Evangelical leaders esteem Reformation heritage at T4G
The legacy of the Protestant Reformation must endure in the doctrine and ministry of the church, evangelical leaders said at the 2016 Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Kentucky, April 12-14.
Nearly 500 years after Martin Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation in 1517, 10,000 attendees from 43 different countries and 20 denominations filled most of the KFC Yum! Center to hear preaching from the biggest names in Reformed evangelicalism. Over 4,000 attendees identified as members of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and co-founder of the T4G conference, said the Protestant Reformation radically transformed the nature of pastoral ministry, starting with Luther himself. The German monk rejected the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel and eventually criticized the priesthood and papacy — key ecclesiological doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.
“Justification by faith alone is not one doctrine among others,” Mohler said of Luther’s famous declaration that justification is the doctrine by which “the church stands or falls.”
“The Solas were not just slogans," Mohler said. "They were a matter of life and death. Without those Solas, there is no gospel.”
Preaching from Colossians 1, Mohler noted that the fundamental question of the Reformation was about the nature of the gospel, and that has not changed in 500 years, he said.
“The key question that drove Luther to his knees — that drove him to those fits he called ‘Anfechtung’ — the key issue that led him to flee the altar in what was supposed to be his first mass, the key issue that was behind his nailing of the 95 Theses to the door is this: How are sins forgiven? And Colossians 1 declares these sins are forgiven in Christ.”
Mohler also presented a breakout session, “Nowhere to Hide? Facing the Reality of the Secular Movement” and was on a panel with Ligon Duncan and John MacArthur on the need for seminary education. James M. Hamilton, professor of biblical theology at Southern Seminary, also spoke at a breakout session about the role of biblical theology in the pastor’s study of Scripture.
David Platt, president of the International Mission Board of the SBC, preached on the martyrdom of English Reformers, including William Tyndale and John Rogers, who were persecuted for translating the Bible into the common language. They were able to endure death at the burning stake, Platt said, because they knew the greatness of their forgiveness from God.
“Your perspective of earthly embers changes when you’ve been saved from an eternal inferno,” Platt said.
With countless unreached people around the world, many of them without a Bible translated into their native language, Platt urged believers to consider what price they are called to pay for the spread of the gospel today. Following the example of Tyndale and Rogers, Christians should boldly speak the gospel despite opposition.
“The martyrs didn't die because they believed this gospel; they died because they were proclaiming this gospel," Platt said.
Matt Chandler, president of the Acts 29 Network and pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, said a healthy awe of God fuels the believer’s endurance through personal trials and public opposition.
“Thin, flat pictures of God will not sustain with the courageous force of a big, deep, beautiful, borderline-frightening, glorious God,” Chandler said. “If you preach him flat, if you preach him small, if you preach him worried, if you preach him hopeful, your people will not be bold.”
Preaching from Paul’s rich doxology in Romans 11:33-36, Chandler said Christians can have absolute confidence in God’s wisdom and provision.
“Christian courage, inflamed and informed by the glory of God, will be the undoing of every empire but the kingdom of God,” he said. “Brothers, be fearless to preach the fullness of the character of God.”
Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and president of 9Marks, said pastors are tempted to place too much value upon worldly achievements like large numbers in the pew, numerous conversions, or many church plants. Instead, he challenged attendees to value the slow, lasting joys of “the elder’s chair” instead of the fleeting joys of the spotlight.
“Things that may first appear to be the kind of nourishing joys that we need to live on may in fact not be,” Dever said. “In fact, they can deprive us of the discipline we need to find our joys where we should.”
Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C., walked through the salvation language in Romans 3:21-26, noting that the glory of saving grace shines brighter when perceived out of the darkness of believers’ fallen condition.
“If we can comprehend something of the ugliness of sin, then we can against that dark backdrop, see something of the beauty of justification,” he said.
Because of God’s mighty and powerful love to save Christians, Anyabwile said, Christians can have absolute confidence in their final deliverance. The Father’s plan stretches into eternity past and will endure forever.
“Before time began, God decided that he would save us, not because of anything we did, but because of what his Son did,” he said. “Because his Son did it, it can never be controverted, it can never be subverted, it can never be taken away for those who trust in Christ.”
MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, said believers should heed Christ’s call for reformation in the church. Expositing the message of Christ to each of the seven churches listed in Revelation 2-3, MacArthur said pastors should remind their congregations to return to their “first love” of fidelity to Christ.
“We all like to call the nation to repentance, but when do we call the church to repentance?” he said.
John Piper, founder of Desiring God and former pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, traced Luther’s doctrine of human sinfulness as expressed in “The Bondage of the Will” through the New Testament, highlighting the numerous ways the Bible describes the human bondage to sin. It is from this slavery to sin and selfishness that Christians were saved and by God’s power that they can live in freedom.
"Our working is not added to God's working. Our working is God's working," he said.
Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, argued Christians cannot be glorified if they have not been sanctified during their lives. Despite some articulations of grace that seem to diminish the importance of personal holiness, Christians should recognize that lives truly changed by the gospel do not live in sin, he said.
After noting the three signs in 1 John that a person is truly regenerated — believing Jesus is the Christ, loving one’s brother, and refraining from sin — DeYoung said Christians must not depend on their own self-evaluation of their spiritual condition.
“You are not bound to be a very good evaluator of the fruit in your life,” DeYoung said. “You need other people. Assurance is a community project.”
C.J. Mahaney, pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Kentucky, said leaders should be prepared for suffering in ministry. The Reformer John Calvin had preached 156 sermons on the book of Job, Mahaney said, and pastors and ministry leaders should learn how trials and suffering relate to their ministry.
"Think of your suffering as part of your sermon preparation,” he said.
Duncan, chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, demonstrated the continuing need for the reformation of the church, as all of Calvin’s reasons for the Reformation are still necessary — justification by faith, a more biblical understanding of the sacraments, and the reclamation of the pastoral office remain areas the Roman Catholic Church has still not reformed.
The 2016 Together for the Gospel conference was the sixth iteration of the conference, which started in 2006 under the leadership of Mohler, Mahaney, Duncan, and Dever. Audio and video from the conference will be available soon at t4g.org.