people already know. This requires depth and precision. The only person in the church required to be more precise than the choir is the person who instructs the choir. The only person in the church required to be more spiritually, morally, and theologically mature than the deacons, is the person who instructs the deacons. This requires the preacher to creatively state old ideas. It also requires the preacher to teach all that Jesus commanded. Beware of the so-called “Gospel-centered preacher” who says that preaching all that Jesus commanded is crabbed, legalistic tyranny from the black pages of Satan’s diary.

2. When preaching to the guy who checks his phone every 8 seconds

Jesus told parables “so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, let they should turn and be forgiven’” (Mark 4:12). Maybe you can tell that the underlines were my addition. But the words underlined were not. Jesus told parables to hinder perception; to hinder understanding. He had his inscrutable reasons. Modern preachers must be careful of what they imitate, and when they are sporting skinny jeans, they need to be extra careful of every utterance. Illustrations aren’t the problem. John Stott says, “Illustrations transform the abstract into the concrete, the ancient into the present, the unfamiliar into the familiar, the general into the particular, the vague into the precise, the unreal into the real, and the invisible into the visible.”* The problem is that modern preacher-stories rarely illustrate. When the Apostles wish to illustrate, they use short metaphors and examples, not long stories. The guy in the pew who checks his phone every eight seconds needs something that has the power to snap him out of the haze of virtual reality. He needs to hear a contrarian to the main movement of the secular age. He needs the word of God preached skillfully (Acts 14:1). This is the ordinary way God works (Titus 1:9; Rom. 10:10-18). When the text is passionate, Mr. Phone-Addict needs the words of the preacher to be passionate. When the text is grave, he needs the words of the preacher to be grave. When the text is hopeful, he needs the preacher to be hopeful. He doesn’t need another story about the preachers’ kids any more than he needs another reference to the preacher’s favorite Hollywood movie.

3. When preaching to the religious know-it-all

Does the sermon have integrity to the Scriptures (Acts 20:27; 2 Tim. 4:2)? Is the sermon content derived from the announced text of Scripture? Did the sermon content give a faithful representation of the passage preached from? Was it the right doctrine from the right passage? One of the newfangled ways to evaluate a sermon is to ask, “Does it have Gospel hope?” This sounds good. Who opposes Gospel hope? But when the text of Scripture is set aside to give hope, the result is that the spirit of the Gospel is preached rather than the Gospel itself. The person who has rejected Christ must leave feeling hopeless. The unrepentant Pharisee must walk away from the sermon uncomfortable. He must listen to how Paul ended his first letter to the Corinthians, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” Gospel hope is faithful when it is announced from Scripture. But take heed, the Gospel preached from Scripture is filled with the very sort of warnings the humbug pretender needs. When talking to Pharisees, Jesus was not what might be described as tactful.

4. When preaching to the rebel

If a man sitting in the back row is in outright rebellion against his Creator, the central task of the preacher is to give offense. This means preaching towards the conviction of sin. This is why the flighty sermon that prioritizes humor always fails. A sermon should be serious, not in that the preacher takes himself too seriously, but in that he shows the weight and gravity of the truth of the Living God. When people leave Sunday services, they commence their critique of the preacher. They shouldn’t say, “What an authentic and humble man the preacher is.” They should be able to say “That preacher had authority, not as the scribes.” Robert Farrar Capon said it’s better for a preacher to be charged with arrogance than with being a doormat. This is why a sermon should have a bare minimum of personal references. Such references may pretend of authenticity. In truth, they have marginalized the sense of the sacred.


Jason Cherry is a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

*John Stott, The Challenge of Preaching, p. 63

John Calvin and the American Republic

The Imaginative Conservative featured an article from our own Matt Carpenter – check it out at the link below!

The wisdom of men like John Calvin, who taught that original sin sometimes necessitated resisting tyrants and limiting the power of civil government, was understood by the Founders of the United States. Drawing on the wisdom of Calvin and others, they were prepared when the time came to resist British overreach. In time they founded a new government that would limit sinful men from arbitrarily exercising power at will.

