Can a Pastor Reform a Church? Israelite history says, “No!”

By Josh Wilson

We live in a time in which the church in this culture is in great need of reformation. In some churches, this need is seen in the spiritual malaise that settles upon congregations where members are content just to “play church” and disregard the scriptural command to exercise their spiritual gifts for the edification of the body and the advancement of the Gospel. In other churches, this need for reformation is seen in the wholesale abandonment of the local church by younger generations who walk away from “organized religion” for their own idolatrous brand of “spirituality.” Now more than ever the church in this culture needs reformation. But can a pastor, who is committed to reformation, come into to such churches and bring about reformation? A brief look at two reformations in the history of the Israel, one before the exile and one after, suggests that he cannot, but that is no reason for despair.

Israel’s Pre-exilic Reformation

Just prior to the exile, Israelite religion was nonexistent. The scriptures tell us that during the reign of Manasseh, the Israelites, led by their own king, did “more evil than the nations had done whom the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel” (2 Kings 21:9 – ESV). However, after the wicked reigns of Manasseh and his son Amon, the godly King Josiah rose up and brought reformation to the land of Judah. It was during Josiah’s reign that the lost and forgotten Law of the Lord was found again and read to him (2 Kings 22). In his hearing of the Law, King Josiah mourned and wept before the Lord and cried out to Him in prayer on behalf of himself and the people, and the Lord showed him mercy (2 Kings 22:19-20). Josiah then established the rule of the Law of the Lord and brought reformation to the land by putting an end to all the idolatrous worship practices of the people and by restoring Israelite religion to its proper place among them (2 Kings 23).

This reformation, however, like Josiah’s life, was short lived. After Josiah’s death, the people of Judah quickly rejected the Law of the Lord and returned to their idolatrous practices during the short reigns of Josiah’s own sons Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:31-32), Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:36-37), and Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:18-19). These sons of Josiah, as well as one grandson whose reign was brief, ruled Judah until God destroyed the nation by the hand of the Babylonians who then carried the people away into exile (2 Kings 25). Not even twenty years had passed, barely a generation, from the time of Josiah’s death to the time of the exile. So why did Josiah’s reformation fail and why did it fail so quickly? The prophetic books, like those of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, suggest that this reformation failed because it was merely external; it only changed the outward practices of Israelite religion and not the hearts of the people. This is why after Josiah’s premature death, the people so quickly and easily returned to their old, idolatrous practices. But why weren’t the hearts of the people also changed by Josiah’s reformation? The scriptures tell us that the hearts of the people weren’t changed because God had already determined that their hearts would remain dull until His judgment upon them was completed (Isaiah 6:9-13). Furthermore, it was because of the wicked reign of Manasseh that God declared that His plan for judgment upon His people would not be thwarted and that there would be no opportunity for pardon (2 Kings 23:24-27; 2 Kings 24:1-4). Josiah’s reformation failed because God, in His judgment, did not grant reformation to the hearts of His people.

Israel’s Post-exilic Reformation

Just after the exile, Israelite religion was in better shape than it was prior to the exile. However, the Israelites and their leaders still walked in disobedience to God. Their leaders exploited the people by overtaxing them to the point of debt enslavement (Ezra 5), and both the people and their leaders married foreign wives (Ezra 9:2). (The context of Ezra 7-10 suggests that these marriages to foreign wives were a violation of the Law of Moses, probably Deuteronomy 7:3-4, which would then imply that these marriages were to foreign wives who worshipped other gods and who bore children that also worshipped other gods.) However, men like Ezra and Nehemiah rose up and brought reformation back to the land of Israel. Under their leadership and prayers of repentance before the Lord (Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 1), the rule of Law of the Lord was once again established, and the sinful practices of the people were curtailed. A great revival also took place among the people where they hungered to hear the Word of God, they confessed their sins with mourning and weeping, they praised the faithfulness of their covenant God, and they made oaths to walk in obedience His Law (Nehemiah 8-10).

