Month: October 2017

Joyce McKinley to be nominated as SBTC secretary

MESQUITE-Pastor Terry Turner, of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church, has announced his intention to nominate Joyce McKinley as convention secretary during the SBTC annual meeting, November 13-14, at Criswell College, in Dallas. McKinley and her husband, Alton, were long-time members of Mesquite Friendship until they joined a group from the church in planting Rowlett Friendship Church in 2016.

Turner described the McKinley’s faithful work with youth, children and married couples during the 20 years they were members at Mesquite Friendship. “She has always exemplified the highest Christian qualities and will serve our convention well,” he added.

Mrs. McKinley joins Juan Sanchez of Austin (president) and Joshua Crutchfield of Madisonville (vice president) as the announced candidates for elected convention offices during this year’s annual meeting.

REVIEW: “The Mountain Between Us” is a fun film ¦ with some monumental problems

Alex is a 40-something woman stranded in an airport, desperately trying to find an available flight so she won’t miss her wedding the next day. Ben, too, is stranded, and as a neurosurgeon needs to get home so he won’t miss a critical appointment at the hospital.

And with a major snow storm approaching, all hope seems lost.

Alex, though, has a solution: She will pay the pilot of a small private plane to take her to the nearest commercial airport, which has plenty of available flights. And she will get Ben – a total stranger – to split the bill. Brilliant, right? Well, not really.

The problems begin when the pilot flies into the storm. Then, he has a stroke. Then, the plane crashes on top of a snow-capped mountain – miles and miles from civilization in the Idaho wilderness. It kills the pilot, but Alex and Ben survive. Can they find enough food and withstand the harsh elements until they find civilization?     

The Mountain Between Us (PG-13) opens this weekend, telling the story of two strangers who must fight for survival despite their vast differences. It stars Idris Elba (Prometheus, The Dark Tower) as Ben and Kate Winslet (Titanic, Revolutionary Road) as Alex, and was directed by Hany Abu-Assad, who also helmed the 2005 Oscar-nominated film Paradise Now.

Alex is a white American and Ben a black Englishman, but their differences go much deeper. She, of course, is engaged; he was married years ago. She’s spontaneous and wants to search for help; he’s cautious and wants to wait at the crash site. She’s a photographer with an artistic view on life; he’s a surgeon with an analytical mind.       

The Mountain Between Us is enjoyable as a survival film, although it has a few major content problems that might cause some moviegoers to stay at home.

Warning: spoilers!    


Minimal. The crash is intense but not gory. Ben suffers an abdominal wound; Alex has cuts to the face and a broken leg. Later, one character nearly falls off a cliff. A cougar threatens another character. Finally, Alex nearly drowns in the frigid water.


Moderate. Their predicament leads to some awkward moments. Needing to urinate but unable to loosen her pants due to her broken leg, Alex requests the help of Ben. Nothing is seen, and it remains non-sexual. Later, they joke about her “fancy underwear.” The movie’s most problematic moment takes place after they find an abandoned house at the bottom of the mountain. There, they kiss and make love in a bedroom scene that borderline ruins the movie, even if it doesn’t contain nudity (although we see plenty of skin).    

Coarse Language

Excessive. I counted 18 coarse words, many of them profane: misuse of “Jesus” (5), OMG (3), s—t (3), misuse of “Jesus Christ” (2), misuse of “God” (1), f-word (1), d—n (1), a—(1), h-ll (1).

Other Positive Elements

Ben’s beliefs about marriage are admirable. We learn that his wife died two years ago, yet he has continued to wear his wedding ring out of a sense of commitment. The film’s final minutes further highlight his beliefs about marriage, when he says he refused to take a phone call from a suiter because he thought she was married.     

Ben also says of the human body’s ability to cope in cold weather: “It’s quite ingenious what God did.”  

Other Negative Elements

Hollywood creates dozens if not hundreds of movies each year with a simple premise: Follow your heart. The Mountain Between Us is another such film. Scripture, of course, urges us to align our heart with God’s will (Proverbs 3:5). Why? Because the heart is wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).