For this John Calvin and our Founding Fathers deserve our gratitude.”https://theimaginativeconservative.org/…/john-calvin…


Matthew Carpenter is a high school history teacher, having taught American history, American government, world history, and economics. He graduated from Jacksonville State University with a B.S. in Secondary Education (concentration in history), and from the University of Alabama with an M.A. in Educational Leadership. Mr. Carpenter has also served as a pastor and associate pastor.

Too Happy with the World

Today’s typical evangelical has too much of Christ to be happy in the world and too much of the world to be happy in Christ. Of all the situational causes of anxiety, this might be at the top of the list for evangelicals.

By going to church they hear the name of Jesus Christ, they hear words like justice and love, and perhaps they even hear the occasional mention of a bloody cross. They’ve got a notion that this bread should fill them, that this wine should intoxicate them, that this gospel should satisfy them. Yet emptiness prevails.

By going to the world for endless pornography, news, and entertainment, they hear the language of vague and indefinite spirituality, they hear words like equity and privilege, and they even hear the occasional mention of a superhero sacrificing himself for the sake of Gotham. They’ve got a notion that the world is sinful, that its bread shouldn’t fill them, that its wine shouldn’t intoxicate them, that its promise of utopia shouldn’t appeal to them. Yet when it does, they begin to see no good in anything not of this world and no happiness in anything except in this world.

This is why Jesus warned,

“Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34ff).

Anxiety often comes when we’ve got too much of this world to be happy in Christ; when we live in this world as if we are never going to die. And so we follow the stock market, or our sports team, or current events, or politics as if the earth is our final abode.

The solution isn’t to unfollow these things. The solution is to follow the stock market, the sports team, and the Presidential election with the surety that eternity with Christ is our final destiny. Sin can’t drive out sin; only righteousness can do that. Worldliness can’t overcome the world, only Christ can do that (Jn. 16:33). The half and half religious experiment is a failure, as Faithful and Christian learned when they were put on trial in the town of Vanity. John Bunyan concluded this, “Christianity and the customs of our town of Vanity, were diametrically opposite, and cannot be reconciled.”


Jason Cherry is a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

Why Church Membership?

Church membership is out of fashion today. Sometimes this is for understandable reasons—previously living under incompetent or abusive church leadership. Sometimes this is for less understandable reasons—”I can do it better on my own.” In either case, it is now necessary to make a biblical case for church membership. Why should Christians be members of a local church? And more importantly, does the Bible have anything to say on the subject?

Let’s briefly consider three passages that speak to the issue of church membership.

1. Matthew 18:15-20, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Notice in verse 17 that after the sinful brother has refused you, and after he has refused the evidence of two or three witnesses, then “tell it to the church.” There is a body of people who have been called out by God living under the authority of leaders who have the authority to bind and loose. This is a description of a local church. You can’t “tell it to the church” if there is no localized representation of the church to which you belong. The way to obey Jesus’ teaching regarding the sinful brother is to be a member of a local church.

2. Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Some might think they can attend one church or another on any given Sunday, and in so doing fulfill the command to “meet together.” Or perhaps they worship in their living room on Sunday morning, with no one but their own family and a few friends. The problem is that verse 25 implies something significantly more familiar than church-hopping or the modern house church movement. It becomes significantly harder to “stir up one another to love and good works” and to encourage “one another” if you are not committed to a local church that is under the lawful authority of a plurality of elders. These verses are a description of a local church. And that local church wouldn’t exist apart from members (As an aside, the reason the church uses the word “member” is that 1 Cor. 12.12-31 uses the word “member” in saying that Christians are members of the body of Christ).

3. Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

This passage describes the role of the people and the “leaders.” The people are told to obey and submit to the leaders. Without membership at a local church, there is no one to obey and submit to. The “leaders” are told to “watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” This is an eternally weighty task. “Leaders” need to know exactly who it is they will have to give an account for. This involves counting those souls who are under their care.

