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Recognizing the Moment: The Identity of the Southern Baptist Convention

By Cheston Pickard

Originally posted by Partners & Partakers on May 2nd, 2018 [Editor’s Note: This article was written before Paige Patterson’s removal from the Presidency of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.]

Again, we have seen some rather “explosive” discussions on social media pertaining to the most recent Paige Patterson controversy. And while I have no intention of jumping into the deep waters of the matter, I do believe it’s appropriate to say that any form of abusive action is wrong and forbidden by Scripture.

And not to push the argument of abuse to the side as if it is less important, but this is simply another layer added onto the pile of tension in the SBC. The little battles we have, time and time again, will eventually come to a climax, and if we desire to gain any standing in the world, we must understand what we are battling for.

I truly believe our Southern Baptist Convention is coming to an excruciating and defining moment in Dallas, TX on June 12th. I have been reading enough articles and Twitter posts to know that the gathering in Dallas will not be without it’s fair share of “fireworks.” In many ways, little seismic shifts throughout the last decade have led to this moment, and let’s be clear: In our Southern Baptist Convention, this is a moment.

Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, wrote an article Monday stating, “In the aftermath of the Conservative Resurgence, the SBC made a mistake. We spent more time taking victory laps than really leading. We let our history become mythology. We turned men into heroes, and then we turned our heroes into gods.”

The Conservative Resurgence was a major undertaking in our denomination, and we may never see another event like it – a mass-scale turn towards biblical truth – in our lifetime. So many people gave much of their lives for this cause, and we are all indebted to their faithfulness. However, because the times continually change around us, we cannot stand still and simply bask in our victories. We must consistently move forward as a denomination for the sake of the gospel in this world.

Also, just as 1979 was a moment for Southern Baptists in the Conservative Resurgence, we are facing a similar moment today. And this moment is a little different, but not so different at all. The moment we face today is not the ultimate fight for biblical inerrancy or the Gospel. The moment we face today is not a fight in the face of liberalism. No, our moment is different. And praise God, because of the work done in the CR, our Southern Baptist entities are all solid, and they all have biblically sound, solid leadership.

So, what is this crucial moment we are facing in the SBC?

Ultimately, I believe we are now coming into a new era – an era where SBC churches are focusing more on the supremacy of Christ, the power of the Gospel, unwavering obedience to the Word of God, and the vital role of the local church in the life of the believer. Also, we are coming into a time that truly recognizes the power and authority of the local church – authority given by Christ Himself. Much of our focus now is due to the resurgence in Baptist ecclesiology.

Now, it would be wrong to say that the SBC has never recognized these key elements of the Christian life, but in the eyes of many, somewhere along the line the Southern Baptist Convention became institutionalized in such a way that was less than biblical – in a way that, at least, appeared to be more like a hierarchy rather than a volunteer cooperation of like-minded local churches.

In short, instead of having a denomination existing to serve its churches, the churches existed by serving the denomination. However, because of the renewed interest in Baptist ecclesiology, many pastors now decry the unbiblical mantras of tradition and the seemingly immovable boulders of the status quo. Churches are moving in the direction of the Bible.

Pastors must follow Christ – adhering to biblical evidence rather than simple loyalty to a denomination, and there is no doubt that this “new era” tension is felt in our local churches, our local associations, our state conventions, and the SBC at large.

Understand: we are entering a moment that is bringing forth change, and change is hard… even if the change is right.

Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson felt similar tension in the late 60’s – when they realized the institutions of the SBC were leaning more in the direction of liberalism. In a miraculous fashion, these giants pressed against the status quo, and were used by God to lead the Convention back onto the evangelical and conservative path. Needless to say, many aspects of the SBC had to be changed. Many arguments had to be voiced and many voices had to attend the meetings. By doing this, our Southern Baptist Convention gradually turned a corner – step-by-step – and the common messengers of the SBC understood their ownership of this great institution. In turn, the SBC gained an identity as “evangelical” and “an inerrantist denomination.”

We are entering a similar moment once more. The SBC, not comprised of simply entity heads and trustees, is made up of thousands of churches to work for the spread of the Gospel. The Southern Baptist Convention, as an institution, only exists because the churches continue to cooperate together for the sake of missions. Without the churches, the SBC doesn’t exist, and we are seeing a resurgence of pastors and churches who better understand their role in this cooperation.

