John Calvin and Church Revitalization: Missions and Evangelism

By Terry Delaney

Perhaps most essential to church revitalization is an outward focus of the local church. That is, missions and evangelism are of the utmost importance for the kingdom of God to grow. John Calvin, the theologian and pastor of the church in Geneva, Switzerland near the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, understood this and often emphasized the importance of evangelism and missions in his commentaries. The following are a few reasons he offers regarding why missions and evangelism are important to the local church:

  • We are commanded to proclaim the gospel by Jesus Christ. Calvin comments on Matthew 28:18-20 that “by proclaiming the gospel everywhere, they should bring all nations to the obedience of the faith.”[1]
  • It is our duty unto God as those who have been redeemed by the blood. In his observation on Isaiah 12:5, he writes, “it is our duty to proclaim the goodness of God to every nation.”[2]
  • It is our duty as sinners who have been saved by the same gospel that the unregenerate need. “God cannot be sincerely called upon by others than those to whom, through the preaching of the gospel, his kindness and gentle dealing have become known.”[3]

Calvin firmly believed that the salvation of sinners was fully God’s work while proclaiming the gospel freely to all remained our responsibility. Much of his concern for the local church pastor was to encourage and exhort everyone to share the gospel. Sadly, this is lost in the context of the Reformation as much of the writings and sermons of Calvin were often steeped in teaching against the Roman Catholic Church. A quick perusal of any of Calvin’s writings, however, and the reader will readily see how the heartbeat of his ministry was proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Though many today view evangelism as a ministry largely external to the church, that is, it must either be programmatic or intrinsic in the life of the Christian; Calvin believed that the preaching of the Word of God was by its very nature evangelistic.[4] As we shall see later, Calvin’s view of the pastoral ministry was that the men called of God to preach and teach are to not only equip the saints in the local congregation, but also live out the example in which he is exhorting them through his preaching. In other words, do as I say and as I do, should be the mantra of the pastor.

To this end, Calvin was known for his letter writing and defense of the faith, but is little known for his zeal for missions. In an article on the National Founders Ministry website, Ray Van Neste shares, “the best evidence of Calvin’s concern for missions is the mission activity of the Genevan church under his leadership.”[5]

A word must be written regarding the limitations in which the Genevan government placed on Calvin and the Protestants. When he wrote the Ecclesiastical Ordinances, he “prescribed a Christian commonwealth in which the religious and civil authorities exercised jurisdiction over distinct, yet overlapping, spheres and were expected to cooperate with and assist one another.” Furthermore, in giving the state this power, they were “responsible for protecting the church.”[6] As with most governing authority, the church is eventually throttled back on making those dangerous decisions that place the citizens of said government in harm’s way. A mission to the New World was obviously one of those dangers that the government deemed too dangerous.

While many may claim Calvin himself did not go to the mission field, it cannot be said that he was not missional. In Geneva, the pastor would preach every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Calvin also made it a point to offer some form of instruction around three in the afternoon in addition to his daily regimen of preaching, sermon preparation, teaching, writing, and researching. Additionally, “Calvin’s first major hurdle in Geneva was the clergy, many of whom were woefully inadequate to fulfil the roles envisaged in the Ordinances.”[7] In other words, John Calvin saw that his primary task as a leader was to equip the pastors in order to reach more people with his teaching.

The point is that while we are called to the Great Commission, the imperative verb in Matthew 28:19 is not “go” (Greek, πορευθέντες). Rather, it is “make disciples” (μαθητεύσατε). Understanding the Great Commission as one of disciple making kills any argument that John Calvin was not about the Kingdom of God or missions as he spent much of his time in Geneva making disciples of the pastors!

Finally, as an evidence for Calvin’s commitment to missions and evangelism, his comments on 2 Corinthians 2:12 bear consideration for his understanding of the importance of proclaiming the gospel to the nations, specifically, through the local church. Here, it is of his opinion that Paul rearranged his entire schedule because delay was more profitable for the Corinthians.[8]

Though much more could be said regarding Calvin’s zeal for missions and evangelism through the local church, it is abundantly clear that he held to their necessity as the means by which the sinner comes to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. This is arguably one of the three key elements of church revitalization not only for the local church today but also for the local church at any point in the history of Christianity. While Calvin’s context demanded the spread of the five key principles of the Reformation (Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Christus, Sola Scriptura) over against the prevailing dominance of the Roman Catholic Church, we find these principles to be as important to the growth of the local church today. If, for example, one is unwilling to proclaim the gospel to the world, let alone his neighbor, then the death of the local church is inevitable.

Calvin understood the importance of Matthew 16:18 as applying to the Church in its universal state rather than its local expression.[9] It is because of this understanding that Calvin poured himself into the lives of local pastors as that would have the greatest impact on not only the spread of the Reformation but the revitalization of the local church. Ultimately, as will be stated over and again in this post, Calvin wrote his commentaries and Institutes for the church in order that he might equip the pastor to better equip the congregation and to exhort them all to missions and evangelism for the kingdom of God.

Once the lost sinner has responded favorably to the open call of the gospel, they must join with a local church. It is here that further discipleship takes place. Today, this is found in small groups, fellowship, and the weekly (sometimes daily as in Calvin’s day) gathering for worship.

 

Terry Delaney is pastor of Union Baptist Church in Mexico, Missouri and is a contributor to the Founders Midwest blog. If you would like more information about Founders Midwest or if you are interested in attending the annual Founders Midwest Conference, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

 

Footnotes

[1] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 3, p. 383). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Vol. 1, p. 403). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] McNeill, John T. (Editor). Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion–2. Philadelphia, PA.: Westminster Press. P. 864

[4] See Book IV of Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion.

[5] http://founders.org/fj33/john-calvin-on-evangelism-and-missions/ accessed 3 May 2016.