Life Lessons

The Mountain Between Us provides plenty of lessons about the human will to survive. Facing sub-freezing conditions with no food and water, each day they find a reason to keep living.

The movie also spotlights unselfish actions. She urges him to go find help and leave her behind, but he refuses, knowing she might die. In fact, several times he chooses to risk his own life to keep her safe.  


God created humans with the will to survive during physically challenging times, but he also equipped us with the gifts to do so. Think about it: Animals can’t make a fire or cook food. They can’t build snowshoes and sleds. But God gave people the knowledge to survive in the harshest of conditions – from frigid cold to desert heat. That’s not true of any animal. Take out the objectionable content, and The Mountain Between Us is a fascinating exploration of mankind’s incredible ability to cope and survive. Our bodies even adjust! Ben said it best: “It’s quite ingenious what God did.”   

What I Liked

The mountain scenes (it was filmed in British Columbia) and the survival story (there are plenty of surprises). The ending was pretty good, too.

What I Didn’t Like

The language and the bedroom scene. What can’t Hollywood make a romantic movie without tossing in a sex scene? It is possible to fall in love without immediately hopping in the bed. Scripture says as much – and commands it. Honestly, the movie lost its momentum from that point forward.  


The Mountain Between Us is not suitable for children. As for teens? Families will reach different conclusions, but the bedroom scene will cause many parents to squirm (or get up and walk out). It might be best to wait for the DVD.  

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think Ben kept wearing his wedding ring?
  2. What would you have done if you were in Ben’s position when he was trying to survive? In Alex’s position?
  3. Do you think Alex should have married Mark?
  4. Ben said the “heart is just a muscle.” Was he right or wrong?
  5. What makes humans different from animals in a survival situation?
  6. Did you like the ending? Why or why not?

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

The Mountain Between Us is rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images, and brief strong language.

What do Reformation Anabaptists have to do with Contemporary Baptists?

One man’s noise is another man’s symphony. Indeed, the Anabaptists are more often thought of as clanging nuisances of history many have sought to mute or dismiss—sounds of history that are more noise than melody, more cacophony than symphony. In the years following Martin Luther’s first strides toward reformation, the sirens of the Anabaptists concussed in strident discord to Ulrich Zwingli and the Swiss Reformer’s idea of a Magisterial Reformation. Often these and later Baptists were thus stamped with the label of Münster revolutionaries, a mischievous sect, who many solemnly swore were up to no good. 

Yet, as William Estep argued, “Anabaptism might well be, outside the Reformation itself, the most influential movement the sixteenth century spawned” for religious liberty and the separation of church and state. G. H. Williams identified three groups of Anabaptists: revolutionary, contemplative, and evangelical—with the latter most theologically close to the Magisterial Reformers in terms of their doctrines of the sole authority of Scripture and justification by faith alone. Herein, then, lies the value of the Reformation Anabaptists for contemporary Baptists. The Reformation Anabaptists show how one can hold gospel unity with the rest of the Protestants while pushing for further reformation in local church doctrine and practice.

The early evangelical Anabaptists in Zurich were trained by Zwingli in the humanist tradition of returning to the original sources for doctrinal development. Through this training, many of the evangelical Anabaptists first encountered the sola fide, solus Christus, sola gratia gospel and as a foundation embraced with deep devotion the concept of sola Scriptura.  This careful study of the Bible in its original languages led several of the Anabaptists to press Zwingli for New Testament fidelity when it came to ecclesiology. The basis for much of this disagreement arises over the placement of what the Reformers called “the fall of the church.” For the Anabaptists, they concluded and maintained that the point at which the church fell or entered into a period of sustained corruption was the point at which “church and state were united under Constantine.” Estep explains that the Reformers by and large saw the Constantinian era “as a period of the church’s triumph” and thus did not come to see the church as ever achieving a complete fall. Rather, they focused on Papal corruption and sought to reform the existing structure from within.

