500 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses (arguments, or grievances) to the doors of Wittenberg churches.
You can find all kinds of information on Luther, so I won’t bore you with history.
I don’t so much want to talk about Martin, the brash, charge into battle, say what’s needed to win an argument, lover of men and the Bible, concerned with grace and grace alone as the means of salvation, monk, as I do want to talk about the reformation. What has it brought and where is it now?
There were many reformers, such as Jan Hus, John Knox, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, Philip Melancthon, John Wycliffe,William Tyndale, Martin Bucer, my personal favorite Ulrich Zwingli, and many others whose names I can neither remember nor pronounce. These were men who liked to talk theology and take action. These were men who could not abide the corruption that was rampant in the church at the time (Note I did not say the “Roman Church” or the “Roman Catholic Church” because we share that unfortunate history of corruption with the Catholics, my protestant friends). These were men who were committed to the word of God and wanted people to read it and respond to it.
But I wonder if we haven’t taken the reformation too far, or perhaps, torn down the guard rails that the reformers intended to keep up. I wonder if they intended Bibles to be read only sparingly and devoid of context by those who start reading in verse eleven of chapter twenty-nine, and then try to “apply” such a verse to their lives never wondering, “Should I read chapters 1-28?”
I wonder what the reformers would say, if they walked through our “protestant” churches today and saw scads of people who couldn’t tell you what the gospel was, groups of millennials who see no problem in shacking up without marriage or getting blackout drunk every weekend, scores of elderly people (widows in particular) looking to the government to provide for their daily needs because the church won’t or can’t, and pristine, mint-condition, unread Bibles in every person’s hand. I wonder if they would’ve liked what their reformation has produced.
What I’m describing may be partly geographical. It generally describes bible-belt non-denom and Baptist churches. These people I’ve described would affirm good biblical doctrines but wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about where in the Bible they are found or WHY those doctrines are the ones they believe.
I worry so much to see what I suspect are unsaved people walking through church, and the only thing I can think to pray is, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
And I realize, the problem does not begin with these people! The problem begins with weak-minded elders (or more so “Senior Pastors”… a term you won’t find in Scripture) who think that numerical church growth and making people comfortable are the cornerstones and markers of true Christian practice and health!
Are you learning the Bible from your pastor? Are you growing in holiness and love of God? Are you reminded of the sinful, corrupt nature of your flesh from the pulpit, and then reminded that God’s grace is the antidote to that sin? Are you taught of the magnitude and wonder of a God who creates beings with wills, in his image? Are you humbled by the awesome might of our Triune God and dumbfounded by the love that he displays for rebellious sinners? Have you learned what the words “Triune” and “sin” mean?
What I’m asking is, do you have a pastor?
The word pastor in the New Testament is the same as the word for shepherd. Think about what a shepherd does. He guides and cares for his sheep, and knows everything he can about every one of them. This is what a “pastor” does for his people. Jesus calls himself the good pastor, the good shepherd. Pastors today should be following his lead.
Does your pastor even know your name? Better yet, does your pastor know what sins you struggle against, and encourage you in killing those sins? Does your pastor shepherd you, does he pastor you? Or does your pastor preach a sermon each week? If so, he’s a preacher not a pastor. (Not that we don’t need preachers. We do! We just can’t let one role replace the other.)
A pastor is that person who teaches you the word of God, both in words and in actions, who spurs you on to good works, reprimands you when you sin, eats with you and talks with you regularly, and shows you how better to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. A pastor is a person who disciples you, meaning he makes you a better learner of God and His promises and His word. He is intimately acquainted with the realities of your life and guides you in wise and godly responses to the tests and temptations you face each day. He encourages you to serve the other parts of the church (members of the body) in the ways that you are gifted. He praises you for your acts of service, or generosity, and he makes you want to do those acts more. He cries with you when you need to cry, laughs with you when you need to laugh, and slaps you across the face with biblical truth when you need to be slapped.
To put it simply, your pastor is the biblical teacher involved in your life who loves you.
This man in your life does not necessarily hold the title “senior pastor” at your church. He may be a small group leader, or a Sunday school teacher, or the guy who sets up the coffee table every Sunday. If you don’t have someone in mind right now, then you do not have a pastor, my friend. You do not have a shepherd, and sheep without shepherds are in serious danger of starving or being eaten by wolves.
Are you a pastor? Are you performing the actions described above for someone else? Not all should. It is a dangerous thing to teach the Bible if you don’t know what it says. If you are a woman, it says to only do these things for other women. If you teach the word, it says to be wary, for you will be held to a stricter judgment. If you have been given this gift of teaching, and training, guiding,and encouraging… the gift of pastoring… then who are you pastoring? You don’t have to be on staff at a church to do it. If you have been given this gift, but you do not use it, what use are you? If the mouth one day said, “I will not speak,” what damage could be done to that body?
I wonder if the reformers saw the church today and would wonder if the Roman church of the 16th century had gone on an incognito mission to ensure that everyone in Protestantism still tried to work, or buy, their way to heaven, but they had the added benefit of thinking they weren’t trying to do it at the same time. I wonder if they asked the average church-goer what it means to be saved by grace, if they would get anything like consistent, or true, answers. I wonder if those people would even know that they need to be saved. I wonder if they would consider the common church today to be more or less the exact same thing they were fighting against 500 years ago.
Most of all, I wonder when Christ will return and answer all these questions with a battle cry. Come Lord Jesus, come soon!
This isn’t as organized as my posts usually are. This is just a peek into what my internal monologue says when I ask it the question, “What do you think are the effects of the reformation?” Boring huh?