[6] Manetsch, Scott M. Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536, 1609.  New York, NY. Oxford University Press, p.27.

[7] Gordon, Bruce. Calvin.London, England. Yale University Press, p. 130.

[8] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Vol. 2, p.156). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[9] See his comments on Mt. 16:18 in Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 2, p. 291-292).

[10] McNeill, John T. (Editor). Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion–2. Philadelphia, PA.: Westminster Press. P. 1207

[11] Ibid. p. 1208

[12] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/ccel/eee/files/calvinps.htm. Accessed 16 May 2016.

[13] See Institutes Book 4, Ch. 17, Section 43 as he specifically discusses the Lord’s Supper.

[14] Godfrey, W. Robert. John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, p. 71.

[15] Calvin, J., & Anderson, J. (2010). Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 1, p. 122). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[16] See John 4:23-24.

[17] McNeill, John T. (Editor). Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion–1. Philadelphia, PA.: Westminster Press. P. 4

[18] http://www.reformed.org/documents/calvin/geneva_catachism/geneva_catachism.html. Accessed 16 May 2016.

[19] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (p. xxiv). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

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‘Nothing new under the sun’: Unborn life, biblical sexuality addressed by the Reformers

By Jeremiah Greever

(Originally posted in the MBC Pathway on November 2nd, 2017)

The author of Ecclesiastes once wisely wrote, “there is nothing new under the sun”. This truism is perhaps best exhibited in society’s current moral failings. For many Christians, it seems as though issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and gender dysphoria are new problems facing the church. However, a closer examination of church history shows that Christians have argued against these very same moral issues throughout previous generations.

As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Christians would be wise to remember specifically the arguments the Reformers made against similar societal ills. For instance, when addressing the prevailing belief that human life does not originate at conception, the Reformers earnestly argued for the value of life at all stages. Renowned Reformer, John Calvin, argued for the sanctity of human life by stating, “The fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy…If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.” (Calvin, “Harmony of the Law” V. 3). Calvin and the other Reformer’s view of abortion was simple – God made every individual life. Therefore, each human life should be valued regardless of the situation or circumstances.

Another current issue that Christians struggle to address – homosexuality – was also discussed at length by the Reformers. Martin Luther, the initiator of the Reformation, spoke of homosexuality’s perversion by stating, “The vice of the Sodomites [homosexuals] is an unparalleled enormity. It departs from the natural passion and desire, planted into nature by God, according to which the male has a passionate desire for the female. Sodomy craves what is entirely contrary to nature.” (Plass, Ewald Martin. “What Luther Says: An Anthology,” Volume 1, 1959. p. 134.) Upon considering where this perversion originated, Luther resolutely declared, “Without a doubt it comes from the devil.” Once again, Luther and the Reformers were not afraid to speak to societal sins from a Biblical perspective.

Therefore, for modern Christians, we would be wise to pay careful attention to the teachings of the Reformers. While secular arguments will inevitably emerge attempting to moralize what Scripture condemns, Christians should be reminded that these attempts are nothing new. The Reformers’ assertions for truth are not only still valid in contemporary times, but also are still applicable to every modern moral argument.

In a society where truth is relative and hard moral questions seem difficult to answer, these old voices from the Reformation continually cry out relevant Biblical truth. Thus, the Reformers should serve as a source of encouragement and hope for the believer. Christian, do not despair at perceived moral ambiguity of modern times. Hundreds of years ago the Reformers dealt with these very same issues, and their persistence to Biblical faithfulness should encourage us to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” (Heb. 10:23) May we continue the great tradition of the Reformers by holding fast to the Gospel and preaching light in a world full of sin and darkness.

Jeremiah Greever is pastor of First Baptist Church St. John in St. Louis, MO and is a featured speaker at this year’s Founders Midwest Conference. If you would like more information about Founders Midwest or if you are interested in attending the annual Founders Midwest Conference, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

Pastoring a Rural Church Isn’t a “Lesser” Ministry

By Cheston Pickard

(Originally posted by 9marks.org on November 13th, 2017)

I’ve spent most of my life in rural churches. I was raised in one and serve as the pastor of one now. But my family and I have also been members of a mega-church, and we attended a healthy suburban church in which God introduced me to expositional preaching, church membership, and biblical leadership in elders and deacons.

Along my “church journey” I’ve met many wonderful brothers and sisters who serve in urban contexts. We’ve been able to share encouraging testimonies together and pray for one another. Here’s one thing I’ve noticed: while there are differences in our contexts—rural, urban, suburban—I cannot help but see the striking similarities. In fact, I think we’re all more alike than we realize.

ONE PEOPLE

Jesus’ ministry transcended Galilee and pushed to Jerusalem—from a poor agro-town to a bustling city. As he was traveling, he preached one gospel, pointing people to himself—no matter the location.

This is vital to understanding ministry. Whether we’re called to Farmington, Missouri or Washington, D.C, our goal is to help people do two things: understand the Bible and follow Jesus. And while we’re commanded in Scripture to give ourselves to a gospel-believing local church, we must never forget that we’re also a part of something massive—the universal church.

In the new heavens and the new earth, people from all over the world will finally be with God; the universal church will finally gather. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’” (Rev. 21:3). All of God’s redeemed people will be “one people,” sinless and fully living in his presence. Because of this, we must never forget that God is doing marvelous work all over the world—through rural churches, urban churches, suburban churches, and churches all across the world.

We should be encouraged that no matter our context, we’re in step with something God has already been doing. God is saving people, sanctifying people, and ultimately glorifying people for his name’s sake. We simply get to be a part of it. That means that no matter where we’re located, and no matter how well-known (or obscure) we are throughout the world, we can take heart because we’re laboring for the King of Kings and he sees our struggles and sweat, our triumph and tears. Take heart. There’s no such thing as a “lesser” ministry.

