The Reformation TULIP

As someone who appreciates and values the contributions of both Martin Luther and John Calvin, I am dumbfounded at how many Lutherans and Presbyterians there are who are arrogant towards the respective ‘leading men’ of the others’ church. I have seen Lutheran’s who despise Calvin as a reformation piggyback and look down on him as a jealous older brother looks down on a younger brother as a threat. I have also seen Presbyterians who look down on Luther as someone who hails from the slums and thinks it was Calvin who started the reformation. Both of these positions reveal a deep ignorance and a theological ineptness that flies in the face of anyone who has any regard for the historical Protestant gospel. It’s not a competition! Both men had their weaknesses and failures—and their invaluable contribution. In many ways we should see Luther and Calvin as apostles of the Reformation, as a Peter and Paul—yet no one in their right mind would discount the often rash Peter in favour of the more systematic Paul, nor look down on Paul in support of Peter (unless of course you are a theological liberal). Although Luther and Calvin  were not inerrant as Peter and Paul were in their writings. All this to say, we need to understand that both Luther and Calvin have played pivotal roles in the Protestant Reformation and have contributed wonderfully to rediscovering the gospel and, therefore, in reforming the church.

With this in mind I have sought to capture our indebtedness to both men. Both Luther and Calvin had symbols associated with their names. Luther had a cross on a heart situated on a rose and Calvin had the symbol of a heart being offered up with a hand. 

Luther’s Rose
Calvin’s Seal

These symbols represented them and their respective theologies to a degree, or at least an aspect of it, but they also came to function as their seal. Given both these men have much to offer us today, I have taken some liberty in seeking to bring elements of both their symbols together in order to  remind us of the importance of both men and the same gospel that they preached.

The Reformation Tulip

First, note the BLACK heart. This reminds us of the dead and decaying heart that we, as heirs of Adam, are born with, as a result of sin. It is dead in sin and does not beat for God, rather, it hates God and beats for evil. It reminds us that—before Christ—every area of our life is depraved and is unapologetically opposed to God—continually choosing what is right in our own eyes and delighting in fulfilling our own wicked will. With a heart like this, it also reminds us that if we can ever have hope to be saved from it, salvation must come through grace irresistible—an external work of a saviour who intervenes—because a heart like this does not have any ability to turn towards good but flees as far as it can away from good. A dead and decaying heart has a will which is gladly in bondage to sin. 

Second, note the RED cross. This reminds us that the work of the cross alone is the only work that can bring life to our dead hearts. The cross is red to remind us of the incredible cost that was paid to bring our heart to life: the shed blood of Jesus in our place—as our perfect and sinless substitute. His heart stopped beating so that the hearts of His people—those unconditionally elected in Him before the foundation of the world—could start beating. This atonement is limited to His beloved elect, but not limited in its beauty, wonder, power and effectiveness as we come to Him by faith alone. It also reminds us that it is through Scripture alone where we find God—hidden in the cross and suffering—something that is offensive to the folly of our own wisdom and philosophy.

Third, note the initials ‘I’ and ‘C’ on the cross. This reminds us of the person who died on the cross, the person who was sent to save. The ‘I’ and ‘C’ on the cross reminds us that it is Jesus Christ (Iesus Christus) who died in our place, not any other man on earth, nor theologian, nor pastor, nor pope, nor priest—but Christ alone. As we trust in the person and work of Christ alone we receive the forgiveness of sin, the righteousness of Christ, and the Spirit of God as the guarantor of life eternal; and therefore, we find in Him our sure hope as saints to persevere—as He preserves us! A black heart can only pump out filth, a reminder that never was there ever done, in the history of the world, a work by sinful man that could count as a good work before Christ. This is why it depends on grace alone because if we were able to work a righteous work, Christ is relegated to a mere colleague and aid rather than the one who has done all the work required for our salvation, and this, at his instigation—not ours. It also means that the more work Christ has done the more glory God deserves. If Christ has done everything, then all the glory goes to God alone. If we believe we can contribute even the smallest amount to our salvation we are taking Christ off the cross and taking the punishment and glory for ourselves. Tearing even the smallest amount of glory away from God—through ‘good’ works, ‘free’ will and human ‘wisdom’ is not safe—just ask Herod. Only Christ was nailed to that cross (I C)—let the reader understand. 

Fourth, note that the flower is a TULIP. This reminds us of the Reformed doctrines of grace that have been articulated in opposition the five points of the Arminians: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited (or definite) Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance (or better, Preservation) of the Saints. The very fact they are called the ‘doctrines of grace’ should remind us that the intent of these doctrines are to ensure that the work of God in salvation remains the work of God in salvation, that the gift of God remains the gift of God, that grace truly remains grace. The acronym of these doctrines can be found in lighter shade on each petal of the Tulip to remind us that these ‘doctrines of grace’ are the backbone to the gospel, without which we have no gospel, without which the person and work of Christ makes no sense and has no effectiveness. We are also reminded by their low key position that when first coming to faith we may not be able to articulate these truths, they are nonetheless, the very truths working in the background saving the elect children of God.

Fifth, note that the tulip is a WHITE tulip. This reminds us of God’s work of regeneration, justification and sanctification etc, that washes our hearts as white as snow, cleaning them from the filth and blackness of sin—through the cross. It also reminds us of the hope that we have in the next life when our sanctification will finally be complete. Moreover, on these white petals rest more visibly the ‘Solas of the Reformation’ which were also crucial to understanding the person and work of Jesus Christ correctly over and against the man centred gospel of the Roman Catholic Church: Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura and Soli Deo Gloria. Yet, one more has been added to the tulip: Crux Sola, because we wish to recognise what Luther called the ‘theology of the cross’. Man understood what he wanted to about God and then he saw that reality to be true. What the theology of the cross reminds us to do is to look and see what God is like through the cross and then understand! This is an important epistemological factor which governs where true wisdom and the true God are found—in the weakness of the cross and not in the strength of human wisdom or philosophy. Finally, the tulip, not being of exact and equal proportions, also reminds us that while we are weak and we are all different, it is the same gospel, the same message and the same Saviour that lived for us, died for us, was raised for us and now reigns for us. We thus live in the place of great expectation and hopeful anticipation of our saviour’s return as we live by faith in this broken world.

Sixth, note the LOCATION of the heart. This reminds us of who is working on our heart, changing our heart and sustaining our heart. The heart is located in the centre of an open tulip where sits securely cupped and upheld by the petals of the tulip. This reminds us that salvation as summarised by the doctrines of grace and the five solas are the work of God from first to last. All we bring to the table is the black heart. God’s work of salvation is the work which saves—not our own. He alone holds us up, He alone holds us secure and He alone holds us safe in His arms from now—and for all eternity.  The tulip is also surrounded by the colour red depicting that even as redeemed and ‘righteous sinners’ we still live in an evil and fallen world. This red is the same red that colours the cross to remind us that at the cross God used evil against itself in order achieve the greatest good the world has even known. Thus, in Luther’s words, we understand that death was killed by death, punishment by punishment, sufferings by suffering and disgrace by disgrace. 

Soli Dei Gloria

Amen.

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