No longer do pastors want to say and hear, “That’s the Southern Baptist Way.” The pastors of the last decade view the SBC in a different light than that of their forefathers. The pastors today want to be known as Christian, first and foremost. They want to be known for the Gospel, first and foremost. They desire to walk more like Christ, first and foremost. To the pastors of this new era, the Southern Baptist Convention is not their identity – it is simply a cooperative network.

None of this is to say that the pastors of today are not thankful for the Southern Baptist Convention, for we have much to be thankful for, but the label of “Southern Baptist” doesn’t carry the same weight as it once did. There was an era when the title of “SBC” was an identifier and an important badge to wear, but today…to be Southern Baptist isn’t enough. We must be followers of Christ as it is defined in Scripture.

This, I believe, is the moment we have ultimately come to. And wonderfully, many young, well-taught pastors from our six faithfully orthodox SBC seminaries are not simply walking away from the rigidly, institutional Convention, but they are flooding into the denomination with open-minds and conviction and zeal. Instead of throwing away the movements of the past, these men are raising their ballots to make a change.

And most importantly, these faithful young pastors are ready to carry the torch of the Southern Baptist Convention for the next few decades. Why? Well, we’ve had good teachers such as Patterson and Pressler, who taught us to stand up for what we believe in.

The one thing I do know, historically speaking, is that when Southern Baptists stand on their convictions, they rarely back down. Let’s just make sure our convictions match well with Christ’s.

 

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.

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John Calvin and Church Revitalization: Pastoral Ministry

By Terry Delaney

[Editor’s Note: This is the third blog post of a 3-part series. Click here to read the first and click here to read the second.]

John Calvin states in the introduction to the reader of his 1559 edition of his Institutes that it was his “purpose in this labor to prepare and instruct candidates in sacred theology for the reading of the divine Word, in order that they may be able both to have easy access to it and to advance in it without stumbling.”[1] Though we may view this more than 1,500 page work as extremely weighty by today’s standards, it was meant to be more of a primer for any pastor or lay leader to use in order that they may better understand the Bible.

Recall the first article regarding Calvin and evangelism and missions. It demonstrated that Calvin understood the importance of making disciples. When he moved to Geneva, he found that pastors in town were not fit to be pastors due to their lack of training and lack of discipleship. Therefore, he realized that if the Reformation was to continue, he must train up the local pastors in such a manner that the men and women who attended the various local churches would be listening to sound, biblical preaching. Keep in mind this was at an extraordinarily tumultuous time in the history of the Reformation.

To further this education of the local pastor and the corresponding church members, Calvin wrote, and used, a catechism. In the introduction of the catechism, Calvin states that he wrote it at the urging of his fellow pastors in order that they may be equipped to teach and preach the Scriptures. Furthermore, it was his hope that a common catechism, rooted in Scripture would bring about a noticeable unity in the various congregations.[2]

Understanding the importance of discipling the pastors, Calvin also wrote his commentaries for their sake. They were meant to be read in conjunction with his Institutes which was introductory. Accordingly, when the reader would come across a passage of Scripture referenced in the Institutes, it was assumed that they would look to the corresponding commentary for a more in depth understanding of what Calvin meant in the Institutes.

It is through the commentaries, however, that one is shown how to not only dig into the Word, but also apply it to everyday living. In his dedication to Simon Grynaeus, he states that his purpose was “to lay open the mind of the writer” and he trembled at the thought that he was attempting to do so with the Apostle Paul and this particular book of the Bible.[3] He strove for brevity, but at some 22-volumes, one might say, he failed. He did, however, set forth a great example of studying and preaching verse by verse through these commentaries in order that the pastors who were studying under, or influenced by, John Calvin, learned the importance of faithful, exegetical preaching. Further, his example of preaching verse by verse week in and week out, in order that he might teach and instruct the congregation faithfully, has perhaps been his most influential pastoral gift to the church still today.

His example of faithful verse by verse preaching was such that upon his return to Geneva from exile, he literally picked up where he left off the last time he had preached. He was in the Book of Psalms and said something to the effect of, “the last time we were together we discussed . . . . Today, I would like to pick up in the next verse.” The importance of this style of preaching cannot be overemphasized as it enables the pastor to deal with texts he might not otherwise get around to preaching.