ONE GOSPEL

Romans helps us understand humanity. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). The whole world is full of sin through Adam; therefore, the whole world needs to be saved through Jesus. Now, many pastors already know that all sinners need salvation through the person and work of Christ, but many may not feel the weight of the need. When pastors do not focus on the “need” first, then they tend to drift into a kind of consumeristic ministry.

Consumeristic ministry is a tricky thing to describe. Sometimes, though not always, pastors may find themselves choosing places of ministry solely based on their felt needs. Sometimes it’s because of proximity to family or financial security or the nearby school system; the list goes on and on. Of course, these needs are legitimate and important to consider, but sometimes these perks can cloud our view when seeking a place of ministry. Just as pastors try to teach their members about avoiding consumerism in the church, they can just as easily find themselves approaching the ministry this way—and this kind of thinking can leave rural towns overlooked and underfed.

Let’s illustrate this. In any location, from a city to a “one stop-light” town, there are certain things necessary for community living—things like police officers, fire departments, a city hall, grocery stores, and so on. People need to be policed because crimes happen in every community. Fire departments need to be ready because fires happen in every community. Every society has needs and the difference between societies determines the different fulfillment of those needs. Depending on the location, fires may only happen a few times a year, so fire fighters may be full-time or part-time—but be sure, sooner or later a fire will ignite and they’ll be needed.

The same application can be made for churches. No matter the context, people need salvation. They need the gospel. They need faithful preachers to proclaim to them: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt 3:2).

Remember, this gospel was first preached in the small, poor, agricultural Galilee. God can—and does—do remarkable things in unremarkable places.

ONE BIBLE

One of the most fascinating things about the church is the fact that every Sunday many Christians gather into buildings and hear from the same God by reading the same Bible. For 2,000 years, the church has been built and edified through the preaching and reading of God’s Word. Faith comes through hearing Scripture (Rom. 10:17). When pastors stand behind the pulpit, their main objective is to open the pages of Scripture, preach Christ, and help people see their need to follow him. So even in remote places, even when it may seem like nothing powerful is taking place, if Christ is being preached, if God’s Word is being explained, then the Holy Spirit is at work. God always accomplishes his purposes through his Word (Isa. 55:11).

Scripture also plays a role in the everyday life of the church as it guides God’s people through worship and conduct. For example, every church must look to God’s Word to find the responsibilities and obligations of its members. Church membership and discipline—the keys of the kingdom from Matthew 16 and 18—are given to us by Christ. We find this authority in the Word of God.

The Bible is not a book for “some Christians.” Sometimes, rural churches have a reputation for being “non-theological,” as if God’s truth and biblical doctrine don’t matter to rural congregations. Well, that can be true—just like it can be true anywhere. But there are many rural churches that hunger and thirst for sound doctrine.

Here’s the point: If you’re a pastor in a rural setting, or a pastor-to-be contemplating rural ministry, you need to understand that God has placed these churches in line with the rest of his church throughout history. These churches are built and edified by the power of God’s Word. The faithful pastor keeps the Word at the fore. That’s no small task.

ONE HEAD

The U.S. military is an amazing group of men and women. Troops are located all over the world—in populated and desolate places. Some are “Active Duty” and some are “Reserves.” But, no matter the location or the service, all military personnel ultimately serve under one office: the Commander-In-Chief, the President of the United States.

This analogy helps us understand the church. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). Similarly, Paul said, “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col 1:18). In other words, the Pope isn’t the head of the church, pastors aren’t the heads of the church, certain members aren’t the heads of the church—Jesus and Jesus alone is the head of his church, and he shares his position with no one.

What’s more, Jesus isn’t only the head of special churches only. He’s not just the head of hip church plant or well-known mega-churches. Jesus is the head of every gospel-preaching local church on the globe.

Celebrity status is a major temptation for many pastors, and it really shouldn’t be. Of course, pastors would be fools to say they don’t want anybody listening to their sermons, but problems arise when pastors desire for their kingdom to grow more than others. All our ministry is under the headship of Christ. The church is his and his alone.

In Revelation 5:13, we see this in vivid color: “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’” On that last day, every creature will look to Jesus. He is Lord. So, look not at your so-called “small” ministry, and seek not to make a name for yourself. Seek Jesus and his glory instead because everything eventually funnels into his glory anyway.

CONCLUSION

Though it’s true that rural and urban churches have many differences, it’s important not to overstate the case. We must stop classifying ourselves to pieces and realize we are all a part of a body that transcends time, space, and geography. As I heard Mark Dever say once, “The most important things about your church are what it shares with every other true church in history.”

Amazingly, even small, rural churches inherit the powerful kingdom of God through the blood of his Son.

Cheston Pickard is pastor of First Baptist Church of DeLassus in Farmington, MO and is a contributor to the Founders Midwest blog. If you would like more information about Founders Midwest or if you are interested in attending the annual Founders Midwest Conference, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

Why the Reformation is Still Important for the Church Today: Sola Scriptura

By Dr. John E. Greever

The five solas have come to be known as the benchmark by which Reformed belief and doctrine are understood.  Sinners are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as taught in Scripture alone for the glory of God alone.  Each “alone” is vital to the whole, but I want to focus on the nature and meaning of Scripture alone.  What do we mean by Sola Scriptura or “Scripture alone,” and how does this inform and speak to us today?

Let us consider this topic in the following way:

  • What is “Scripture Alone, and How is This Significant?”
  • What are Some Modern Challenges to “Scripture Alone?”
  • How Can Christians and the Church Regain and Maintain “Scripture Alone?”

What is “Scripture Alone, and How is This Significant?”