An obvious area of disagreement, of course, occurred over the doctrine of baptism. When the Anabaptists moved to embrace believer’s baptism (not yet immersion), it was a move they felt was obligatory not because they saw baptism now as participating in the act of salvation, but rather because they saw it intrinsically linked to the establishment of a free church separate from the state. As Estep explains, “Each of the terms [they] used was intended to convey the meaning of baptism as the deliberate, voluntary act of a committed disciple of Jesus Christ. Therefore, baptism for the believer symbolizes his newness of life and his determination to follow Christ even unto death. … Without it, the visible church could not exist.” Further, the Anabaptists saw the recovery of the church as intrinsically connected to the recovery of the gospel itself. Estep says, “The nature of the gospel and of man’s response to it are also reasons [for rejecting the baptism of infants]. Faith, man’s response to the proclaimed Word, is the foundation of the church. Only the faithful are qualified for baptism and church membership.”

Thus, it was in Zurich on Jan. 21, 1525, the first Anabaptists left the prevalent and state-mandated tradition of infant baptism and followed their biblical convictions that true baptism should be administered solely to believers, and that such believer’s baptism should function as the entrance into membership of the local church. Estep recounts the significance of this event:

“On this fateful night the concept of a Believers’ Church based upon a voluntary confession of faith confirmed by the act of public baptism found concrete realization in history. Thus, from a handful of radicals in Switzerland and South Germany who preferred to call themselves Brethren in Christ, the Free Church movement sprang.” 

Signaling the reemergence of the Free Church, these were songs of harmonic precision providing the motivating accompaniment for the beginnings of an ecclesiastical revolution.

The Anabaptists developed multiple enemies for their actions. Leonard Verduin describes the developments among the Anabaptists as the “second front” of concern for Magisterial Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. On the one hand, the Magisterial Reformers’ first front of concern was clearly the actions and reactions of the Roman Catholics to their call for church reformation. The Magisterial Reformers desired to reform the Catholic Church in all areas of corruption by rightly establishing the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ by faith alone as the center of faith and practice. On the other hand, the Magisterial Reformers were concerned with the Anabaptists’ desire to move beyond church reform to complete restoration of the church to its New Testament origins. 

What value, then, do the Reformation Anabaptists have for contemporary Baptists? First, the Anabaptists of the 16th century are helpful lenses through which to find instruction and encouragement, but cannot serve as the de facto path for church structure and interaction with the civil and popular culture of the 21st century. Nor should those of us in the Baptist tradition expend effort to build or rebuild a case for some kind of historical connectedness from 21st-century Nashville to 16th-century Zurich. Rather, contemporary Baptists, and truly all free-church evangelicals, share an indebtedness to the Anabaptists for the ecclesiological principles they pioneered and founded on New Testament truth. Herein lies the basis of a connection to them.

Second, the Anabaptists can serve as model for how to endure and face suffering and persecution especially when such comes due to misunderstanding of one’s beliefs or through blatant injustice. In 1525, in Switzerland and South Germany, the distance between believer’s baptism, the believers’ church, the gospel, and death was short. The price to be paid for defending biblical church distinctives in this climate was more often than not the ultimate price. Yet, these believers were standing under the conviction of what they perceived to be the biblical means for protecting gospel essentials: the preservation and right articulation of the gospel can only be accomplished through the preservation and right articulation of the church. 

When thinking about the role of the Anabaptists in the Reformation and contemporary Baptists, I am helped by Carlos M. N. Eire’s assessment in his new history of the Reformation, where he concludes that the Anabaptists were “ahead of their time.” Perhaps, particularly in terms of their advocacy of the separation of church and state as well as religious liberty, they were made for our time. In short, what many for years have found cacophonous noise, contemporary Baptists now should hear these lessons from Reformation Anabaptists as symphonious. 

Defending Orthodoxy

The Reformation began when a preacher-theologian became convicted that his church’s dogma did not align with Scripture. For centuries, there were calls for moral or structural reformation, but Martin Luther knew the problem was more foundational because it was doctrinal. When called upon to recant his writings before the hostile imperial court in Worms, Luther asked for more time to consider. The next day, with great trepidation, he boldly proclaimed in Latin, “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” He concluded in German with the immortal words, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” The Reformation reached a crisis point that day, but Luther steadfastly defended biblical orthodoxy against all opposition.