Furthermore, this style of preaching protects both the congregation and the preacher. The preacher is protected by being “forced” to preach what is next in the text. He therefore is unable to preach his “hobby horse” or preach to the pew in such a manner that is dishonoring to God. The congregation is protected in that they do not have to listen to a pastor preach on his favorite topics or what he thinks the congregation needs to hear next. Instead, the pastor is bound by the text and his next sermon is already set for him as he must of necessity preach what is next. This enables the pastor to preach on a wide variety of subjects that collectively minister to the congregation in a far greater manner than one could ever imagine.

One final aspect of pastoral ministry that might go unnoticed in a study of Calvin and pastoral ministry is his longevity. He spent some 25 years in service to a local congregation in Geneva, and while he preached all over France, his concerted efforts were to his own congregation in Geneva. Three of those years were interrupted by his exile from Geneva where he preached in Strasbourg. Regardless, for genuine Reformation to have taken hold in Geneva, it was important that Calvin minister there for as long, and as continuous, as possible. This was, by God’s grace, what Calvin was able to accomplish.

Calvin’s style of expository preaching is arguably the greatest need today regarding church revitalization. Calvin, due to the Reformation, had to bring the local church back to a fundamental understanding of biblical preaching that sought to explain the Word of God rather than man’s understanding of God. Though pastors do offer their own thoughts on Scripture, Calvin set forth a method that not only equips the pastor, but instructs the congregation in the will of the Lord as revealed in the Word of the Lord.

Though Calvin was vital to the Reformation and his preaching was essential to the continuation of the Reformation, his example of preaching and longevity in pastoral ministry as well as his willingness to disciple others serves as a template for church revitalization today. Preach the Word of God faithfully and over the long haul, the church will either grow closer to the Lord or reject Him altogether. There will always be a mix of wheat and tares, but through faithful, biblical preaching, the pastor will leave room for the winnowing fork of the Holy Spirit to separate as He sees fit.

Conclusion

While Calvin is most noted for his role in the Reformation, we have seen in these articles that his concern was primarily for the local church. This concern is clearly seen in his zeal for missions and evangelism, his love of the corporate worship of God, and his passion for pastoral ministry. These three pillars of revitalization today, evangelism and missions, worship, and preaching were just as important to the Reformation of the church in the 16th century as it is to the revitalization of the church in the 21st century.  Instead of seeking to re-write the book on church revitalization, we should look back to the principles that were espoused by John Calvin and blessed by the Holy Spirit some 500 years ago.

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.

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

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

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

The Lifestyle Habits of a Disciple

By Scott Lee

A big part of becoming a disciple of Christ is to establish the lifestyle habits of a disciple.  By that, I mean the things you learn to do on a regular, habitual basis that help orient you to a life of following Jesus daily.  Let’s face it, the things you do on a regular basis are the things that will shape your life. That’s true whether we’re talking about binge-watching Netflix each evening, or reading your Bible each morning.  Your daily habits are what shape your life for good or ill. This is why weekly church attendance is good and helpful, but if that’s all there is to it, and there is no daily follow-up to the things you sang and confessed and heard on Sunday, it will only have a minimal effect on your daily living.  What is needed is some kind of plan for the daily application of the truth you’ve heard and learned on Sunday.

That’s where the conscious choice to establish “holy lifestyle habits” comes in.  Because, it’s the things you do on a regular, habitual basis that truly begin to shape your life.   Here’s an easy example, if you’re in the habit of beginning your day with a big breakfast followed by a long day at work characterized largely by  physical inactivity behind a desk, your life (and body) will take on one shape. If, on the other hand, you learn to begin your day with a quick workout and a light breakfast while finding ways to up the ante on physical activity throughout the day, then your life (and body) will begin to take a different shape.  That’s true physically. It’s just as true spiritually. The lifestyle habits you practice are what will shape your life.

And let’s face it, we all have such lifestyle habits – some we have chosen, others we’ve just settled into without thinking (And it’s the ones we settle into without thinking that usually do the harm!). So part of the process of growing in Christ-likeness is learning how to choose the kinds of daily, lifestyle habits that will shape your life by bringing you face to face with Christ in the Gospel on a regular basis.   

