Message 16, Ligonier Teaching Fellows Panel Discussion:
Chris Larson moderates a panel discussion with some of the Ligonier Teaching Fellows on the subject of the goal of the Reformation.
- What is the goal of reformation? (1:08)
- What do we mean when we say ordinary means of grace ministry? (8:30)
- What is the mission of God as we look to the next 500 years? (21:31)
Note: Answers given during Panel Discussions reflect the views of the individual speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dr. R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries. Here is our Statement of Faith.
LARSON: Well, Dr. Sproul, you’re speaking on the goal of Reformation. And Burk has this experience too because he meets with him in his relationship with him as co-pastor at St. Andrew’s at different day of the week, and so there’s these things that just get on his mind and it’s on his mind, and he — every week, “Now, what I am speaking on?” “Well, Dr. Sproul” — and he knows the answer to the question.
You’re speaking on the goal of Reformation. And what you’re seeing there is just him work over in his mind the message that he wants to bring, and even just this morning when I talked to him, he said, “I so wanted to bring this message.” So, you all get to bring the message.
It will be good if we could, just in staccato fashion briefly hear from all of the teaching fellows, “What is the goal of Reformation?” Synthesize some of the things that we’ve heard this weekend and help us to understand how to apply that, how to live it out, both in our families, our churches. We’ve heard missionary enterprises and hopes for the future. What is the goal of reformation?
We’re going to start either with you Sinclair or with Bob.
FERGUSON: Right. What ‘is’ the goal of reformation? What is ‘the’ goal of reformation? What is the ‘goal’ of reformation? What is the goal of ‘reformation’?
You know, it’s easy to be first, both in Calvin and in the Westminster Confession, and its subordinate standards, the first question, “What is our chief end?” must be the same answer as to the question, what is the goal of Reformation?
To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, and to be able to do both of these things simultaneously is what I certainly think at the end of the day is going to make an impact on our contemporary world, that is so interested in enjoyment. It’s very rare to hear non-Christians say, “See how these Christians enjoy the glory of God.” But once that begins to happen in a church fellowship, then I think it inevitably makes an impact on the society around it, in all kinds of different ways.
LAWSON: Yeah, you asked for a staccato fashion, the quick answer would be the Romans 11:36. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To God be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” It’s that this theology would produce this doxology.
And the theology of Romans 1-11, and all that’s contained in that to produce God-centered worship and giving glory to God. So, the intrinsic glory of God — the first part of that verse should produce ascribed glory to God. The second half of that verse, obviously, twenty other things can be said under that.
PARSONS: Absolutely. It’s the glory of God, and I think if Dr. Sproul were here he would start with that and finish with that. I think it’s significant to point out, as the Reformers did, as we speak of the solas of the Reformation, in not forgetting that qualifier, and speaking not only of the glory of God, but the Reformation, Christian worship, our lives, everything we do is for the glory of God and for the glory of God alone. And so, in Psalm 115 at the outset, “It is not unto us, no not unto us but to you, to your name belongs all the glory.”
And I think that’s what’s so significant, because we speak so often of the glory of God, but we don’t speak of it as often as we should, in contradiction to our own glory, our own kingdoms, our own fame. That we are here, that this conference exists, we worship, we serve, we live, we preach, we train up, we make disciples, we evangelize, not to get the applause of men, not to get notches on our belt, not to wear a certain badge, we do it for the glory of God and for God’s glory, alone.
NICHOLS: I’d agree with all of these. The ultimate and eternal goal of the Reformation is the glory of God. If you were to say, “What is the intermediate goal, or what is the immediate goal of the Reformation?” It was to reform the church, and to reform the church from top to bottom. It was about preaching, it was about music, it was about education, it was about the centrality of Scripture.
It was about missions. Geneva was every much as interested in missions and sending missionaries to the shores of Brazil in the 1550s. So the immediate task at hand goal of the Reformers, was to have all pistons firing on a church that is obedient to her calling, and as she is ordained to function according to the Word of God.
THOMAS: It’s tough being at the end.
GODFREY: You’re not.
THOMAS: Of course, I agree with everything. But when I heard the question, my mind went in two directions. First of all, my first encounter with R.C., 40 years ago in a book, ‘Chosen by God.’ And a vision of the sovereignty of God. And that surely is at the heart of the Reformation, a sovereign omnipotent, all-powerful God in whom we may trust, as Sinclair began his prayer.
That all of providence, and this event, this afternoon, in which we grieve that R.C. is not preaching to us, but that too is in the hands of a sovereign, loving, gracious God. The other direction that my mind went was, you know there’s a debate, isn’t there? What’s at the heart of the Reformation? Is it justification or is it the doctrine of Scripture?
And I do think that the call, and R.C. has signaled this in the last number of years, that the call once again is upon us to believe and preach and proclaim the inerrancy of Scripture, our confidence in Scripture alone. That the answers to all of our questions lies in the written Word of God. So, five hundred years later, we still need that Reformation now as much as then.
GODFREY: Well, these answers, I think, point to something of the breadth and depth of the glory of the Reformation. So much can be said, since this go around began with a quotation from a catechism, I’d like to quote from the Catechism.
