What was the reformation about? If you were asked that question by a church member, you would likely point to the five solas. You would say that the reformation was about recovering the right understanding of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. You would say that this is to the glory of God alone. And, of course, you and I would tell anyone who would listen to us that the authority of Scripture alone is at the center of the reformation cause.
But is there more? How would the reformers have spoken of the purpose behind the reformation? What would they have said was at the center of their work, a work that we now celebrate as vital to the preservation of the church and the true gospel?
In 1543, John Calvin wrote a work entitled, “On the Necessity of Reforming the Church.” In that beautiful defense of the need for reformation addressed to Emperor Charles V, Calvin points to more than the doctrines of Scripture and of salvation as key to the heart behind the reformation. Yes, he highlights a recovery of the doctrine of God’s grace. But he sets right beside that glorious doctrine the recovery of biblical, God-honoring worship. Calvin writes:
If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence amongst us and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity, viz., a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly of the source from which salvation is to be obtained.
If any one is desirous of a clearer and more familiar illustration, I would say, that rule in the Church, the pastoral office, and all other matters of order, resemble the body, whereas the doctrine which regulates the due worship of God, and points out the ground on which the consciences of men must rest their hope of salvation, is the soul which animates the body, renders it lively and active, and, in short, makes it not to be a dead and useless carcass.*
* John Calvin, On the Necessity of Reforming the Church (1543-44) [book on-line]; accessed 14 October 2017; available from https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/calvin_necessityreform.html; Internet.