In other words, you have to have a plan.   For me part of that plan has meant establishing a specific place in my house (a chair in my basement) and a time of the day (first thing in the morning) when I will open the Bible to read, worship, and pray.   What I’ve found is that by having a plan to do these things, even when I don’t get to them due to crazy busyness or unexpected interruptions, I always come back to them because they are now so much a part of my life.  They’ve become such a habit that I can’t imagine living without them. They’re so “baked in” to me, that I no longer feel like “myself” without them! That hasn’t always been the case. There was a time when I did not have such a plan.  Oh, I still “hoped” to read the Bible daily and pray. I knew I needed to. I really wanted to. But I usually didn’t because it just wasn’t an intentional part of my day. It wasn’t built in to the habit of my daily lifestyle. Changing that habbit took a series of conscious choices on my part.  It took an effort on my part to change the daily routine that had become my habit by accident, and replace it with a new daily routine that pointed me in the direction I needed to go. And sure, it felt odd at first, even fake. This wasn’t how I lived my life! But over time the “new habit” took over and worked its way into the rut of my life in a way that I truly can’t imagine living without today (nor would I ever want to, now that I’ve begun to experience the benefit!).

So what are the lifestyle habits that you have fallen into by accident? Take a look and see. They might be morally neutral, like having the television or iTunes on all day or binge watching old MASH episodes every evening. But if they are distracting you and stealing time away from you that could be redirected to something that helps you draw near to Christ (or point others to Him), perhaps you need another plan?

Or you may have adopted habits that are leading you to sin, or they are sin in themselves.  I’ve seen many people, even professing Christians, fall into the habit of regular porn use, or gambling, or even just sitting mindlessly in front of a “screen” flipping through websites or watching videos that only stoke a sense of depression and discontent about life.  These things become habits. They’re what you turn to when you’re bored or upset. They begin to shape your life. But isn’t it time for a change? Isn’t it time to be done with these things that clearly are doing harm and replace them with new things, holy habits that help bring you again and again into the presence of Jesus to renew your mind and refresh your soul by reshaping how you see the world with God Himself at the center of all.   “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:1-2 ESV)

Scott Lee is a professor of Bible at Missouri Baptist University and pastor of Rockport Baptist Church in Arnold, MO. He is also an occasional speaker at the annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference Midwest. If you would like to more information about Founders Midwest or the annual Midwest conference, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

John Calvin and Church Revitalization: Corporate Worship

By Terry Delaney

[Editor’s Note: This is the second blog post of a 3-part series. Click here to read the first.]

John Calvin longed to bring corporate worship back to a God-centered, biblically-informed model.  He believed that worship, understood as what we would today call the entire “worship service” must be simple. To this end, he believed that there must be order in worship so as to “take away all confusion, barbarity, obstinacy, turbulence, and dissension.”[1] While he is largely the “face” of the Regulative Principle of Worship, wherein the corporate worship of God is to be established by the parameters explicitly set forth in Scripture, we must understand that his cultural context largely determined his stance.

Because his context was largely due to the Reformation and was reactionary to the Roman Catholic Church, his understanding of Sola Scriptura and his zeal for consistency led him to this position. He did, however, allow for the incidentals of corporate worship. As a matter of fact, in a parenthetical description on worship he states that God “foresaw that [worship] depended upon the state of the times, and he did not deem one form suitable for all ages.”[2]

In the preface to the Genevan Psalter, he states that there are two kinds of prayer. The first is simple, spoken prayer. The second is the prayer of singing.[3] Since we are praying to God through our songs, Calvin found it best to sing the hymn book given to us by God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and written by men. That is, the Book of Psalms which he set to metrical form in the aforementioned Genevan Psalter.

Furthermore, he believed in the importance of the pastor as the leader of all forms of worship. In other words, worship was not simply singing. Rather, worship was all-encompassing and included singing, praying, confessing, praising, and preaching and listening to the sermon. To this end, he removed those elements of worship he discerned to be man-invented.[4] According to W. Robert Godfrey, the basic order of worship was as follows:

  • Liturgy of the Word
    • Call to worship
    • Confession of sins
    • Prayer for pardon
    • Singing of a Psalm
    • Prayer for Illumination
    • Scripture reading
    • Sermon
  • Liturgy of the Upper Room
    • Collection of offerings
    • Prayers of intercession and a long paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer
    • Singing of the Apostles’ Creed (while elements of the Lord’s Supper are prepared)
    • Words of Institution
    • Instruction and Exhortation
    • Communion (while a Psalm is sung or Scripture read)
    • Prayer of thanksgiving
    • Benediction (Numbers 6:24-25)[5]