One great responsibility for every church leader is defending truth against error. Alongside many pastor-theologians who have come before, I know the extraordinary personal weight this entails. I tremble at the prospect of providing an account to the omniscient divine inhabitant of the eternal throne regarding how I cared for each and every one of the people he entrusted to my teaching.

The risen Lord Jesus Christ once assigned to Peter and the apostles (John 21:15-17) and subsequently assigns to pastors the unparalleled role of shepherding his flock, a flock he bought with his own blood (Acts 20:28-29). This is serious business. The language of Paul in Acts 20 evokes violent imagery. “Savage wolves” will “not spare” the flock, so church leaders must “guard” his precious sheep. 

The Old Testament was even more vivid in correlating violence with false prophecy. Moses legislated the death penalty for false prophets (Deut. 13:1-5). Ezekiel warned Israel’s shepherds that God would exact vengeance against their neglect for and abuse of his flock (Ezek. 34). Jeremiah rained declamations and prophesied doom upon false prophets (Jer. 14; 23). Jesus also disclosed the rapacious nature of false preachers (Matt. 7:5-16; Mark 13:22).

During the Middle Ages and the Reformation, Christian leaders subsequently deemed it important to protect the church from evil proclamation. When the leaven of wicked teaching enters the church, it grows into a cancer. Heresy can stick around for centuries. However, the traditional solution of Christendom, which built upon Augustine’s misreading of the parable of wheat and tares (Matt 13:24-30), wrongly employed hasty physical violence rather than patient spiritual means to combat theological error. On the one hand, with our Medieval and Reformation forefathers in the faith, and against Modernity’s disdain for dogma, I agree that the faith is worth dying for. On the other hand, I wholeheartedly condemn the misguided, revolting and immoral use of bodily coercion to defend orthodoxy.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that our ultimate battle is not against humanity but against spiritual forces, who manifest themselves variously (vv. 10-12). In this battle, the weapons a Christian employs are primarily defensive, involving the protection of the soul against demonic attack (vv. 13-16). Indeed, the only offensive weapon in the Christian arsenal is the Word of God, a spiritual sword that is confined to the visible activities of speaking and writing (v. 17). Moreover, and this is so important, Paul did not focus upon his own physical protection or bodily preservation. Rather, he focused upon bold proclamation of God’s Word even at the cost of his personal freedom (vv. 19-20).

I have engaged in polemic on behalf of orthodox doctrine as a pastor, as the president of a local pastor’s conference, as a speaking and writing theologian, and as an active denominational voice. However, I have learned to approach these things as the Lord Jesus and his apostles did. Consider the following three principles for defending orthodoxy.

First, the orthodox should not be concerned to defend themselves personally. My friends sometimes become frustrated when I fail to respond to personal attacks, for they wish to see my reputation or welfare conserved. However, if our Lord amazingly maintained silence when it came to his body’s self-protection (Mark 14:60-61a, 15:1-5), while yet clearly speaking the gospel (vv. 61a-62), then I believe this should be the Christ-follower’s typical practice. Even if he temporarily or even belatedly appeals to the state for shelter (Acts 16:38; 22:25), the orthodox preacher must do so not for the gospeler’s preservation but for the gospel’s proclamation.

Second, defending the faith with dogmatic definition is important. Propositional clarity is provided through properly interpreting the Word of God in the context of the church. Heresies are inevitable, even providential, functioning as a means for positively identifying orthodox teachers through the negative example of false teachers (1 Cor. 11:19). Technically, a “heresy” is a falsehood the church has rebuked but which certain teachers continue to hold stubbornly, in spite of correction, and ultimately removal from regular communion. An “error” is of a lesser nature, involving theological disagreement, even disputation, but without resulting in the separation of heresy. It is particularly important in defining truth as it relates to heresy to privilege not the scholarly theologian’s authority, nor even the creeds of tradition, as important as these are, but the Spirit-led church’s hermeneutical conclusions.