This reformation, unlike that of King Josiah, clearly was both external and internal. The hearts of these people were indeed turned back to the Lord. But why did the reformation of Ezra and Nehemiah succeed in changing the hearts of the people, but Josiah’s failed? Could it be that God’s judgement of destruction and exile had taught these exiles a lesson, and thus, their hearts were ready for reformation? Hardly! Before the exile and even before Josiah had reigned as King of Judah, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had also experience God’s judgement of destruction and exile by the hand of the Assyrians. Shortly after that judgment, King Hezekiah, King Manasseh’s father, had instituted his own reformation in the land of Judah. The king even sent messengers to the remnants of the northern Israelite tribes to encourage them to return to the Lord. However, rather than return, most of them scorned and mocked the messengers (2 Chronicles 30:10). Their own destruction and exile had clearly not prepared their hearts for reformation.

The reason the reformation of Ezra and Nehemiah brought reform to the hearts of the people was because God changed their hearts, and He had determined to do so long beforehand. Around a thousand years before this post-exilic reformation, God had declared in the book of Deuteronomy (chapters 29-30) that after His people had been exiled, He would bring them back to their land and change their hearts. Deuteronomy 30:5-6 (ESV) states, “And the LORD your God will bring you into the land your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” God also declared through the prophet Ezekiel (chapter 36), who was himself a Babylonian exile, that He would bring his people back to the land and change their hearts. Ezekiel 36:24-27 (ESV) states, “I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Thus, the reformation of Ezra and Nehemiah succeeded because God, in His mercy, granted reformation in the hearts of His people.

Conclusion

Now let’s come back to our main question, “Can a Pastor reform a church?” Again, the scriptures make it clear that he cannot because the reformation of a church is ultimately the reformation of the people, the reformation of their hearts. A reformation minded pastor does not have the ability to reform the hearts of God’s people. This should be a humbling truth to him. However, this is no reason for him to despair because the scriptures also make it clear that the reformation minded pastor serves the Living God who can and does reform the hearts of His people. Thus, the reformation of a church is God’s work, not the pastor’s. So what a pastor can and should then do is establish the rule of God’s Word among God’s people through preaching, and through prayer, he should cry out to God to grant reformation to His church. Now given the state of many churches today, God’s intent may be to bring judgment upon a church rather than reformation. However, the reformation minded pastor can take comfort in the knowledge that his prayers to the Lord will be heard (1 John 5:14-15) and he will be rewarded for his faithfulness (1 Peter 5:4) whether God sends judgment or grants reformation to his church. And ultimately, the pastor should take comfort in the knowledge that God will indeed fully and completely cleanse and restore His church, His bride, to Himself in the Age to Come (Revelation 19:6-9).

 

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.

The Pain and Glory of Shepherding Christ’s Sheep

By John Greever

John 10:11I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

Acts 20:28Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

1 Peter 5:2-4Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness, nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your chard, but proving to be examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

The job of the pastor is the job of shepherding Christ’s sheep.  Christ entrusts His sheep to the care of the pastor that he might represent Christ in the shepherdly role.  This is a glorious, yet painful task.  The pastor’s call is a wonderful call, but it will drain and hurt him many times.

It is difficult to exhaustively explain all the tasks and responsibilities of the pastor.  The calling and job of the pastor certainly include preaching, teaching, counseling, leading, organizing, overseeing, praying, and a hundred other tasks that need to be done.  But what is the main job of the pastor, according to the Bible?  At the core of evangelism, discipleship training, and developing leaders for the church, we must understand that the pastor’s main job is to lay down his life for Christ’s sheep.  He must shepherd the flock of God, and do it with love, cheerfulness, humility, patience, and courage.  O Lord, who is capable of such things?  This is a glorious calling and a painful job.

