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Focusing on Regional Reformation



Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, Thomas Cranmer —these names are inseparably linked to church reform in Germany, Switzerland, and England, respectively. God used these men to hold forth the greatness of Gospel truth. These truths, in the hands of omnipotent God, would bring to life spiritually dead men and strengthen the church.


Many people desire this same type of reformation in America. However, this task is daunting. Many “churches” deny fundamental Gospel truth, and many others downplay the power and grace of God with incorrect views of salvation, the nature of man, and the sovereignty of God. In light of such challenges, how can a Gospel-zealous man labor to shine forth the full counsel of God’s Word in an impactful way?


The key is to think smaller.


When longing for reformation in our context, it is helpful to put things in perspective.


For one, the national reformations of the past took place when there wasn’t as sharp a distinction between church and state. Bringing about reformation in a country often meant bringing about reformation in the government. The modern American context is much different from Reformation-era Germany, Switzerland, and England. Additionally, it is estimated that the world’s population in the 1500s was around 461 million people. Today the number is close to 8 billion people.[1] That means there are roughly 17x more people today compared to the beginning of the Reformation.[2]


Furthermore, it is helpful to consider the size of countries like Germany, Switzerland, and England compared to that of a state like Nevada.

United Kingdom v. Nevada [3]



Germany v. Nevada [4]


Switzerland v. Nevada [5]


America is much larger and more populated than Reformation-era Germany, Switzerland, and England. Modern-day Nevada, in its size and population, is more like these reformation-era countries than America is. Though men like Luther, Zwingli, and Cranmer had a broad impact on the worldwide church, they were most impactful in their surrounding region.


In light of this information, let us not neglect a focus on reformation of the regional church. Though there is a necessity for broad proclamations of Gospel truth, there is also a necessity for relational-oriented regional work to be done. How do we go about this? Here are a few suggestions: 1. Keep the Primary Focus on the Local Church


God has purposely placed individuals in the context of a local church. Gospel ministry, first and foremost, occurs in the local church as “…the whole body joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:29). The ordinary means of grace (preaching of the Word, the sacraments, and prayer) primarily take place in the context of a local church. As such, we must keep our primary focus on the local church.


2. Establish Regional Pastors’ Fraternals It is critical for pastors to be able to associate with like-minded men outside of their church context. It is also critical for pastors in churches "further along" to fulfill their responsibility to mentor those who aren't. Pastors’ fraternals provide an opportunity for this to happen. It is a time when these pastors can discuss theology and pray together.[6] Not only has God equipped different individuals in the local church in different ways, but he has also equipped different regional pastors in different ways. We must remember that Luther, Zwingli, and Cranmer were not men on their own. They had deep relationships with other pastors that were nearby. Pastors benefit when the strengths of fellow shepherds can strengthen them. Not only does a fraternal provide the opportunity for pastors to be strengthened by one another, but it also helps protect against pastoral echo chambers. Pastors need to be sharpened by other pastors. 3. Major on the Majors Together


Due to doctrinal differences, churches cannot cooperate in all things at every level. For instance, a Reformed Baptist pastor could not teach on infant baptism in a Presbyterian setting. In doing so, the pastor would end up undermining the teaching standard of that church. However, despite such differences, pastors committed to the foundations of Reformation theology have many opportunities to partner together.


Though pastors should not downplay points of doctrinal disagreement, they can work together in many ways with a shared desire that the fullness of the Gospel would shine more brightly in the surrounding region. Unity around doctrinal convictions such as the “Five Solas” and the “Doctrines of Grace” is a testimony to the watching world. A lone man crying out glorious truths is drastically different from a choir of men proclaiming these same truths. There is something beautifully powerful in a harmony of voices. Pastors from various churches should sing together doctrinal truth when and where they can.


4. Church Planting When Possible


Over time, churches in regions who are more united in the details of doctrine can work toward regional reformation through church planting. This type of cooperation is especially important for the development of small town churches. It is difficult for small town congregations to support a pastor on their own. Like-minded churches can (and should) cooperate to make sure there are beacons of Gospel-light even in areas that have very few people.


Conclusion

As local church members focus on building up one another in Gospel truth and as regional pastors rally around the glories of profound Gospel doctrine, we can hope that God will graciously reform and revive his church in the region. May Gospel light shine brightly in Nevada, and may God raise dead men to spiritual life through his use of earthen vessels. Let us take heart that Christ is building his church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.


 
 

Stephen Duarte (ME, National University; working on MTS, Reformed Baptist Seminary) is a pastor at Parkside Bible Fellowship in Fallon, NV. He is husband to Debbie and father of three.

 

Note: The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other contributors on this site.

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