 Third and finally, Paul reminds us that defending orthodoxy is not about enforcing definition. Rather, the defender of the faith must be intent upon personal piety. In his instructions to the Ephesian elders, Paul said they must first act reflexively, “Be on guard for yourselves” (Acts 20:28a). Similarly, he warned Timothy to be doubly reflexive, “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching” (1 Tim. 4:16a). The defender is not an inquisitor setting himself up as a judge of the minds and consciences of others, but he is a constant examiner of his own personal conduct and conversation in order to help bring about the salvation of himself and others (1 Tim. 4:16b). It is in the Spirit-graced effort to align one’s life and lips with the Word of God that the true theologian finds effectiveness.

Over the years, I have been attacked publicly in books and articles, as well as on blogs and in op-ed pieces, and sometimes with oral abuse. Most recently, this occurred after putting forth a resolution to affirm penal substitutionary atonement. Why not enter the comment streams and bang heads? Because orthodoxy’s purpose is not defending self, nor slamming others, but teaching well. And the way to right teaching (“orthodoxy” more woodenly means “right opinion” but also “right teaching”) is for the teacher to be righteous in thought, word and deed before God. Out of that sure relation, and in the act of teaching truth, we defend orthodoxy because it glorifies God. The defender of orthodoxy wishes to hear only one affirmation, and that in the Eschaton, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

Echoes of Luther”s Hammer

On Oct. 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther took hammer and nail to affix a list of theological concerns to a church door in the small German town of Wittenberg. He simply wanted to discuss these “95 Theses” with his colleagues at the university, but little did he know that his criticisms of the Catholic Church’s selling of indulgences would lead to a theological revolution spanning continental Europe and beyond.

While this pivotal moment is generally referred to as the start of the Protestant Reformation, Luther was not the first to call for reforms within the Catholic Church. In centuries prior, many notable voices such as John Wycliffe and John Hus called for a return to the Scriptures and cried against the moral corruption within the papacy as well as unbiblical doctrines and practices that permeated the Catholic Church.

Luther’s 95 Theses attacked the practice of selling indulgences—written certificates promising forgiveness of sins and release from purgatory. The Pope had authorized the sale of indulgences in order to raise money for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Because Luther had become convinced through his study of Scripture that salvation was by grace through faith alone, he rejected the works-based salvation espoused by Catholic doctrine. Ultimately, his attacks on indulgences carried with them implications not just related to personal salvation but also clerical abuse, the sale of spiritual goods, the doctrine of purgatory, and most importantly the authority of the pope. 

When someone translated Luther’s theses into the common vernacular of German, copies were printed and distributed throughout the country and struck a chord with throngs of people dissatisfied with the corruption and oppression in the Catholic Church. Instantly, Luther became a national hero, the poster child for someone standing against papal abuse.

Several months later, when Luther was invited to defend his views, he bypassed the issue of indulgences and addressed larger theological concerns such as original sin, free will, grace, and the distinction between law and gospel. His criticisms of the church’s doctrines drew the ire of Pope Leo X, and he was called to retract his statements and to submit to the pope’s authority. He refused to recant, stating that Scripture was the ultimate authority. 

Eventually, at a disputation in Leipzig in the summer of 1519, Luther debated his views with Johann Eck, a theologian from Ingolstadt who had published theses against Luther. The exchange between the two was explosive and led many to condemn Luther as a heretic. 

The following year, Luther’s boldness increased as he published four provocative books that vehemently rejected the pope’s spiritual authority, including claims that only the pope could reliably interpret Scripture and call church councils. Instead, Luther argued, Christ is the head of the church and the mediator of salvation, not the pope. In addition to calling for a long list of practical reforms, Luther also attacked the sacramental system. Again, these works were translated into German and widely circulated, increasing the popularity and acceptance of Luther’s convictions.  

Pope Leo responded with an edict giving Luther 60 days to recant or else be excommunicated from the church. In an act of public defiance, Luther burned the papal bull at a bonfire in Wittenberg, causing the pope to issue the statement of excommunication. 

In April 1521 in the town of Worms, Luther was brought to trial and once again called to renounce his writings and criticisms against the pope and the Catholic Church, to which he offered his famous reply: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor wise to go against conscience.  … Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

Luther was immediately excommunicated, declared a heretic and a criminal. For fear of his safety, he was kidnapped by some friends on his way home from Worms. They brought him to Wartburg Castle, where he spent nearly a year in seclusion but used that providential time to produce many works, including his most significant—translating the Greek New Testament into German so the common man could read it. The New Testament was published in 1522 and experienced immediate, widespread success as the people were able to read the Bible for themselves. In 1534, he completed his translation of the Old Testament into German as well.