Pick up many books today on doing the work of the pastor, and you will read about marketing the church, advertising, building and campus design, trends and cutting-edge methods, communication skills, entertaining a crowd, and bringing about change in an organization.  But one usually will not find in these books much discussion about being a shepherd of Christ’s sheep.  I want to revitalize my own shepherd’s heart (and yours, if you are a pastor) by re-visiting some of the vital issues concerning being a biblical pastor as found in these texts above.  According to the New Testament, a pastor does the following:

  1. Being a pastor means taking care of Christ’s sheep. One of the most basic perceptions that a pastor needs is to realize that he is not at the center of his ministry, Christ is.  Pastors must accept the fact that our ministries are not about us!  Our ministry is an extension of Christ‘s ministry.  He is the GOOD SHEPHERD, and we are His under-shepherds.  Those who are saved do not belong to pastors who pastor them; they belong to Christ.  Christ died for them; Christ shed His blood for them.  They are His!  We shepherd these precious saints in the name of Jesus Christ.  This will free the pastor to be humble, patient, and sacrificial.  We must not look at people as if they are there to advance our careers; they belong to Christ.  We must seek to bring them along in their holy faith in Jesus Christ, in keeping with God’s will.
  1. Being a pastor means laying down your life for Christ’s sheep. The hardest job in the world (that I know of) is parenting children, but shepherding Christians as a pastor is very close to parenting.  Paul uses this language in the passage 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, “We proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.  Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”    This is the pastor’s heart; it feels affection for Christ’s people, for Christ, and for Christ’s calling to the pastor.  The pastor willingly lays down his life for Christ by shepherding Christ’s sheep.  He shares the feeling Paul had when he wrote, “For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered…We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body (Romans 8:36; 2 Corinthians 4:8-10).”  The pastor understands that this will humble us and require of us holy love and affection.
  1. Being a pastor means overseeing and protecting Christ’s sheep. Being a pastor means protecting Christ’s sheep from all adversaries against them.  This usually falls into two major categories:  (1) We teach and maintain true biblical doctrine among Christ’s people, and (2) We protect Christ’s people from those people who would do them harm.  This takes courageous love and loving courage, but it must be done.  And the pastor must do it.
  1. Being a pastor means accepting the responsibility of being an example to Christ’s sheep. The New Testament teaches that Christ’s under-shepherds must mirror and reflect Christ to the people.  Pastors must not tear down with their lives what they seek to build up in their sermons.  Pastors who are honest about their own sin, and humbly acknowledge their own need for grace in growth, will fall on their knees in supplication before God because of this.  Being an example to the people will drive us to prayer, personal confession, and passionate pursuit of godliness in the power of the Spirit informed by the teachings of the Scripture.  Pastors never feel that we “measure up” in this regard, but we must live lives of humility and sincere hunger for God and godliness.  God will use the humble pastor who will do this.
  1. Being a pastor means that we have a vision of Christ’s promise and compensation. Considering these texts of Scripture regarding the pastor’s task, we feel the weight and burden that they give.  But, we must also see the sweet and glorious promise of Christ given to the pastor who will faithfully execute his task in the ministry.  The successful pastor may never seem important to others or be recognized in the eyes of the world, but Christ will acknowledge and claim every faithful pastor for the work that he does for gospel and the kingdom.  There is an “unfading crown of glory” reserved for every bruised and battered pastor who has sought to give his life for Christ and His people.  Heaven will bear witness to the great harvest that God will bring in and through the faithful pastor who seeks to obey and follow Christ in His ministry.  I use the word “compensation” not to suggest that God owes us anything because of a faithful ministry.  But, instead, I believe that the promises of God fulfilled to us and in us in heaven will compensate us for all the turmoil, rejection, and pain that we endure for His sake in ministry.  Paul uses compensatory language in the context of comparing this life’s trouble to eternity’s glory (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18).  Christ’s glory given to us by divine grace in heaven will more than make up for all the toil and trouble that was ours in ministry on earth.

Pastor friend, this world cannot honor you in such a way as to compensate you for your struggles and difficulties in the ministry.  But Christ WILL compensate you in glory forever, and that compensation will be enough.  When you and I get to heaven, dear pastor, and we see the sparkling glory that Christ will share with us, and when the Chief Shepherd places on us His reward that is beyond price, then we will say without fail, IT WAS WORTH IT ALL.  Pastor, be faithful as Christ’s under-shepherd.  May God bless you as you do!

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 will be a speaker the Founders Midwest Conference in 2019. If you would like to attend the Founders Midwest Conference in 2019, be sure to check out our Facebook page or visit our website for more information.

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.

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.