Mission Lab 2018

Pastors examine the Reformation’s impact on their pastoral ministry

October 2nd, 2017 / By: Tammi Reed Ledbetter | Special Assignments Editor / comments

Pastors examine the Reformation’s impact on their pastoral ministry

When a local Episcopal priest asked to borrow some adult-sized robes from First Baptist Church of Keller, Pastor Keith Sanders couldn’t resist having a little fun with his answer.

A family in the Episcopal church had asked to be baptized by immersion instead of the more common practice of sprinkling. Sanders was pleased to lend them some robes, then told the priest, “’We are always happy to assist with the Reformation.’”

Sanders told the TEXAN he wasn’t kidding. “The essence of the Reformation is an attempt to correctly answer the question of how a person can be made right with God.” He added that Baptists stand with Martin Luther and John Calvin in believing “salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.”

The answer to that all-important question is found in the Bible, Sanders said, and not in papal decrees or councils or in the keeping of the sacraments. “Unlike Luther and Calvin, Baptists abhor infant baptism [also an Episcopalian practice] and reject the idea of a theocratic state. We do so based on our understanding of Scripture.”

While the Protestant Reformation began 500 years ago when Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Sanders reminded, “In reality, the Reformation never ends. Each generation of faithful Christians must constantly measure our doctrine and practice against the unchanging Word of God.”

Other pastors contacted by the TEXAN also related how a study of Reformation history has influenced how they pastor, describing the significance of relying on Scripture alone as authoritative and finding encouragement in the example of the Reformers.

“It was through the Conservative Resurgence that we as Southern Baptists, just like our brothers and sisters of the Reformation, proclaimed that Scripture alone is our sole authority,” stated Jack Maddox, pastor of First Baptist Church of Post. 

Though he does not describe himself as “reformed” in the popular sense of the word, Maddox said he is grateful for the Reformation and the role it has played in church history. Although many were working to reform the church prior to Luther’s Reformation, Maddox said, “There is much that the Reformation period and its 500th anniversary bring to us that informs us concerning the glory of God and his activity throughout redemptive history.”

Since Southern Baptists “are people of the book,” Maddox said the foundational principle of sola Scriptura resonates with him. 

And while he noted that much can be said concerning the issue of Calvinism vs. traditionalism in the current Southern Baptist context, he said, “We all can and should agree that the Reformation directed our understanding of salvation from a man/church-centered to a God-centered primacy in redemption. To me, this was necessary then, and it is vital today.”

In considering the five solas from the Protestant Reformation, pastor Richard Piles of Emory Baptist Church in Emory finds all of them to be important, but said, “Sola Scriptura is the one from which all of the others flow.”

He recalled learning from his college pastor, Chris Osborne of Central Baptist Church in College Station, that the Bible has to be the highest authority for the follower of Christ and the preacher of God’s Word.

“Certainly the Bible will always face competition from experience, science, history, etc. However, the very words of God must be what govern how I live and how I pastor, and I have attempted to live and pastor accordingly,” Piles said.

“Therefore, when I think about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and its influence on me and my life, sola Scriptura is where I look first.  

Tim Wheeless, pastor of Fairway Baptist Church in Wichita Falls, finds in his study of the Reformation a greater understanding of a pastor’s responsibility to his congregation.

“The Reformation had a profound impact on pastoral ministry from the 16th century right into the 21st century,” Wheeless said, describing a renewal of submission to the authority of Scripture, which led to a fresh understanding of the church and its leadership.

“Reformers such as Martin Bucer wrote about the pastor’s responsibility to the flock, influencing men of faith hundreds of years later.” Wheeless said in reading the writings of the Reformers along with Scripture, he finds “a timeless reminder that our ministry is a ministry of God’s perfect Word to imperfect people.”

That conviction prompts him to recognize, “We shepherd in the conflict between God and man, proclaiming the gospel, preaching the Word, and calling men to respond in repentance and faith. Here we stand and can do no other.”

Wheeless concluded, “The Reformation’s renewed submission to Scripture and refreshed expression of pastoral authority is a legacy that should encourage every pastor.”

Bill Gardner, pastor of First Baptist Church of Schertz, also finds encouragement and challenge from the Reformation, especially at its inception.

“The courage displayed by Luther in the publication of his 95 Theses is remarkable, especially when you consider that he must have known what the reaction to them was going to be. Certainly he knew that his life would be at risk for the stand he was taking, yet he stood. In his own words, he could “do no other.” 

Gardner said, “In this era when we’re experiencing the marginalization of evangelical Christianity, I find it helpful to examine the words and works of men who so loved the gospel that they were willing to risk all in its defense, even when the vast majority appeared opposed to them. That willingness, that faithfulness, was so blessed of God that we’re still feeling the impact of their convictions 500 years later.

“My hope is that it will continue to inspire the saints to be agents of change as we move into a new era of gospel ministry.”