Eventually, Luther returned to Wittenberg, where he continued to write and teach the foundations of the Reformation, such as justification by faith alone, priesthood of all believers and the supreme authority of the Bible. His colleague at the University of Wittenberg, Philip Melanchthon, helped systematize Luther’s theology and served as an interim leader in the reform movement while Luther was in Wartburg Castle. 

Through Luther’s influence, reform movements gained momentum across Europe, as Protestant churches abolished indulgences, closed shrines, changed liturgy, abandoned images and relics, and examined the Scriptures to address theological and ecclesiological concerns.

Echoes of Reformation Throughout Europe

While Luther deserves praise for his boldness as a lightning rod for the Reformation, in reality he was one of many religious leaders calling for a return to scriptural principles during the 16th century. Not long after Luther’s hammer pounded out the clarion call for reformation in Germany, ripples of the rising Reformation reached the rest of Europe as the theological tide began to change. A new day dawned in theological discussion as men explored the Scriptures and dared to reconsider the validity of Catholic theology and practice. 

Reformation ideals flourished in Zurich, Switzerland, under the strong leadership of Ulrich Zwingli, who sought to enact Reformation principles through a unity of church and state. Zwingli championed the Reformation tenet of sola Scriptura by abandoning the lectionary to preach straight from the Scriptures in an effort to return the church to its apostolic roots. 

As a means of discipleship, Zwingli gathered a group of young, educated laymen to study the Bible in the original languages. Eventually, though, this study produced questions regarding the sacraments of communion and baptism. Questions over infant baptism arose, and although Zwingli defended the practice, his students sought to be true to Scripture and pressed further. These men proceeded to break from Zwingli and became the first Swiss Anabaptists—precursors of modern-day Baptists—who championed believer’s baptism, discipleship and evangelistic zeal even in the face of persecution and martyrdom.

In Strasbourg, France, a Dominican priest named Martin Bucer, who became acquainted with the works of Erasmus and Luther during his studies at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, worked tirelessly to unify the movement and helped write a number of important Reformation documents. As a prominent Reformation leader in Strasbourg, Bucer emphasized genuine conversion, piety and

Elsewhere in Switzerland, French lawyer John Calvin—who studied with Bucer for three years in Strasbourg—served as one of the most brilliant theological minds of the Reformation in the city of Geneva. Calvin’s famous Institutes of the Christian Religion systematized Reformation doctrine and stands today as a monument of biblical interpretation. Through his writings and church reform, Calvin was quickly recognized as a primary leader of the Reformation.

Reformation even reached the shores of the British Isles. Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer was a prominent leader in the Church of England. Though his reform efforts were limited under King Henry VIII, he brought Anglicanism into the Protestant fold more fully under Edward’s reign. He wrote the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer as well as the Church of England’s statement of faith known as the Thirty-Nine Articles

Further north, John Knox instituted Reformation principles in Scotland through his fiery preaching and writing. He introduced a Presbyterian model and helped write the Scots Confession of Faith and the Book of Common Order

In the Netherlands, Menno Simons led a Dutch Anabaptist movement with his teachings on discipleship, personal holiness and nonviolence. His influence was so great that many of his followers came to be called “Mennonites.”

These early leaders were just a few of the pastors and laymen who propelled Europe into the Reformation. And the ripple effects of their contributions can still be felt today. Five hundred years later, the echoes of Luther’s hammer can still be heard, impacting evangelicals’ understanding of salvation, the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, the nature of the church and the need for doctrinal fidelity. 

The “5 Solas”: Radical theology for 16th-century Europe

Five hundred years removed from Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, it can be difficult for the 21st century Christian to appreciate the radical nature of the Reformation. 

After all, phrases such as “grace alone” and “faith alone”—two of the so-called “Five Solas”—are commonly used among Protestants with little thought given to their historical nature. 

