Monday, March 12, 2007

From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist Convention

What Hath Geneva To Do with Nashville?

This is a great article from Tom Ascol - Director of the Founders Ministry.

As disjointed as the two worlds presented in the subtitle may appear to some, there is in reality a close and vital connection between them. The relationship between the two becomes apparent when some of the main features of the Southern Baptist family tree are traced.

We Baptists look to the Scriptures to justify our existence, and that is just as it should be. We are a people of the Book. The Bible, and the Bible alone, is our authority. We look no further than the Scriptures to seek direction for our faith and practice. History is not our authority. Nevertheless, history can be our assistant as we try to learn from the biblical insights of those who have gone before us.

Southern Baptists have a rich heritage, and it stretches back hundreds of years before our actual emergence as a denomination in 1845. Our roots extend all the way back to the fertile soil of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation.

From the Protestant Reformation to 1619

The nineteenth century Scottish theologian William Cunningham called the Protestant Reformation "the greatest event, or series of events, that has occurred since the close of the canon of Scripture".(1) It was, quite simply, a great work of the Spirit of God, a revival of biblical Christianity. Without a doubt, the Reformation stands as the most significant revival since Apostolic times.

General Characteristics of the Reformation

Before an obscure monk named Martin Luther nailed ninety-five theses to the church door at Wittenburg on October 31, 1517, the Church of Christ had been living in spiritually dark times. The Bible had been kept from the common people. The Roman Catholic Church had largely perverted the gospel of God's grace by teaching that salvation comes from the hands of the priests through the administration of the sacraments in response to human works and merit.

With the dawning of the Reformation these perversions of the gospel were exposed, and a renewal of biblical Christianity emerged. Though the story of how this awakening came and spread across Europe and Great Britain is a fascinating one, we must limit ourselves in this pamphlet to an overview of what happened and leave the question of "how" it happened to a later study.

With the rediscovery of the Bible in the sixteenth century came a reawakening to God's way of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. In fact, that little word alone provides a real key to understanding the main themes of the Reformation. In Latin the word is sola and it was used in five phrases that capture the essence of Reformational theology.

Five Reformation Themes

1. Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone

The Reformers taught that the Scripture alone is the final authority for what we must believe and how we must live. This view sounds commonplace to us today, but it was radical in the sixteenth century. For centuries the Roman Catholic Church had asserted its authority over against that of the Bible. The authority of the Pope, tradition, and councils were all regarded as authorities along with the Bible. Against that view, the Reformers asserted sola Scriptura: the Bible, and the Bible alone, is our only infallible source of authority for faith and practice.

2. Sola Gratia: Grace Alone

How can a sinful man become right with a holy God? That is always the most important religious question. It was the question that plagued Luther's conscience and nearly drove him insane before he was converted. Rome had developed a very elaborate system in response to that question. Rome's answer involved human works and merit--a sinner must perform sufficiently well before God if he would receive the blessing of salvation.

But through the study of the Scriptures the Reformers rediscovered that salvation is the gracious gift of God. Man contributes nothing to it. It is only by the sheer, absolute grace of God. Bible words like election and predestination, which magnify the grace of God in salvation, were rediscovered, having been largely forgotten or drained of their meaning by the mainstream of medieval Roman Catholic teachers.(2)

3. Sola Fide: Faith Alone

The Reformers taught that the means whereby a sinner is graciously justified before God is faith--not faith plus merit or faith plus works--but faith alone. Luther discovered that the Bible teaches that the sinner must place his trust in Jesus Christ in order to gain a right standing before God. Through faith alone the righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to the one who believes.

4. Solo Christo: Christ Alone

The Reformation rejected Rome's requirement that common church members put their faith implicitly in the church's teachings. Instead, they argued, Jesus Christ alone is the proper object of faith. He is to be trusted for salvation--not priests, popes, councils, or traditions.

5. Soli Deo Gloria: The Glory of God Alone

In one sense the Reformation can be seen as a rediscovery of God--a reawakening to the greatness and grandeur of the God of the Bible. It is God, not man, who belongs at the center of our thoughts and view of the world. And it is God's glory alone that is to occupy first place in our motivations and desires as His children. He created us and the world for Himself, and He redeemed us for Himself. Our purpose is to glorify Him.

Certainly there are other truths which would need to be discussed in a thorough consideration of reformation theology, but these themes summarize the essence of Reformed thought. It is obvious that the Reformers did not invent these teachings. They simply rediscovered them in the Bible and brought them out into the light for all of God's people to experience. Baptists have been greatly influenced by these Reformed themes.
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