Should Baptists Celebrate the Protestant Reformation?

This month marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, usually dated as having begun on October 31, 1517, when a German monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses for discussion on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. For this reason, many Baptist churches, including the one where I pastor, are preaching this month through the Solas of the Protestant Reformation, which summarize the key theological contribution of the Reformers that are still embraced today by Baptists (See below for a listing of the Solas.).

The Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century was many things, but it was not anything less than a recovery of the gospel. Imperfect men like Martin Luther in Germany, John Calvin in France and Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland brought reformation and revival by emphasizing once again the authority of Scripture and a gospel of salvation of Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone so that God receives all the glory. Thus, the theology of the Reformation can be summarized by the following phrases:

  • By the Scriptures Alone / Sola Scriptura
  • By Grace Alone / Sola Gratia
  • By Faith Alone / Sola Fide
  • By Christ Alone / Solus Christus
  • To God Alone Be The Glory / Soli Deo Gloria

One result of the Protestant Reformation was the formation of the  Church of England (this was slightly more complicated due to Henry VIII’s involvement). Many within the Church of England continued to work to purify the church and some separated to form independent congregations. These independent congregations became either congregational or presbyterian in their church government. Among these separate congregations in the early to mid- 17th century, a number of the pastors and members of these churches became convinced by their study of Scripture that believers were the only proper subjects of baptism, then later that immersion was the only proper mode according to New Testament command and practice. These new Baptist churches which were formed are the direct spiritual forebears of modern-day English and American Baptist churches. For this reason, the core doctrines of the Reformation summarized in the Solas should be extremely important to us as Baptists.

This is not to say that the Reformers were perfect (they weren’t) or that we agree with everything they taught (we don’t) or that there were not other groups prior to and during the Reformation that held to similar convictions as we do about regenerate church membership, immersion of believers, separation of church/state, etc. (there were). The Anabaptists of sixteenth-century Europe are one noble example. There were other groups throughout the medieval period that were persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church, but it is virtually impossible to reconstruct a line of “Baptist” churches dating back to the first century (though many have tried to do so, the Trail of Blood being the most notorious example). Many of the groups who practiced believers’ baptism were not orthodox in other areas of doctrine more central to biblical Christianity (Trinity, person of Christ, justification by faith alone, etc.). These are not my brothers no matter what they believed about baptism.

The seventeenth-century English Baptists were not interested in proving that they were descendants of the Anabaptists or any other group from the medieval period (In fact, they distanced themselves from the Anabaptists.). For them, as it should be for us, it was sufficient to follow what the Scriptures teach and to establish churches according to the pattern found in the New Testament. By following the authority of the Scriptures in establishing their churches they were more consistent in their application of the principles of the Reformation than even the magisterial Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.) had been. So, Baptists are more Protestant than other Protestants, not less. We do not celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation because the key leaders were flawless. They were deeply flawed men who deserve critique and correction. We celebrate the Reformation because the core truths recovered are timeless and are the foundation of our Baptist identity.

An Orthodox Catechism Now Available for Pre-order

ImageReformed Baptist Academic Press is now accepting pre-orders of quantities of 10 or more of An Orthodox Catechism. This catechism is modernized version of the Orthodox Catechism published in 1680 by Hercules Collins. It was itself a revision of the 1563 Heidelberg Catechism loved and used by Protestants world-wide. This edition by Collins edits the section on baptism in a way suitable to a seventeenth-century Baptist. 

Michael A.G. Haykin and I have edited this historic catechism for a modern audience. We have also authored a historical introduction that explains the significance of the catechism along with Collins’ rationale for his edits.

The product page for the book is up on the RBAP website, but you will have to wait until the book is in stock to order individual copies (should be available within a week). The book retails for $12.00, but is available at a special price of $9.00 directly from the publisher. However, for churches or individuals who order 10 or more copies, the price is only $6.00 per copy. You pay shipping and $1.50 handling. These pre-orders must be paid via check. RBAP will invoice you via email. You need to contact RBAP directly to receive this offer.