The term reflects a scriptural teaching held by the Christian faith that all authority for Christian belief and life rests in the clear teaching of the Scriptures, centered on Christ and redemption.  This means that the Bible ALONE holds the exalted place of ultimate authority for all biblical teaching concerning doctrine, salvation, ministry, morality, and Christian discipleship.  Christianity rightly asserts that God has spoken His mind and will concerning all subjects necessary related to doctrine, salvation, ministry, morality, and Christian discipleship.

This does not mean that human writing is insignificant, but it does mean that human writing is significant only in the sense that it rightly portrays and reflects ultimate truth as given in the Bible.

The belief that Scripture alone is inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient for these things implies that the Scripture is clear and understandable, and it means that God holds the human race responsible and accountable for believing and practicing the Scripture.

Therefore, all reference to Christian teaching, belief, worship, ministry, salvation, morality, and Christian living all must find the basis for understanding and practice in the teaching of the Scriptures.  No other writing or teaching is equal with or superior to the Scriptures.  And all human ideas must be judged by and measured by the teaching of the Scriptures.

What are Some Modern Challenges to “Scripture Alone?”

Challenges to “Scripture Alone” are found in both secular and religious contexts.  However, we will limit our consideration to the challenges found in religious venues.

In the church, we find a number of potent challenges to “Scripture Alone.”  These include:  (1) The belief that one can get an authoritative and conscience-binding message from God outside of the Scripture; (2) The idea that people beyond the apostolic era can write authoritatively and hold the consciences of others bound by their writing; (3) Erroneous interpretation of the biblical text and re-defining the meaning of biblical language in contradiction to the appropriate and natural meaning and characterization of language; and (4) The neglect of the teaching of the Bible and failing to study, understand, and apply to Christian and church belief, life, and ministry by those who claim to be Christian and biblical.

These challenges are most commonly found in the modern era in the Charismatic, Liberal, and Church-Growth Movement.  However, strains of these tragic mistakes concerning “Scripture Alone” can, and often are, found in many mainline Protestant and Evangelical churches.

How Can Christians and Churches Regain and Maintain “Scripture Alone?”

We must realize that the issue before us is one that strikes to the very heart of the gospel itself.  We cannot maintain a biblical understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ without rightly believing, maintaining, and asserting the belief of “Scripture Alone.”  To hold aright this glorious and vital belief, we must as Christians and churches consider the following as a path to regaining and maintaining “Scripture Alone” in our Christian belief system and church life and ministries.  I suggest that we consider four words that represent four vital components that must be included in the regaining and maintaining of “Scripture Alone” in our day.

Conviction – Christians and churches will never hold to “Scripture Alone” unless we possess a deep and abiding conviction that the Scriptures are God’s inerrant, authoritative, and all-sufficient Word to us pertaining to God’s holy will for all matters of salvation and obedience to God in human history.

Commitment – Based on this conviction, we must as Christians and churches make a commitment to the Scripture alone as our ultimate authority for doctrine and practice in the Christian life.

Application – We must also seek to faithfully and practically apply the Bible and its teaching in every aspect of Christian and church life.  To believe this doctrine without practicing the doctrine is a form of ultimate disbelief.

Vigilance – This matter of “Scripture Alone” requires vigilance and constant alertness on the part of Christians and churches.  Satan attempts to take away the Scripture from us; we must hold tenaciously to the Scripture in all matters.  The church rises and falls on this issue:  Will we be faithful to the holy Scriptures as given to us by God?

 

John Greever is a professor of Bible at Missouri Baptist University and pastor of First Baptist Church in Fenton, MO. He is a part of the leadership team of Founders Midwest and is an occasional speaker at the annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference Midwest. If you would like to attend the Southern Baptist Founders Conference Midwest, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

Why the Reformation is Still Important for the Church Today: Sola Fide

By Dr. Josh Wilson

On Sunday, October 29th, 2017, many Protestant churchgoers learned that the 500th anniversary of the Reformation was nearly upon them. It was on October 31st, 1517, that Martin Luther had nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Even though Luther was not the only reformer and certainly not the first reformer, and even though Luther never intended this act to be any kind of defiant protest, many historians point to this event as the one of the main sparks that ignited the flames of Reformation.  With it being now 500 years since, many of these same Protestant churchgoers may have wondered if the Protestant Church’s split with Rome is still a necessity today. Does the Reformation of the church still need to be going on? If so, would there ever be a time when Protestants would declare the Reformation over?

Just a couple days prior to that Sunday, Stanley Hauerwas, the Gilbert T. Rowe professor at Duke Divinity School, a Protestant professor at a Protestant school, penned an op-ed piece for the Washington Post entitled, The Reformation is over. Protestants won. So why are we still here?  In the article he writes, “Five hundred years after its inception, we are witnessing the end of the Reformation. The very name ‘Protestant’ suggests a protest movement aimed at the reform of a church that now bears the name of Roman Catholicism. But the reality is that the Reformation worked. Most of the reforms Protestants wanted Catholics to make have been made. (Indulgences are no longer sold, for instance.) … Over time, historians have helped us see that there was no one thing the Reformation was about, but that if there was a single characteristic at its heart, it was the recovery of the centrality of Christ for making sense of why Christians are not at home in this world.”

Hauerwas’s depiction of the issues that caused the Reformation is unfortunately myopic, and it can’t really support his claim that the Reformation is over. However, he is right that the Reformation was not about “one thing;” rather, many historians have narrowed it down to five things. These five things are commonly known as the “Five Solas”: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria. It is these five solas that divided Protestants and Catholics 500 years ago, and it is these five solas that still divide them today. Thus, through a series of short blog posts, over the next couple of months, the Founders Midwest blog is going to examine each of the five solas in order to show why each one is still important for the church today. Our first entry will begin with Sola Fide.