There is something else that is going on in the anti-membership trend. Many Christians who are disillusioned with the church, sometimes for legitimate reasons and sometimes not, resist membership because they don’t wish to submit to someone outside of themselves. In this way, their lives look more like the secular culture around them than like the pattern prescribed by God. The unbelieving world lives with a crisis of authority, and this crisis spills into the church prominently when professing believers refuse to submit to any spiritual authority outside of themselves.

Church membership is more than putting your name on a list. It is more than just showing up at the same church most every Sunday. Church membership is a commitment that says you are committed to a local body of believers, a group of people who submit themselves to the preaching of the Word, who participate in the sacraments Jesus gave to his church, and a people who together obey the “one another” commands.

It is for these reasons that every responsible Christian should venture to be a member of a local church.


Jason Cherry is a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

25 Theses on why we use a book of old confessions

At Trinity Reformed Church we use a “Book of Confessions” to state what we believe the Scriptures to teach. While we have provided a bullet pointed summary of some key confessional elements here, we lament the fact that many churches today reject confessions, choosing rather a list of reductionist aphorisms, usually tucked safely out of the way somewhere on the website.  In our Book of Confessions, we define and position ourselves as a “Reformed catholic” congregation, which means that we uphold the distinctives of the Reformation while seeking unity with all Christians who fall within the parameters of the ecumenical creeds of antiquity (i.e. “orthodoxy”). Our Book of Confessions is not intended to be comprehensive. Yet, our collection aligns us with the church historic. Here are some of the confessions we subscribe to:

The Apostles’ Creed (ca. 200)
The Athanasian Creed (ca. 361)
The Nicene Creed (325; revised, 381)
Definition of Chalcedon (451)

The Thirty Nine Articles (1562)
The Three Forms of Unity (including The Belgic Confession [1561], The Heidelberg Catechism
[1563], The Canons of Dort [1619])
The Westminster Standards (including the Confession of Faith and [1646] the Shorter and Larger
Catechisms [1647]; American revision [1789]) (The WCF is our primary confessional document, the tie-breaker and the standard for doctrinally examining elders)

We view tradition as the proper way of respecting the work and heritage of the Holy Spirit in previous generations. In that light, here are twenty-five theses on why we use a book of old confessions.

  1. In striving to understand Scripture, the church ought to look first to our ancestors of the faith, those who gave us what Stephen Sykes calls “the public doctrinal inheritance of the Christian tradition.”
  2. If the church is to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3), and if the church is going to stand against all distortions of the gospel (Col. 2:8-10; 1 Tim. 1:3), the church must know what it believes.
  3. Since Christianity is a particular way of looking at the world, we need a particular confession.
  4. When theology dies, wisdom dies.
  5. Without a confession, God’s people are cut loose to graze in other pastures.
  6. Rather than hiding what we believe in fear of offending those who disagree, we wish to declare those things we believe since we are not ashamed of them (Mt. 10:32f; Rom. 1:16).
  7. Without a confession, evangelicals cannot meaningfully speak of themselves as historic Protestants.
  8. The surest way to deliver the facts about Christ is to make plain factual statements about Christ.
  9. Despite the nostrums of psychotherapy, the Christian faith is as much a public religion as it is a private one. Thus, public declarations are required (1 Cor. 15:3-7).
  10. The apostles framed Christian faith in doctrinal terms, adamantly insisting it be preserved (1 Tim. 1:10; Titus 1:9; Jude 3). It is a mistake to assume we can do better than they.
  11. Confessing the mystery of godliness in a confessional form (1 Tim. 3:16) helps us to “hold fast to the pattern of sound words” written in Scripture (2 Tim. 1:13).
  12. Without a confession of faith elder candidates cannot be examined to see if they make “the good confession” (1 Tim. 6:12).
  13. The Bible is a difficult book to understand. Confessions provide a broad interpretive framework for Scripture.
  14. Since the current trend is that of pastors embodying all that secular culture admires, the twenty-first century is no time to label confessions as “outdated.”
  15. Without a confession, there would be nothing to “hold fast” to (Heb. 4:14, 10:23, 13:15).
  16. William Butler Yeats was right: when things fall apart the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity. The church needs a theological center to return to with conviction and passion.
  17. Not all creeds and confessions are created equal. Since confessions are secondary to Scripture, it is important to distinguish between the good ones that ought to be followed and the bad ones that need to be unfollowed.  
  18. You don’t understand the Bible unless you can summarize it.
  19. Catechisms can’t exist without confessions and children are always catechized by something. Shouldn’t it be the church’s confession rather than the world’s?
  20. The creed, “We have no creed but Christ” is flavorless gruel.
  21. Anti-creedalism possesses pride that matches the slogan-less slogan of “I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12).
  22. Hollow theology produces hollow living.
  23. There should always be lots of room for truth claims in the church (1 Tim. 3:15).
  24. How can we maintain the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3) if we don’t know what to unite around?
  25. Loyalty ought not to be blind.