But in 1517 Europe, modern-day evangelical beliefs would have been considered heresy.  

The theological world that Luther faced when he became a priest and then a professor was one based on grace plus works. This framework within the medieval Roman Catholic Church allowed for the selling of indulgences, which required a contribution to the church to ensure that a person—dead or alive—could be released from purgatory. The most popular salesman of indulgences became friar John Tetzel, who pledged that the indulgences he sold would make the sinner “cleaner than when coming out of baptism” and “cleaner than Adam before the Fall.” He even claimed that the “cross of the seller of indulgences has as much power as the cross of Christ.”

“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs,” his famous jingle went.  

The profits helped fund the construction of Saint Peter’s Basilica, the famous dome structure that still stands within the Vatican.  

“Salvation was understood as occurring through the church and through the saints,” said Malcolm B. Yarnell III, research professor of systematic theology and director of the Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “And people actually viewed purgatory in a semi-mathematical way: ‘How long will I have to serve in purgatory in order to atone for my sins?’ And the papacy made promises that you could get out sooner through these indulgences, by saying so many Hail Marys and through gifts to the church.”

It was against this backdrop that Luther and the Reformers took a stand by pointing Christians back to Scripture, emphasizing a Christ-centered salvation. 

“Luther began to question the whole Catholic system and read the Bible carefully,” Yarnell said. “And he began to discover that it didn’t fit with Scripture.”

The principles of Luther and the Reformers were summarized by later Christians in what is now known as the “Five Solas.” (Sola is Latin for “only” or “alone”) They are:

  1. Sola fide (“faith alone”): The sinner is justified by faith alone, not by works. Therefore, indulgences are unnecessary.
  2. Sola gratia (“grace alone”): Salvation is a free gift accomplished by God’s action, not by human works. 
  3. Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Salvation is found only in Christ, the sole mediator between God and man. As a result, church leaders, the Virgin Mary and the saints are not mediators. 
  4. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible is the ultimate authority for Christians, not the pope or councils.
  5. Soli Deo Gloria (“glory to God alone”): All glory is due God alone—and not to the pope, the Virgin Mary or the saints.  

“These concepts were radical at the time because they were living under a different system of thought as to what salvation is and how one is saved, and to what is one saved,” Yarnell said. 

According to the Catholic Church, the papacy had the power to sell indulgences because it had access to the Treasury of Merit, which includes the overabundance of “merits” from Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints. As the thinking went, just one drop of Jesus’ blood would have accomplished his redemption plan. Yet Christ shed lots of blood. This “extra merit” ended up in the Treasury of Merit, similar to a spiritual treasure chest. The Virgin Mary also had “extra merit,” as did the saints.  

“Human salvation [during Luther’s time] was understood in a communal sense, and in a communal sense that was far beyond the present,” Yarnell said. “It involved the saints throughout history.”

The medieval understanding of salvation, Yarnell emphasized, involved human action.

“Even by systematic theologians, it was grace plus works,” Yarnell added. “Luther read Galatians and Romans and said: No, salvation is by grace alone. If it were by works, it would be your work and not Christ’s work. It has to be by grace. It’s either by works or by grace; it cannot be grace plus works. The solas help us to get our mind around the fact that salvation is a gift of God in Christ. I don’t think you can have one without the other. They all fold into the same package. These remind us of how and who brings us our salvation. I think they’re very important for Christians to remember.”

The five solas, Yarnell added, cross the Calvinism divide. 

“I do see these as pan-evangelical, pan-Protestant,” he said. “These are ideas that all those who are descendants of Reformation theology should be able to hold onto.” 

Pastors examine the Reformation”s impact on their pastoral ministry

When a local Episcopal priest asked to borrow some adult-sized robes from First Baptist Church of Keller, Pastor Keith Sanders couldn’t resist having a little fun with his answer.

A family in the Episcopal church had asked to be baptized by immersion instead of the more common practice of sprinkling. Sanders was pleased to lend them some robes, then told the priest, “’We are always happy to assist with the Reformation.’”

Sanders told the TEXAN he wasn’t kidding. “The essence of the Reformation is an attempt to correctly answer the question of how a person can be made right with God.” He added that Baptists stand with Martin Luther and John Calvin in believing “salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.”

