A Great Cloud of Witnesses

A Service for Reformation Sunday

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted ninety-five theses on the church door at Wittenberg—an action that helped to spark the Protestant Reformation. Protestants of various backgrounds commemorate this act on the Sunday closest to Reformation Day (October 31) each year. In fact, all believers are indebted to the Reformers’ courageous stand for the purity of the gospel over against virtually all the civil and ecclesiastical forces of their day, armed only with an unshakable confidence in God and his Word. Many were persecuted; some paid with their lives.

It is fitting to honor these heroes of the faith, for by so doing we bring a greater honor to the God who was “their rock, their fortress and their might” (“For All the Saints”).

The non-Scripture texts used in the service below are from a brochure published by Beeson Divinity School of Samford University for their Reformation Heritage Lectures series, and are used by permission. Beeson Divinity School is under the leadership of Dr. Timothy George and can be contacted at www.beesondivinity.com.

Prelude

Call to Remembrance
“O most holy Christ, draw me, weak as I am, after yourself, for if you do not draw us we cannot follow you. Strengthen my spirit, that it may be willing. If the flesh is weak, let your grace precede us; come between and follow, for without you we cannot go for your sake to cruel death. Give me a fearless heart, a right faith, a firm hope, a perfect love, that for your sake I may lay down my life with patience and joy. Amen.”

—Czech reformer Jan Hus, in a letter sent before being burned at the stake July 6, 1415

Hymn of Remembrance: “For All the Saints” CH 767, PsH 505, PH 526, SFL 195, TH 358

Words of Remembrance
The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century was a tremendous movement of spiritual and ecclesiastical renewal that called the church back to its biblical and evangelical roots. As heirs of this great tradition, we own afresh the principles for which our forebears in the faith struggled, and by which they lived and died.

Sola Gratia—by Grace Alone

The true purpose of human life is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. This purpose can be achieved only through God’s unmerited favor, freely bestowed by God through Jesus Christ, who is the only way of salvation for all peoples everywhere. As heralds of God’s gracious love, we are called to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ throughout all the world. (Westminster Catechism, Q&A 1)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Rom. 3:23-24)

Song of Response: “My Lord, I Did Not Choose You” PsH 496, TH 471

Sola Fide—by Faith Alone

We respond to God’s initiative in salvation through personal trust in the Redeemer. We are made right with God by faith alone, which means that we belong—body and soul, in life and in death, not to ourselves but to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who has fully paid for all our sins and makes us wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him. (adapted from Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1)

Know that a person is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Gal. 2:16)

Song of Response: “By Grace We Have Been Saved” SNT 181
“For Freedom, Christ Has Set Us Free” SNT 174
“Give Thanks to God, the Father” PsH 225, SNT 180

Sola Scriptura—The Scriptures Alone

God is once and for all revealed to us through the words of Scripture. The Bible is the supreme standard by which all human conduct and opinion should be tried.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Song of Response: “O Word of God Incarnate” PsH 279, CH 414, PH 327, TH 140
“Keep What You Have Believed” SNT 213

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Heb. 12:1-2)

Hymn of Response: “The Solid Rock” CH 526, PH 379, TH 521/522
“We’ve Come This Far by Faith” PsH 567
“Surrounded by So Great a Cloud of Witnesses” SNT 223

Choral Reflection: “We Are Surrounded” (J. Williams/J. Martin, Harold Flammer/Shawnee A 7137; see sidebar for other anthem suggestions.)

Reading: “Last and Dying Testimony”
“I bid farewell to all my dear fellow-sufferers for the testimony of Jesus, who are wandering in dens and caves. Farewell, my children; study holiness in all your ways, and praise the Lord for what He hath done for me, and tell all my Christian friends to praise Him on my account. Farewell, sweet Bible, and wanderings and contendings for truth. Welcome, death. Welcome, the City of my God where I shall see Him and be enabled to serve Him eternally with full freedom. Welcome, blessed company, the angels and spirits of just men made perfect. But above all, welcome, welcome, welcome, our glorious and alone God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Into Thy hands I commit my spirit, for Thou art worthy. Amen.”
—John Nisbet, Scottish Covenanter, 1685; quoted in Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., A Passion for God: Prayers and Meditations on the Book of Romans, Crossway Books, 1994, 122.

Words of Response: Psalm 46:1-3, 10-11
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Hymn of Response: “A Mighty Fortress” CH 151

Sermon: “God’s Truth Abideth Still” (Hebrews 13:5b-8)
“My conscience is captive to the word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.” —Martin Luther

    1. Remembering Those Who Led Us (13:7)
    2. Realizing the Source of Their Strength (13:5b-6, 8)
    3. Rejoicing in Their Legacy

Closing Hymn: “For All the Saints Who Showed Your Love” SNC 195
“For All the Saints” PsH 505, CH 767, PH 526, SFL 195, TH 358

Benediction
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. . . . To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Heb. 13:7; Jude 24-25)

Excerpt

Some Anthem Suggestions

  • “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” (Martin Luther/arr. J. Engle; Concordia 98-2816)
  • “Here We Stand” (Ken Bible/Tom Fettke; Allegis AG-1003)
  • “His Word Will Stand” (N. Borop & D. Liles/arr. J. Lee; Word 3010491166)
  • “I Will Serve the Lord” (Jon Mohr & Randall Dennis; Sparrow 6102/Brentwood)
  • “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (concertato setting by Donald Busarow; Morning Star MSM-60-800)
  • “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (arr. James Denton; Lorenz BC-21)
  • “Psalm 46” (John Ness Beck; Beckenhorst BP1153)
  • “Who Now Would Follow Christ” (Lee Dengler; Lorenz E 268-3)

Ron Man serves as pastor of worship/missionary in residence at First Evangelical Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He often teaches overseas about worship under the auspices of Worship Resources International (worr.org).