Sola Fide

How is a man made right with his God? Answering this age-old question has continued to divide Protestants and Catholics for these last 500 years, and answering it correctly can only be done with a right understanding of the biblical doctrine of Justification. In the time of the Reformation and even to this day, the Roman Catholic Church has taught that a man is made right with his God, that is, he is justified before his God, through a continual process that is based partly upon the work of Christ and partly upon a man’s own works of righteousness performed through Rome’s sacramental system. However, what the Bible teaches, and what the Reformers recovered from it, is that in a one-time, justifying act, God counts a man as righteous before him by faith apart from works. This concept is clearly taught by Paul in Romans 4:2-8 when he writes that Abraham, in a one-time, justifying act (see Genesis 15:6), was counted as righteous before God by faith apart from works. This is the Reformation teaching of Sola Fide: A man is made right with his God by faith alone.

Now even though the Latin phrase sola fide translates as “by faith alone,” faith alone is not the grounds of a man’s justification. Only the completed work of Christ, His life, death, burial, and resurrection, is the grounds of a man’s justification. Faith alone is the instrument then by which God unites a man to Christ’s redeeming work, for it is the very righteousness of Christ that God credits to him by faith (see Romans 3:21-22; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 3:9). Thus, with respect to Sola Fide, this saving faith is never faith in and of itself; rather, this saving faith must always have Christ and Christ alone as its object. The importance of Christ as the object of saving faith is clearly emphasized in many works born out of the Reformation era.

Take for example the Baptist Catechism. It teaches its hearers many doctrines by asking such simple questions as, “What is justification?” (Question #36) “What is adoption?” (Question #37) “What is sanctification?” (Question #38) “What is baptism?” (Question #97) “What is prayer?” (Question #105)” However, with respect to faith, the catechism does not simply ask, “What is faith?” Instead, it asks, “What is faith in Jesus Christ?” (Question #91) Note how this question emphasizes not just the concept of faith, but also the object of faith: Jesus Christ. This emphasis is also reflected in the answer to the question: “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation, as He is offered to us in the gospel.”  Furthermore, the confession from which this catechism is drawn, the Second London Confession, also emphasizes Christ as the object of saving faith.  It states: “But the principle acts of saving faith have immediate relation to Christ accepting, receiving, and resting upon Him alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life by virtue of the covenant of grace.” (Chapter 14.2)

So why is it so important to make what seems to be such an obvious emphasis upon Christ as the object of saving faith?  The need for this emphasis is evident in the answer to the catechism question. The offer of the gospel to the sinner who would be saved is the offer of Jesus Christ.  Returning to the age-old question of “How can a man be made right with his God?”, when we proclaim the gospel we are setting forth Christ as the answer to that question.  To the hearers who would hear us, we do not exhort them to have faith alone, we exhort them to have faith alone in Christ. Only look to Christ for your justification. Only look to Christ for your sanctification. Only look to Christ for eternal life, believing in Him, trusting in Him, resting upon Him alone. Thus, the need for the emphasis upon Christ as the object of faith in the Reformation teaching of Sola Fide is because Christ and only Christ is the offer of the gospel. To make anything else other than Christ the offer of the gospel is to proclaim a distorted gospel, and to make anything else other than Christ the object of faith is to believe a distorted gospel.

This emphasis upon Christ as the sole object of saving faith can also explain why the Reformation is needed even today. While it is true that the Roman Catholic Church still proclaims a distorted gospel by setting forth Christ along with its sacramental system as the offer of the gospel, it is also true that many members in the Protestant church believe a distorted gospel, that is, a false gospel in which Christ is not the sole object of their faith. For example, within the Baptist church, there are many members putting their faith and trust not in Christ alone, but in a prayer that they prayed when they were younger. There are many members putting their faith and trust in their baptism or in their decision to walk down to the altar to receive Jesus. There are many members putting their faith and trust in a date scribbled in the back of their Bibles, signifying the day of their conversion. Now doing these activities is in no way a distortion of the gospel; however, trusting and believing that these activities make one right with God and teaching the same is as damnable an error as Rome’s distorted gospel. It is substituting one sacramental system for another. It is not having faith in Christ alone.

Thus, the Reformation teaching of Sola Fide, faith alone in Christ, is as necessary today as it was in the time of the Reformation. The gospel of Christ is always under threat of corruption and distortion both from outside the church and inside. Only through a right preaching of the gospel in which Christ alone is offered as the sole object of saving faith can the church be vigilant in correcting this constant error. The Reformation is not over, nor will it ever be over until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Another motto frequently associated with the Reformation motto reminds us of this necessity: Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei, that is, “The church reformed is always reforming according to the Word of God.”*

 

Josh Wilson is a professor of Bible at Missouri Baptist University and pastor of First Baptist Church in Park Hills, MO. He is a part of the leadership team of Founders Midwest and is an occasional speaker at the annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference Midwest. If you would like to attend the Southern Baptist Founders Conference Midwest, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

*Special thanks to Duane Lindsey, fellow member at FBC Park Hills, for recommending some helpful edits and clarifications.

 

 

Biblical Fidelity Illustrated in John Wycliffe

Biblical Fidelity Illustrated in John Wycliffe

Dr. John E. Greever

It is true that each faithful Christian today stands on the shoulders of faithful Christians of yesterday.  In a strategic and fundamental way, faithful servants of Christ who come before us pave the way for us to know and pass along the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And added to this, biblical fidelity (faithfulness to the Scriptures and the message of Christ and the gospel presented in the Scriptures) is the means by which we are faithful to God.  The two go together; faithfulness to God and faithfulness to the teaching of the Scriptures go hand-in-hand.

This is supremely seen in the lives of the Reformers and those who followed after them.  And this is specifically seen in the life of one who was a precursor to the Reformation, John Wycliffe (ca 1330-1384).