The answer to that all-important question is found in the Bible, Sanders said, and not in papal decrees or councils or in the keeping of the sacraments. “Unlike Luther and Calvin, Baptists abhor infant baptism [also an Episcopalian practice] and reject the idea of a theocratic state. We do so based on our understanding of Scripture.”

While the Protestant Reformation began 500 years ago when Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Sanders reminded, “In reality, the Reformation never ends. Each generation of faithful Christians must constantly measure our doctrine and practice against the unchanging Word of God.”

Other pastors contacted by the TEXAN also related how a study of Reformation history has influenced how they pastor, describing the significance of relying on Scripture alone as authoritative and finding encouragement in the example of the Reformers.

“It was through the Conservative Resurgence that we as Southern Baptists, just like our brothers and sisters of the Reformation, proclaimed that Scripture alone is our sole authority,” stated Jack Maddox, pastor of First Baptist Church of Post.

Though he does not describe himself as “reformed” in the popular sense of the word, Maddox said he is grateful for the Reformation and the role it has played in church history. Although many were working to reform the church prior to Luther’s Reformation, Maddox said, “There is much that the Reformation period and its 500th anniversary bring to us that informs us concerning the glory of God and his activity throughout redemptive history.”

Since Southern Baptists “are people of the book,” Maddox said the foundational principle of sola Scriptura resonates with him.

And while he noted that much can be said concerning the issue of Calvinism vs. traditionalism in the current Southern Baptist context, he said, “We all can and should agree that the Reformation directed our understanding of salvation from a man/church-centered to a God-centered primacy in redemption. To me, this was necessary then, and it is vital today.”

In considering the five solas from the Protestant Reformation, pastor Richard Piles of Emory Baptist Church in Emory finds all of them to be important, but said, “Sola Scriptura is the one from which all of the others flow.”

He recalled learning from his college pastor, Chris Osborne of Central Baptist Church in College Station, that the Bible has to be the highest authority for the follower of Christ and the preacher of God’s Word.

“Certainly the Bible will always face competition from experience, science, history, etc. However, the very words of God must be what govern how I live and how I pastor, and I have attempted to live and pastor accordingly,” Piles said.

“Therefore, when I think about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and its influence on me and my life, sola Scriptura is where I look first.

Tim Wheeless, pastor of Fairway Baptist Church in Wichita Falls, finds in his study of the Reformation a greater understanding of a pastor’s responsibility to his congregation.

“The Reformation had a profound impact on pastoral ministry from the 16th century right into the 21st century,” Wheeless said, describing a renewal of submission to the authority of Scripture, which led to a fresh understanding of the church and its leadership.

“Reformers such as Martin Bucer wrote about the pastor’s responsibility to the flock, influencing men of faith hundreds of years later.” Wheeless said in reading the writings of the Reformers along with Scripture, he finds “a timeless reminder that our ministry is a ministry of God’s perfect Word to imperfect people.”

That conviction prompts him to recognize, “We shepherd in the conflict between God and man, proclaiming the gospel, preaching the Word, and calling men to respond in repentance and faith. Here we stand and can do no other.”

Wheeless concluded, “The Reformation’s renewed submission to Scripture and refreshed expression of pastoral authority is a legacy that should encourage every pastor.”

Bill Gardner, pastor of First Baptist Church of Schertz, also finds encouragement and challenge from the Reformation, especially at its inception.

“The courage displayed by Luther in the publication of his 95 Theses is remarkable, especially when you consider that he must have known what the reaction to them was going to be. Certainly he knew that his life would be at risk for the stand he was taking, yet he stood. In his own words, he could “do no other.”

Gardner said, “In this era when we’re experiencing the marginalization of evangelical Christianity, I find it helpful to examine the words and works of men who so loved the gospel that they were willing to risk all in its defense, even when the vast majority appeared opposed to them. That willingness, that faithfulness, was so blessed of God that we’re still feeling the impact of their convictions 500 years later.

“My hope is that it will continue to inspire the saints to be agents of change as we move into a new era of gospel ministry.”