UPDATE: The book is now available on Amazon for $10.80. Please note that the Kindle edition listed is not our edition, but a transcription of the unedited original.

Article Published in New Book on Heidelberg Catechism

This year marks the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism. This Protestant document was written in Heidelberg in 1563 on behalf of Frederick III, Elector Palatine and spread over the world when it was approved by the Synod of Dort in 1619. A new volume has recently been released to commemorate this important event in church history—Power of Faith: 450 Years of the Heidelberg Catechism, edited by Karla Apperloo-Boersma and Herman J. Selderhuis. See flyer from the German academic publisher, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, here.

In this 454 page hardcover book, respected specialists in their fields present how the Heidelberg Catechism spread and influenced culture, education and ecclesiastical life. In addition to the text, over 700 pictures illustrate the contributions making an attractive volume for display. This work includes the following contribution co-authored by Michael A. G. Haykin and me: “To ‘concenter with the most orthodox divines’: Hercules Collins and his An Orthodox Catechism—a slice of the reception history of the Heidelberg Catechism.”

Power of Faith is slated to be released in Dutch, English and German editions. You can order the English edition from (German edition) now.

Man’s Tradition or God’s Word?

The most famous words in the history of the church may be: “We’ve never done it that way before.” The temptation to elevate tradition above Scripture is one for which we must always remain vigilant. Jesus warned against the Pharisees in Mark 7 who He said, “leave the commandment of God and hold to traditions of men.” (Mark 7:8)

Tradition has had a way of usurping Scripture’s authority repeatedly during the history of the church. It was primarily this elevation of tradition of the church that Martin Luther reacted against during the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s writings infuriated the Pope and most of Christendom. At the Diet of Worms in April of 1521 convened by Emperor Charles, Martin Luther was called upon to recant (take back) his writings against the traditions of the church. When asked if the writings on the table beside him were his, he replied in the affirmative. Then Dr. Luther was asked to deny what was taught in those books, to which Martin heroically responded:

“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. God help me. Amen.”

The “authority of the popes and councils” was the tradition of the church passed down through the centuries. Martin Luther rejected those in favor of “the Word of God” which alone bound his conscience.

But the problem of human tradition is not just a 1st Century Jewish problem with which Jesus dealt, nor is it only a Middle Ages Catholic problem with which Luther dealt. It is a human problem that each of us must deal with both in our churches and within our own hearts.

In the end, Jesus declares the tradition of the Pharisees to be not only a hindrance to integrity by producing hypocritic words and to worship by producing false worship, but also to be an outright rejection of the very Word of God. By the end of Jesus’ response the choice is clear: “Man’s Tradition of God’s Word?” Which will it be?  When “We’ve never done it that way before.” is at odds with “Thus says the Lord” our choice is clear. We must obey the Word of God rather than the traditions of man.

At the end of the day, may what was said of Martin Luther be said of us when the Catholic scholars of his day reported concerning him:  “We’ve tried to reason with Dr. Luther, but he accepts only the authority of Scripture.”

What a great testimony! If only people would be able to say that of us. There is a constant need for reformation in our churches because of this human problem of drifting away from Scripture to tradition. The church is to be Semper Reformanda – “Always Reforming.” For this reason God still wants to use people who will say, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Here I stand. God help me.”

Practical Lessons from the Reformation (Conference Audio)

Click to enlarge.

This past weekend I was privileged to speak at the 16th Annual Reformation Day Conference at Reformed Bible Church near Rutland, Vermont. It was indeed an honor to preach to this gracious and hospitable congregation. The theme for the conference was “Practical Lessons from the Reformation” and the individual sessions are listed below with links to the MP3 audio for download or online listening.

10/25/12  Session 1: “Reformation and the Word of God” (MP3)

10/26/12  Session 2: “The Word in the Church” (MP3)

10/27/12  Session 3: “The Word in the Home – Marriage” (MP3)

10/27/12  Session 4: “The Word in the Home – Children” (MP3)

10/28/12  Session 5: “By Grace Alone” (MP3)

10/28/12  Session 6: “By Faith Alone” (MP3)