Jason Cherry is a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.

Evangelicalism: A Diagnostic Exam

There is a submerged bronze statue of Jesus Christ seventeen meters deep in the Mediterranean Sea. Unbeknownst to its creator, Guido Galletti, the statue, Christ of the Abyss, is an allegory for the present-day church, which too is submerged differently, under a sea of historical ignorance bred by theological indifference. When it comes to church members, they know very little, if anything at all, about the history and theology of the church. This is often not their fault. They eat what is put before them. The very things they haven’t been taught are the very things needed to create a faithful and healthy church.

Generally speaking, the modern-day church has never really understood what the church is about. They read little of the Bible, uncomfortably claiming it is divinely inspired while giving preference to Netflix. And they have certainly read little of the Christian classics: Augustine’s Confessions, Athanasius’s The Incarnation of the Word, Calvin’s Institutes, Luther’s Bondage of the Will, Edward’s Freedom of the Will, Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Jesus Christ, not to mention Hodge, Warfield, Machen, Chesterton, or Lewis. They do not know its history: the two hundred plus years of persecution at the hands of Roman Emperors, Constantine, the rise of the Roman Catholic Church, Scholasticism, the Reformation, Puritanism, The First Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening, and the profound difference between the two.

The average member of the average evangelical church in the average town is simply unable to enter into an intelligent conversation about what Christianity is and what a Christian is.

A corollary to this is often a profound misunderstanding of what the Christian Worldview should think about justice, law, war, welfare, history, economics, or stem cell research. To fill this void, church members often superimpose their political preferences as a placeholder (or worse, a substitute) for a Christian Worldview. They have lost the whole idea of being the church in the first place, of thinking and feeling Christianly.

Another corollary: If the Christians of the twentieth century were too buttoned-up, formulaic and governed by traditions of their own making, the Christians of the twenty-first century have overreacted and become too casual, governed by pugnacity toward tradition and holding firm on one law, namely, their life will follow no laws. As such, the modern-day church has little clue of the worshipful-instructional value that something like liturgy provides. Quoting the Apostles Creed doesn’t go well with the kick drum. And so the urgent question becomes, do twenty-first-century Christians possess enough Christian truth to form a worldview that can self-correct when it overreacts?

We wish to have a church that stands on the authority of Scripture, respects the history of the church, and thereby isn’t tossed by every wind of doctrine or the latest whim of cultural opinion.

First Corinthians 14:8 says “If the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” A bugle is used to call troops into battle position. But the signal will not be understood unless the bugle gives a distinct sound. Paul’s narrow point is that whatever takes place in public worship should be clear and intelligible. The broader point of the trumpet call in Scripture (Num. 10:9; Job 39:25; Judges 7:16-18) is that the Christian church is in danger when its trumpets give off the same sound as the enemy. Could it be that the Christian church is overrun with secularism because they aren’t ready for battle? And could it be that they aren’t ready for battle because the Christian trumpets give off an indistinct sound from the sounds of the world?

In response, we say, as does Nehemiah 4:20, “In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”


Jason Cherry is a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.