The legacy of the Protestant Reformation must endure in the doctrine and ministry of the church, speakers said at the 2016 Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference in Louisville, Ky., April 12-14.
Nearly 500 years after Martin Luther ignited the Reformation in 1517, 10,000 attendees from 43 different countries and 20 denominations filled most of the KFC Yum! Center to hear preaching from Christian leaders typically identified with Reformed evangelicalism. More than 4,000 attendees self-identified as members of Southern Baptist churches.
Of the 10 plenary session speakers listed on the T4G website, at least five were Southern Baptists, including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. and International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt. Other Southern Baptist plenary speakers included Thabiti Anyabwile, Matt Chandler and Mark Dever.
Seven Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entities exhibited at the conference: Southern Seminary, IMB, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, LifeWay Christian Resources, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Photo by Emil Handke/SBTS
Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. preaches at the 2016 Together for the gospel conference on how the Reformation changed pastoral ministry.
Mohler, co-founder of the T4G conference, said in his plenary address that the Protestant Reformation radically transformed the nature of pastoral ministry, starting with Luther himself. The German monk rejected the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel and eventually criticized the priesthood and papacy – key elements of the Roman Catholic Church.
“Justification by faith alone is not one doctrine among others,” Mohler said of Luther’s famous declaration that justification is the doctrine by which the church “stands or falls.”
The five “Solas” – central Reformation principles each beginning in Latin with the word “sola” (alone) – “were not just slogans,” Mohler said. “They were a matter of life and death. Without those Solas, there is no gospel.”
The five Solas, translated into English, are: by scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone and glory to God alone.
Preaching from Colossians 1, Mohler noted that the fundamental issue of the Reformation was the nature of the gospel, and that has not changed in 500 years.
“The key question that drove Luther to his knees,” Mohler said, “… the key issue that led him to flee the altar in what was supposed to be his first mass, the key issue that was behind his nailing of the 95 Theses to the door is this: How are sins forgiven? And Colossians 1 declares these sins are forgiven in Christ.”
Platt preached on the martyrdom of English Reformers, including William Tyndale and John Rogers, who were persecuted for translating the Bible into the common language. They were able to endure death at the burning stake, Platt said, because they knew the greatness of their forgiveness from God.
Photo by Emil Handke/SBTS
More than 10,000 conference attendees gathered in Louisville's KFC Yum! Center for the biennial Together for the gospel conference April 12-14.
“Your perspective of earthly embers changes when you’ve been saved from an eternal inferno,” Platt said.
With thousands of unreached people groups around the world, many of them without a Bible translated into their native language, Platt urged believers to consider what price they are called to pay for the spread of the gospel. Following the example of Tyndale and Rogers, Christians should boldly speak the gospel despite opposition, he said.
“The martyrs didn’t die because they believed this gospel; they died because they were proclaiming this gospel,” Platt said.
Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, and president of the Acts 29 Network, said a healthy awe of God fuels a believer’s endurance through personal trials and public opposition.
“Thin, flat pictures of God will not sustain with the courageous force of a big, deep, beautiful, borderline-frightening, glorious God,” Chandler said. “If you preach Him flat, if you preach Him small, if you preach Him worried … your people will not be bold.”
Preaching from Romans 11:33-36, Chandler said Christians can have absolute confidence in God’s wisdom and provision.
“Christian courage, inflamed and informed by the glory of God, will be the undoing of every empire but the Kingdom of God,” Chandler said. “Brothers, be fearless to preach the fullness of the character of God.”
Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and president of 9Marks, said pastors are tempted to place too much value upon worldly achievements like large worship attendance. Instead, he challenged attendees to value the slow, lasting joys of pastoral ministry over the fleeting joys of the spotlight.
“Things that may first appear to be the kind of nourishing joys that we need to live on may in fact not be,” Dever said. “In fact, they can deprive us of the discipline we need to find our joys where we should.”
Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C., walked through Romans 3:21-26, noting that the glory of saving grace shines brighter when perceived out of the darkness of the fallen human condition.
“If we can comprehend something of the ugliness of sin, then we can, against that dark backdrop, see something of the beauty of justification,” Anyabwile said.
Because of God’s saving love, Anyabwile said, Christians can have absolute confidence in their final deliverance.
“Before time began, God decided that He would save us, not because of anything we did, but because of what His Son did,” Anyabwile said. “Because His Son did it, it can never be controverted, it can never be subverted, it can never be taken away for those who trust in Christ.”
The conference also featured plenary messages from Ligon Duncan, chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss.; C.J. Mahaney, pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville; John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif.; John Piper, founder of Desiring God; and Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich.
Mohler presented a breakout session, “Nowhere to Hide? Facing the Reality of the Secular Movement” and was on a panel with Duncan and MacArthur on the need for seminary education. James M. Hamilton, professor of biblical theology at Southern Seminary, spoke at a breakout session about the role of biblical theology in a pastor’s study of scripture.
The 2016 Together for the gospel conference was the sixth iteration of the biennial event, which started in 2006 under the leadership of Mohler, Mahaney, Duncan and Dever. Audio and video from the conference will be available soon at t4g.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andrew J.W. Smith writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)