J. H. Merle d ‘Aubigne called Wycliffe the “First Reformer of Christendom”, even though he lived almost two hundred years before the official starting of the Reformation. Wycliffe’s ministry and impact was so powerful that the Reformation would probably not have happened when and how it did without Wycliffe. This is why Wycliffe is called the “Morning Star of the Reformation.”  Steven Lawson says of Wycliffe, “Wycliffe was an English scholar and theologian who did more to change the course of his nation’s history than perhaps any other person.”

What did Wycliffe do to make such an impact?  The historian d ‘Aubigne explains, “Wycliffe’s ministry had followed a progressive course.  At first he attacked the papacy; next he preached the gospel to the poor; he could take one more step and put the people in permanent possession of the Word of God.”  And that is what Wycliffe did:  he translated the Bible into the language of the people.  “Above all, he loved the Bible, he understood it and desired to communicate this treasure to others (Merle d ‘Aubigne).”  Wycliffe was opposed, rejected, despised, and persecuted for his convictions and his beliefs.  But Wycliffe continued his work in gospel preaching and Bible translation and teaching, because he believed in the value of these things.

Why is Bible translation and Bible teaching so important?  Lawson states, “Wherever there is an increased knowledge of biblical truth, the doctrines of grace are soon to follow.  That is to say, the more people are immersed in the Bible, the more likely they are to grasp the awe-inspiring profundities of God’s sovereignty in salvation.”

What can we learn from Wycliffe concerning biblical fidelity and why this is important in our own day?

  1. We need to realize that being faithful to the Scriptures means that we must be faithful to the teaching and redemptive interpretation of the Scriptures centering on Christ and the gospel. Faithfulness to the Scriptures means being faithful to the metanarrative of the Scriptures, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Bible and the gospel go together.
  1. By faithful interpretation and teaching of the Scriptures, we participate in the work of redemption in the lives of people by God’s grace through the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit. The faithful maintenance and faithful proclamation of the Scriptures are means by which God accomplishes His redemptive work in the lives of others.  People are saved, Christians grow spiritually, and the church of Jesus Christ is built through fidelity to the Scriptures.
  1. Biblical fidelity requires that we be textual in our approach to preaching, teaching, and ministry, and it means that we teach the next generation to do the same; thus, fidelity to the Scriptures ensures that the truth of God centered in Christ and the gospel continues for generations to come. As Christians, we want to faithfully serve the kingdom of God in our generation so that the next generation receives the true gospel of Christ.  Faithfulness to the Scriptures assures this.
  1. Biblical fidelity enables the church to fulfill its God given calling to be prophetic to each generation. By being faithful to the text and meaning of Scripture, the church serves to bring God’s revelation to the culture and society of each generation.  Without this prophetic voice of the church, the collective conscience of each generation will lack the sharp edge of spiritual and moral awareness.

John Wycliffe, and others like him, serves as model for us in our own day.  Let us not be swayed by the trends of the era in which we live; rather, let us seek to single-mindedly giving ourselves to be faithful to the Scriptures in our Christian lives, beliefs, and churches.  May our legacy be that we were faithful to God by being faithful to His Scriptures!

Biblical Fidelity in the Reformers: Jan Hus

Biblical Fidelity in the Reformers:

Jan Hus

By Jeremiah Greever,

Growing up, I liked and cheered for the National Football team, the Dallas Cowboys. I had the playing cards, the helmet mug with the Cowboys emblem, and the videos immortalizing prior Cowboys seasons. Year after year, during good seasons and bad, I cheered for the Cowboys as if I were part of the team.

I recently reflected as to why I liked the Cowboys so much. I wasn’t born in Texas, nor have I ever lived in Texas. So why was I such an ardent Cowboys fan? I cheered for the Cowboys for no other reason than my father cheered for them, and he passed that tradition on to me.

When we think back over church history, it is good for us to be reminded that in the same way that my father passed on the tradition of cheering for a specific football team, so too have traditions of biblical fidelity (faithfulness) been passed down to us from the Reformers. As current ministers and laypeople for the faith, it is important for us to recognize what our forefathers have handed down to us in the form of biblical constancy and faithfulness. Our church fathers labored for the accuracy and intentionality of the Word, and in so doing, have passed on the legacy of precision when it comes to the text.

Granted, in our modern culture, it can be difficult to maintain biblical fidelity. It seems that every other week some new megachurch pastor is attempting either to discredit the inerrancy of Scripture, or to challenge clear biblical teaching about sin and salvation. With so many modern pastors failing to defend biblical fidelity, we can quickly find ourselves wondering whether anyone remains faithful to God’s Word. Therefore, we would be wise to not only remember the legacy passed down from these specific Reformers, but also to hold fast to the truths for which they fought and died. One such figure who gave his life holding fast to the truths of Scripture was Jan Hus (John Huss).

When many people think on the Reformation, they rightly think back to Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Door in 1517 as the inauguration of the Reformation. While this event was the pivotal point of the Reformation, the Reformation proper actually began years before Luther was even born. One of the earliest and most influential Reformers was a Bohemian priest named Jan Hus (c. 1371-1415 A.D.), who died over 100 years prior to Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses.

Hus was one of the first Reformers to hold to a high view of Scripture. Because of his elevated view of Scripture, Hus committed himself to obeying Scripture in all forms and practices. Therefore, while serving as priest at Bethlehem Chapel in Prague around 1402, Hus committed his life to accurately attesting to the truthfulness found in Scripture by focusing exclusively on preaching in the common vernacular. One of Hus’ earliest controversies against the Roman Catholic Church involved the unbiblical practice of allowing only the celebrants (priests) to take the chalice (wine) during the Lord’s Supper. Using Scriptural support, Hus fought against this distortion of the Lord’s Supper by the Roman Catholic Church.

