LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — On the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of his famous 95 Theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany, R. Albert Mohler Jr. addressed Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s “Here We Stand” conference.
The gathering of theologians and pastors to celebrate and reflect on the the Protestant Reformation’s quincentennial was sponsored by Southern Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary and Ligonier Ministries, Oct. 31-Nov. 2 in Southern’s Alumni Chapel in Louisville, Ky.
In his address, Mohler laid out the significance of the Reformation and answered criticisms that the Reformation split the church. He argued that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is what the reformers meant to reclaim in churches. Not, according to Mohler, that the reformers meant to divide the church, per se; rather, they “sought to find and to establish and to form the church for whom Christ had died.”
“Wherever the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, the Reformation doesn’t fail,” Mohler said. “Where the Gospel isn’t preached, there is no church. Where the Gospel is preached, Jesus saves.”
This, Mohler said, is the first mark of the church: the preaching of the Gospel. He argued that the Gospel leads, contrary to the analysis of detractors from the Reformation, to wide unity across Protestantism.
“Luther began an argument 500 years ago on this date, and that argument continues to work its way out,” Mohler said. “And those who stand in the Gospel together … are in the same church.
“We may not be in the same congregation, and we may be denominated according to different denominations, but we stand together in the Gospel. And we are confident that we are part of one great church because it’s Christ’s church — it’s the church about which Jesus said, ‘Upon this rock I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.'”
Gregg R. Allison, professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary, encouraged Here We Stand attendees to celebrate the commonalities between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism while acknowledging the vast differences between the two belief systems.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, Allison said, is “the good news for Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and agnostics and atheists — to the glory of God and the glory of God alone.”
Allison mentioned commonalities such as the belief in “the glory and travesty of human nature”; the Trinity; and the personhood and salvific work of Christ, among other aspects. “The Reformation isn’t over,” he said, reminding attendees that Protestantism, like Roman Catholicism, is a worldview, whereas the Gospel supersedes everything.
He concluded his session with four ways Protestants can engage their Roman Catholic neighbors, which included reading the Gospels with them, which he said is a slow and steady process of teaching them who Jesus is and what He said.
Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and president of the 9Marks church health ministry, explored the doctrine of justification — the central theological legacy of the Reformation and the one that continues to set apart Protestant and Catholic churches.
Dever noted the critical Protestant theology of justification by faith alone, demonstrating how the doctrine continues to mark faithful Christianity. Explaining the doctrine from Jesus’ story about the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18, Dever challenged the popular notion that justification is primarily a Pauline doctrine and pointed to the legalistic worldview of the Pharisees. That legalism among the Jewish leaders in the first century was similar to the legalism of the Catholic Church in the 16th century.
While the Catholic Church believed in the doctrine of “impartation” (or, God making sinners just), the Protestant church teaches that justification is a legal acquitting of the unrighteous (or, declaring sinners just).
“Justification is the judicial act of God in which, primarily, God declares on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the sinner,” said Dever, a graduate of Southern Seminary and former chairman of its trustees.
“Secondarily, justification includes the adoption [of believers] as children of God with the right to eternal life,” Dever said. “It includes forgiveness and restoration. The forgiveness that says you may go and the adoption that says you may come — that is all entailed in Christian justification.”
Other speakers included J. Ligon Duncan, chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary, as well as the John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology; Stephen J. Nichols, president of Reformation Bible college and chief academic officer and teaching fellow for Ligonier Ministries; Steven J. Lawson, president and founder of OnePassion Ministries and dean of the doctor of ministry program and professor of preaching at The Master’s Seminary; and Derek Thomas, senior minister at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., and Robert Strong Professor of Systematic and Pastoral Theology at Reformed Seminary.