On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the Wittenberg Cathedral door and as they say “the rest is history.” That act ignited what arguably might be considered the most revolutionary movement in the history of Christianity since Pentecost. In 2017 we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of this landscape changing event. In that same year I will have the opportunity to lead another Reformation I tour – Following in the Martin Luther Steps of the Reformers; Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Bucer. One of the reasons I enjoy taking people on historical tours is the experience of watching them “getting insight while they are onsite.” On previous Reformation Tours three “insights” while being “onsite” not only captured my attention but subsequently influenced my approach to ministry and have actually become even more influential in the challenge of doing Gospel ministry in today’s world. First I need to document five observations to frame these “insights” from yesterday to affirm their “onsite” importance for today.
Remember these Reformation ministry insights are selective and hopefully helpful but by no means exhaustive of the many valuable ministry lessons embedded in the Reformation.
The cultural climate for today’s Gospel ministry is amazingly similar to that of the Reformation revealing the need for another Gospel Awakening.
Rampant sexual immorality
Pervasive lifestyle addictions and violence
Widespread corruption and compromised self-serving leaders in both the church and state.
It must be remembered and reaffirmed that a national Gospel Awakening only comes through a robust God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Spirit-filled, prayer-empowered and Gospel-saturated Church.
In contrast to the above, today’s church is Biblically illiterate, spiritually impotent and is in desperate need of a heaven-sent revival to be positioned as a Divinely-prepared instrument for a Gospel Awakening.
The revival needed in the church awaits a Reformation among pastoral leaders. A Reformation that will provide the church with Gospel ministers who are personally and pastorally committing themselves to embrace the Biblical mission, message and prioritized means of ministry focused upon “prayer and the Word” as designed by the Triune God of glory and grace.
Learn From the Past – To Live in the Present – To change the Future
To be a Kingdom movement Christians cannot and must not live in the past. If we do we become a museum. But we should intentionally learn from the past to live effectively in the present in order to change the future. In other words we move forward by first going backward. That’s why the Lord would have His people erect an “Ebenezer” and then instruct His people to bring their children back and “tell the next generation what great things the Lord has done.” Why? The answer is simple. When you know what He has done and why did it as well as how we can celebrate what He did in worship as well as prayerfully learn from what He did in order to implement Divinely revealed principles in our commitment to expand the Kingdom to all the nations – knowing that the Lord our God is the “same yesterday, today and forever” and as His people our best days are yet to come.
Three Selected Reformation “Insights” From Being “Onsite”
1: The Reformation was the result of Divinely called, equipped, empowered and sent leaders.
The Reformation evoked a Gospel Awakening which spread through Europe and overflowed to N. Africa, South America and beyond. The Reformation was Heaven-sent by the Sovereign grace of God through the ministry of Prayer and the Word from a Holy Spirit revived and Bible-renovated church. And without doubt it came from the Lord through imperfect but impassioned leaders who were marked by courage and compassion. The simple fact affirmed in Scripture and history is that when God sovereignly moves by His grace and for His glory He raises up and sends out leaders with a calling that becomes their relentless passion.
Life Takeaway: We need to pray for and intentionally cultivate Godly leaders in the church, for the church and from the church into the world.
2: When God calls, equips and sends movement leaders He invariably calls, equips and sends other leaders alongside of them creating a “team of leaders.”
Let me confess this is not an exhaustive analysis. But in following the steps of the magisterial Reformation leaders in the sites of their ministry efforts, i.e., Luther in Wittenberg; Bucer in Strasbourg; Zwingli in Zurich; Calvin in Geneva; Knox in Edinburgh, I realized something that confirmed what I had always believed but now rejoiced to see it once again documented in history. It is a simple but also profound fact:
When God raises up a leader, that leader will attract, multiply and mobilize other leaders and to ensure their perseverance, effectiveness and maturity God will raise up and send other leaders to work in tandem with them.
I praise God for Luther but I also praise God for Melanchthon who marvelously complemented and enhanced Luther personally and ministerially. God gave us Zwingli and He also gave Zwingli the incomparable Bullinger. He gave us Bucer but praise the Lord he gave Calvin to Bucer at the right time and for the right season. He then sent Calvin back for the second time to Geneva the citadel of the Reformation. He then gave Calvin the indomitable Theodore Beza. From the womb of Geneva and the mentorship of Calvin our Lord gave to the Reformation John Knox and He gave to Knox the ever faithful Christopher Goodman.
The magisterial Reformers were magisterial because of the Hand of God’s Providence manifested in multiple ways and for multiple reasons. But undoubtedly one of those ways was the gift of competent leaders to complement them personally and ministerially. And praise the Lord He gave the Reformers the ability to both see their need of leadership plurality and welcome the principle and the practice of leadership plurality. These Reformers were leaders of unbelievable passions, gifts and devotion but with magisterial gifts and strengths there will inevitably be significant blind spots and weaknesses. But the Lord addresses these blind spots and weaknesses by providing leadership plurality. The result is a “team of leaders” which not only delivers the necessary complementary gifts but also creates an interdependent relationship of personal accountability.
Life Takeaway: Effective leaders not only reject solo leadership to pursue effective and accountable leadership, they also reject “leadership teams” which functionally serve the primary leader. Instead they employ “teams of leaders” that functionally serve to multiply, mobilize and motivate leaders in the church and from the church to the community.
3: The Priority of Christian Education to bless the Church and then bless the Community through the Church.
In my study of the era of Colonization, I was struck by the consistent action of colonists who once they landed at their destination or in some cases what they thought was their destination but actually was not. When they arrived they built a “church” – a place for worship and thanksgiving. They would then build a “family home” which initially would be sufficient for the bare necessities of life. Then before a reliable community infrastructure was established or in some cases a reliable food supply they would build a school. A school erected to not only educate church members but also committed to providing an educational initiative for the indigenous population would be provided.
It struck me that the 17th century colonists were doing what the 16thcentury Reformers in exile did. A robust Gospel church for worship and discipleship was always the first priority matched only by the need of a family home. But then with clear purpose the church would erect a school not only to educate the covenant community but also the general population. In a word they were committed to the Great Commission (teaching them to observe all I have commanded you) and to the Great Commandment (to love the Lord with all their mind… and to love their neighbors) by providing public education from the church to the community. Not only would they provide a school to prepare leaders for the church and the family but also leaders from the family and church for the community.
Life Takeaway: Christian Education is not only a parental commitment to our Covenant children but can and should be a gracious gift from the church to benefit the community by being intentionally designed to educate the public and mentor civic leaders.
Harry Reeder is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Ala. This article appeared on his blog.