While Martin Luther is also credited as the one who dispelled the sale of indulgences (documents that gave remission for sins), Jan Hus was one of the first to condemn the unbiblical papal practice of selling indulgences. In 1412, Hus preached against the sale of indulgences, and even claimed that the indulgences were the antichrist – “In a word, the papal institution is full of poison, antichrist himself, the man of sin, the leader of the army of the Devil, a limb of Lucifer, the head vicar of the fiend, a simple idiot who might be a damned devil in hell, and more horrible idol than a painted log.”

Understanding the gravity of what was at stake, Hus denounced participation in the practice that he deemed “wholly and completely unbiblical.” When challenged on his views concerning indulgences, Hus responded, “Shall I keep silent? God forbid! Woe is me, if I keep silent. It is better for me to die than not to oppose such wickedness, which would make me a participant in their guilt and hell.” It was this response from Hus that brought the greatest attacks from the Roman Catholic Church.

Even with violent responses from the Catholic Church, Hus’ commitment to Scripture became progressively more evident in his writings. He affirmed that his life goals were to “hold, believe, and assert whatever is contained in them [Scriptures] as long as I have breath in me.”

Unfortunately for Hus, he had few breaths left in him. A few years later in 1415 while imprisoned in Constance, Germany, the convening council charged Hus with heresy. According to one of the council members who condemned Hus, “Since the birth of Christ there has never been a more dangerous heretic than you [Hus], with the exception of Wycliffe.” After being ordered to recant, Hus refused, and was ordered to be burned at the stake.

Just before his execution, Hus was given one final opportunity to recant his views of the Scriptures and the Church. He responded: “God is my witness that … the principal intention of my preaching and of all my other acts or writings was solely that I might turn men from sin. And in that truth of the Gospel that I wrote, taught, and preached in accordance with the sayings and expositions of the holy doctors, I am willing gladly to die today.” As the flames engulfed Hus’ body, his final words were, “Jesus, son of the living God, have mercy on me.”

Jan Hus lived and died defending one of the core tenants of the Christian faith – the necessity and infallibility of the Bible. Like the Catholic Church so many years ago, many people today treat the Bible in a parallel fashion – solely as a list of moral suggestions and guidelines that can be contrived for personal use and gain. Jan Hus rightly understood that the Bible is unquestionably and unchangeably the Word of God, and thus cannot be manipulated to satisfy mankind’s preferences. Just as in Jan Hus’ day, we must hold fast to the truth that Scripture is all-sufficient for every area of life, all the while guarding the Scriptures from those who seek to fragmentize it.

Beauty

The is, kind of, a video blog. It is more a thought provoker, i.e. an attempt to consider an attribute of God in terms of the other attributes. While I have adapted these definitions from Wayne Grudem’s, Systematic Theology. the errors are all my own. Let me know if you want more. CMc

Praying Weighty A.C.T.S. Prayers

by Dr. Joshua Wilson

One of Charles Spurgeon’s popular quotes on prayer is “Some brethren pray by the yard, but true prayer is measured by weight—not by length. A single groan before God may have more fullness of prayer in it than a fine oration of great length.” There certainly are times of extreme circumstance where in joy or pain we are moved to come before God groaning with weighty prayers. But what about all the other times when there are no extreme circumstances driving us into a state of prayer? How in those times can we be moved to come before the Throne of Glory, a weighty place, with weighty prayers?

One way of praying weighty prayers is to use the Bible. In his book Praying the Bible, Don Whitney teaches the time-tested method of opening the Bible and praying God’s own words back to Him. He teaches his readers how to pray through individual psalms, epistles, and even narratives. (In one of the appendices, He even provides a “Psalms of the Day” chart to aid his readers in daily Psalm-praying.) Praying the Bible does not add our weight to our prayers, but His weight to our prayers. Thus, I would like to share a similar strategy of using the Bible with another model of prayer known as the A.C.T.S. method.

Obviously, A.C.T.S. is an acronym. The A stands for “Adoration,” the C stands for “Confession,” the T stands for “Thanksgiving,” and the S stands for “Supplication.” The acronym of the A.C.T.S. model is a helpful guide for individual and corporate prayers. In the A.C.T.S. method, the prayer moves from praising God to confessing to Him to thanking Him, and then to petitioning Him with a list of needs and concerns. This model of praying can be used to even greater effect when all the parts of the A.C.T.S. prayer are focused upon a single topic, and each of those parts is informed by the scriptures. Let me give you a corporate example of this method in its entirety.

In our prayer meetings at FBC Park Hills, we usually focus on one big need. This is the S of the A.C.T.S. prayer method: supplication. This may seem backward, but it helps give direction to the other portions of the prayer: adoration, confession, and thanksgiving. In our most recent prayer meeting, our focus was on the nation and our concerns for it: the election, abortion, marriage, religious liberty, etc. With our one focus, we then go to the scriptures to give direction and weight to each part of our A.C.T.S. prayer.