It is important to note that this particular order of worship includes the Lord’s Supper table (Liturgy of the Upper Room) which Calvin wanted to serve weekly but Geneva allowed quarterly. While this order of worship may seem rigid by today’s standards, and perhaps too liturgical, one can readily see how Calvin was passionate that the entire worship service points the Christian to the one, true God. Calvin firmly believed the local church was the best expression as the key meeting place of a local body of believers.

Obviously, Calvin did not affirm that a congregation must have a building in which to worship God. Instead, he affirmed the importance of having a particular location set aside as “holy to the Lord” (my words) in order that the external symbols “should serve as ladders, by which the faithful might ascend even to heaven.”[6]

The bottom line, Calvin, through his concept of the Regulative Principle, was fighting the same battle many today are fighting when it comes to styles of worship. He tired of the mindless, passive approach that the Roman Catholic Church had in essence forced on the congregation. He believed in active participation of the congregants through prayer, praise, singing of hymns, and, perhaps most importantly, the active listening of the sermon.

Many of the churches today in need of revitalization must to move away from the showmanship of Hollywood and ought to be reoriented to the necessity of actively worshiping God in “spirit and truth.”[7] Though Calvin was seeking to reform most, if not all, of Christianity as the Roman Catholic Church had understood it, he was at the same time seeking to revitalize the local church to a greater understanding of worship that is God-centered. This is in contrast to the Sacrament-centered approach of Rome and, by default, to the pew-centered view of the modern church.

As we study Calvin and his thoughts on worship, we will find a sound Protestant understanding of genuine worship rooted in the Word of God. This should serve as a template for our revitalization needs today. Worship is to be God-centered, informed by Scripture, and lead by the pastor though he can delegate to another.

 

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.

 

Endnotes

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

[2] Ibid. p. 1208

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

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

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

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

[7] See John 4:23-24.

The Aftermath of Post Modernism, the Rise of the Edenic Wave

By Dr. John E. Greever

In our present day, it appears that we are living in a time of radical transition culturally, societally, and historically.  This transition has potent moral and spiritual implications.  As the church of Jesus Christ seeks to be faithful to the gospel in this generation in the United States, we would do well to understand the unique and special circumstances in which we find ourselves today.  Let’s begin with a brief cultural and historical overview.

  1. Pre-Modern: The pre-modern era of history in the western world was a time that immediately followed the classical period, roughly identified with the Greco-Roman era, ending in the 5th century AD.  This period ended with the post-Nicene fathers in the religious world.  The Middle Ages (Medieval Period) began in the 5th century running to the 15th century, when the western world and culture began pre-Reformation period in learning and Renaissance development.  The major portion of the Renaissance engaged with the pre-Reformation and the Reformation.  This was a rebirth of learning and cultural development.  The Reformation was a rebirth of the gospel and biblical authority in the church.
  1. Modern: The modern period began with the Reformation and the Renaissance, both of which are closely tied together.  The invention of the printing press in AD 1440 by Gutenberg was a major advancement in learning and cultural development.  It was during this period (Modern Period) that the scientific method was born (although some will debate that the scientific method is linked to the period considered here).  All the early scientists during this period were Christians.  The scientific method was birthed out of the following presuppositions:  (1) God created the universe; (2) The universe runs by physical laws, which God created and by which the universe operates in patterns and predictable trends; (3) Science codified the study of the physical universe in methodological systems.  As such, the earliest scientists in the modern era held to the Christian faith.  Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626 England) said,

There are two books laid before us to study, to prevent our falling into error; first, the volume of Scriptures, which reveal the will of God, then the volume of the Creatures, which express His power.”  He said again, “There never was found, in any age of the world, either philosophy, or sect, or religion, or law, or discipline, which did so highly exalt the good of the community and increase private and particular good as the holy Christian faith.  Hence, it clearly appears that it was one and the same God that gave the Christian law to men, who gave the laws of nature to the creatures.”

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662 Frenchman, Father of Science of Hydrostatics, study of the properties of fluids when under pressure) said, “In Him (Christ) is all our virtue, and all our felicity.  Out of Him, there is nothing but sin, misery, error, darkness, death and despair.”