  • A     With respect to the A (adoration) of the A.C.T.S. acronym, we search for the scriptures that speak to our focus: the nation. What does the Bible say about who God is and what He does in relation to the nations? God sits enthroned as King over them all (Psalm 22:8; Psalm 47:7-8). He demonstrates His kingship over the nations by creating them and apportioning their boundaries (Acts 17:26) and by raising them up and bringing them down (Job 12:23). He places as rulers over the nations whomever He desires and there is none who can keep Him from doing so (Daniel 4:17, 25, 32, 34-35). Moreover, He turns the hearts of those rulers to wherever He will (Exodus 7:3-4; Proverbs 21:1). With these scriptures in hand, we read and meditated upon them. Then a designated person prays a prayer of adoration that was informed by these passages from the Bible.
  • C     With respect to the C (confession) of the A.C.T.S. acronym, we again search for the scriptures that speak to our focus: the nation. (Keep in mind that adoration is upward focused, and confession is inward focused though still informed by the upward focus of adoration.) What does the Bible say about the nations in relation to what God has revealed about himself? Nations defile themselves before the Holy God, so He punishes them and their lands vomit them out (Leviticus 18:24-25). Rulers of the nations lead their people into sin provoking the Lord to anger (1 Kings 16:1-2). Nations and their rulers conspire and plot to throw off Christ’s rule over them prompting the Lord to laugh in derision at them and then rebuke them in wrath and fury (Psalm 2). Nations that are in rebellion to the reign and rule of Christ, build their house and watch over it in vain (Psalm 127:1). Ultimately, through the influence of Satan, the nations will unite together against the Lord prompting Christ to strike them down with the sword of His mouth (Revelation 19:15). Again, with these scriptures in hand, we read and meditated upon them. Then another designated person prays a prayer of confession that was informed by these passages from the Bible.
  • T     Finally, with respect to the T (thanksgiving) of the A.C.T.S. acronym, we again search for the scriptures that speak to our focus: the nation. What does the Bible also say about God’s gracious and merciful response to the nations? God relents from the disaster he has planned for nations when they repent (Jonah 3:4-10). If He has already brought disaster upon a nation, God will heal them if they turn to Him (2 Chronicles 7:13-14). God promotes the welfare of a nation through His people who dwell in it and pray for it (Jeremiah 29:7). Through the seed of Abraham, who is Christ, God blesses all the nations of the earth (Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:16). Through the root of Jesse, who again is Christ, God stands as a banner to which the nations will inquire (Isaiah 11:10). In the age to come, God gives the nations access to the tree of life that they might be healed with its leaves (Revelation 22:2). Once more, with these scriptures in hand, we read and meditated upon them. Then a final, designated person prays a prayer of thanksgiving that was informed by these passages from the Bible.
  • S     When we get back to the S (supplication) portion of our corporate A.C.T.S. prayer, the opportunity to pray aloud to God is opened to anyone from the congregation. At this point, all of our minds have been engaged with and saturated by the scriptures. We now have the Words of God to pray back to Him. We now have His weight behind our prayers. We now appeal to God according to how He has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. We are basically saying, “Lord, because of what you have shown us in Your Word about who You are and what You’ve done and continue to do (insert petition here).” (cf. the prayer of Daniel in Daniel 9 and the prayer of the church in Acts 4).

Using the A.C.T.S. prayer model in this way has given a deeper sense of weightiness to our prayer meetings. At different times, we have used it to pray for the lost, our church, the persecuted church, and the community. It does take preparation and it does take time to search the scriptures, but if we want to add this kind of weight to our prayers we must do the work to search the Bible and come to know the weight of the God to whom we are praying. I would like to encourage you to try this model either individually or corporately. Start by using the topic of the nation and the scriptures passages of the Bible in this article. Read the scripture passages and meditate upon them before praying each part of the A.C.T.S. prayer. I believe you will sense the increased weight of your prayers and the increased weightiness of your prayer time.

 

Worship & Justice Concluded

Enacting Justice Today

Today’s Christian Church has nothing to offer individual or societal woes if  the Gospel of Jesus Christ has not first changed them from self-love and self-worship to the just love and worship of the God of the Bible seen in Jesus Christ. This change affects individuals both in private and in public.

In the Prayer Closet

In the book, The Enemy Within, Kris Lundgaard reminds us that our self-appraisal needs to be tempered with the following reminder:

What you are
when you are alone with God,
that you are—
and nothing more. (p. 119)

It is alone with God and His Word that we enter the crucible of the Holy Spirit’s work. He shows us what God says about Himself; He uses those truths to form Christ in us: He causes us to have affection for those truths, and He produces affectionate worship of God.

Here in the prayer closet, God’s Word breaks up our hard hearts, our sluggish half-hearted obedience, our passive disobedience, our compromised and conflicted lives and unifies our hearts, heads, and hands. His Word teaches our head the truth, moves our hearts to love that truth and motives our hands to true obedience of that truth.

For a practical example, take the right to life issues. As believers study the character of God in the Word of God, the Holy Spirit gives them a fresh appreciation of Him and His Image in them. As this appreciation grows, their worship grows, their love of other humans grows, their renewal in God’s image becomes more and more a wonder, and their worship enlarges into a multi-faceted admiration, read worship. In the same way, anything that desecrates that image becomes increasingly repulsive.

In the Pew

“If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both;” warns J. I. Packer. He continues, “if it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief; if it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride.” This subtle encouragement reminds Christians to take the warm worship produced in the closet and to join it to the worship of other believers. When believers share their study of God in His Word, they grow closer to God and each other simultaneously such that their joined worship of God encourages greater and greater public admiration and bolder and bolder civic action.

Take again the life issues.  As Christians pool their admiration for God’s image in them and His just nature, they also grow increasing disdainful of societal disregard for God’s character. Society’s cavalier attitude about sexual fidelity degrades the image of God in them and its determination to avoid any unwanted consequences of their behavior kills the life in them. In the context of corporate worship, it seems truly natural for Christians to plan just opposition to these mounting injustices.

In the Public Arena

What has developed in the prayer closet and has blossomed in the pew must witness to the public arena. True and spirited worship aroused by the Holy Spirit in the heart and head of individual believers flows naturally into public worship. As worshipers come together, their adoration of God’s great and just character arouses a need to share this worship with non-believers. On a one to one basis, Christians share God’s love and justice within their sphere of influence. However, another responsibility compels the Christian.

As a citizen in a participatory government, the Christian’s worship of a just and loving God motives civil action toward the protection of all life as made in His image. Even though modern society attacks life on many levels, Christians armed with God’s truth in their heads and hearts, need to give bold actions to their God’s integrity. Surely Christians agree with J. I Packer when he prays, “May God give us light to see His truth, consciences to apply it and live by it, and conscientiousness to hold it fast, in these Laodicean days.”