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895 French scientist who developed the process of pasteurization of milk and vaccinations).  He said, “The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator.  Into his tiniest creatures, God has placed extraordinary properties…”  Pasteur, in one of his lectures, said, “Science brings man nearer to God.”

The Rise of Post-modernism

Post Modernism:  Post Modernism began as a cultural phenomenon in the western world by the 1960s.  At the end of the 20th century post modernism was the dominant philosophical and cultural power in the western world.  Essentially Post Modernism denies any absolute transcendent reality.  It asserts that the only absolute is that there are no absolutes.  This is, of course, inherently contradictary, which results in such philosophical silliness that its implosion was certain and inevitable.  Post-modernism characterizes everything as social constructs.  This is particularly true in culture and society.  Post-modernists state that all belief is simply that which is imposed by the power elite in a social context.   When added to Progressivism (the application of Darwinian presupposition to culture and society) Post-modernists insist that we must de-construct all modern beliefs and re-postulate them in accord with another norm or guideline.  Of course, Post-modernists have no guideline to suggest other than what THEY THEMSELVES THINK.  The result of destroying any conception of objective reality, Post-modernism crafts a perception of reality that is built on subjective thinking, which destroys any base for metaphysical reasoning and moral contemplation.  The natural consequence of Post-modernism is Utilitarianism, which requires that we decide “what works” before we can presume to plan for present and future decisions.

Post Modernism incorporates a variety of philosophical errors in its understanding of reality.  It incorporates scientism and materialism as its explanation of the meaning and essence of material reality.  It adopts evolution and Hegelian dialectics.  It borrows despair and meaninglessness from Nietzsche, crafting artificial, individually driven meaning from Existentialism.  Post Modernism as a cultural dominant force creates a BIG BLACK HOLE in the hearts of those who embrace it.

The Weaknesses and Insufficiency of Philosophical Post Modernism

  1. Post-modernism has no inherent integrity as a philosophical system because of its denial of absolute transcendent reality.
  1. However, Post-modernism seeks to impose its will and belief through power institutions: education, media, and government.
  1. Post-modernism has declined because it cannot stand up to the rigors and weight of problem solving in the culture; thus, it simply could not work in practical application. This means that Post-modernism was a transitional phase to something else; therefore, it was simply a bridge to further rebellion against God.

What Is Next?  The Edenic Wave

So, what is next after Post-modernism?

The new view is utopian in nature; those who hold this view believe they are creating a better society, but they deny God’s Truth in the process and create their own ultimate reality before hoisting their viewpoint on others. The goal of the new view is to replace IDEAS in government, education, and religion; every influential unit of society and culture will be changed in their basic forms.  The new view, therefore, will be oppressive and tyrannical in nature.  This new view may be called the Edenic Wave, because it makes the same mistakes as were made in the Garden of Eden, and it is moving across the land like a wave of the ocean.  This name represents the essential components of the view, which are:  1) Self-deification and 2) Self-determination.  The temptation of Eve by Satan in the Garden of Eden composed essentially this:  Satan offered to Eve the opportunity to be god and to be self-determined.  She would make up her own rules; she would determine right and wrong, and she would determine what is true and false.  This is exactly what is going on in the new view and movement.  This is the EDENIC WAVE.  This is the third cultural wave since Pre-modernity. May God be merciful to us at this time, and may He grant to us wisdom to appropriately resist this new development.

What is the Church to do?

  1. The church must faithfully hold to, teach, and minister the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in the New Testament.
  1. The church must seek to give authentic demonstration of the life of Christ in and through Christian living. As societal and cultural pressure mounts, people will be hurt and will seek an authentic demonstration of love, joy, and purity.  The church must give this to the people.
  1. The church must be prophetic in its message; therefore, the church must preach truth and righteousness to the culture. This will not be easy, because this will make the church a target.
  1. Christians individually, not the church organizationally, must seek to be influential in the democratic process of the nation as long as the democratic process exists.

 

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 more information about the Founders Midwest and the annual Midwest conference, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

John Calvin and Church Revitalization: Missions and Evangelism

By Terry Delaney

[Editor’s Note: This is the first blog post of a 3-part series.]

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.

 

Endnotes

[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.

‘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.