And, part of what stands at the heart of the Reformation is vital religion? What is your only comfort is life and in death? And my only comfort in life and in death is that I’m not my own, but belong body and soul to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. And I think it’s so important to keep that Gospel of Jesus at the center of things.
LARSON: The Lord declares the ends from the beginning. He also declares the means that He uses, and many of you have spoken at many different times on the need for an ordinary means of grace ministry. Help us to understand what an ordinary means of grace ministry is?
We live in a very science and wonders age where people demand more signs, more wonders, more marvels. Ordinary sounds boring. But yet, what do we mean when we talk of an ordinary means of grace ministry, to the end of the goal of reformation?
FERGUSON: Is it this end again?
LARSON: Open season.
FERGUSON: Well, let me pitch in before Bob gives us the answer in the Heidelberg Catechism. So that once again he can correct me.
You know an ordinary means of grace ministry is, the thrill from the point of view of those who share in that ministry of the exposition of Scripture in different ways and at different levels, and watching the Word of God work. I’ve become more and more convinced, that the default among us evangelicals is, that we do the work and the Word helps us.
And perhaps that’s an indication that in our churches we see far too frequent — far too infrequently what it’s like when the Word of God preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, itself does the work, and changes people’s lives.
If you read through the Acts of the apostles, it’s interesting how on occasion the Word of God is — almost becomes like a person who does things. The Word of God increases, the Word of God prevails. Paul speaks to the Thessalonians about the Word of God which is at work in you.
And my own feeling is that even if we speak about means of grace ministry, we may not have caught sight of that vision of what’s it like when God’s Word does its work, floors us, prostrates us, transforms us, gives dignity to our lives, and means that what happens in — under the ministry of the Word is — becomes visible in the community in the days that follow, and we long for that, and for that we need to as, Act 6:4 says, give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.
LAWSON: Yeah, it’s a Word-centered ministry, and is saying the same thing in slightly different way. And when we say Word-centered we’re talking about the written Word of God in the canon of Scripture. We preach the Word, we teach the Word, we sing the Word, we pray the Word, we see the Word in the signs of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We live the Word.
It’s a Word-centered, Word-driven ministry, and so, just to succinctly state what that is, it’s the written Word of God ruling in the life of the church, and we’re not looking for alternative strategies or other ways of doing ministry. Like I quoted Luther last night, there is no reason for the church to ever come together except the Word be in the very center of it.
PARSONS: I think that’s very helpful, and talking about the ordinary means of grace, our confession speaks of these outward and ordinary means of grace being: Word of God, prayer, and the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper, and baptism. And these outward and ordinary means are really the warp and woof of the life of the church and of our lives.
And as Dr. Lawson said, that means that in trusting God and believing that God is sovereign, we’re believing not only that God ordains the ends of all things, but also that He ordains the means of all ends. And so often people claim to believe that God is sovereign, they believe in the sovereignty of God, but they’re not trusting the means that God has ordained to build His church, to grow us up, to make us mature as disciples of Jesus Christ. And so, in ordaining the ordinary means of grace, these are the means by which we grow.
These are the means we worship Him and these are the means by which He carries out His Great Commission to the ends of the earth in His mission. And so, it’s trusting them. It means we’re not technique-based, we’re not method-based. We don’t have to constantly drum up new technics and programs.
LAWSON: No gimmicks.
PARSONS: No gimmicks. It means we trust God’s way to build and to grow and to reach and to revive and to reform His church, and that’s what the Reformers did.
They were relying on the Word of God. Relying on the Spirit of God through the Word of God in prayer and the sacraments to do what God promised they would do. So we need to trust God and believe that He’s sovereign, not only in some ethereal way, some theoretical way, but really, where it really counts in the life of the church.
NICHOLS: I think there’s two things in Luther that can be very helpful for us. When you think of the ordinary means of grace, and you think of Scripture and you think of the Lord’s Supper. And we have the signs and wonders. I think in our day its more feelings. You know, there’s this — we’re very tuned in; do I feel joy or how am I feeling today? Luther has this great hymn of God’s Word, he says that we don’t trust in feelings.
He says, “For feelings come and feelings go and feelings are deceiving. My warrant is the Word of God, not else is worth believing.” And there’s a solidity there. There’s a soundness there to Luther and his emphasis on the Word of God. And that’s really at the center of our worship, it’s at the center of the Christian life. But the other is the Lord’s Supper. You don’t have to agree with Luther’s view of the Lord’s Supper to appreciate what he has to say about it.
And I think especially in American Evangelism, we’re very much influenced by a Zwinglian memorial view. And probably for most American Evangelicals, the Lord’s Supper does not rank very high in their list of things they need to live the Christian life. Luther, of course, advocated the Lord’s Supper every week, and in his larger catechism he says this, “We are locked in a battle for our souls.
The Devil is out to get us every week, and so on Sunday we come for the nourishment of the body of Christ.” And there’s something to that. You don’t have to be Lutheran in your view of the Lord’s Supper to appreciate that we need to take the Lord’s Supper very seriously as a gracious gift of God, for us, and how we live the Christian life.
GODFREY: This is — would you mind being skipped over? Now, this is really beautifully summed up in the Heidelberg Catechism. Where question 65 asks, “Where does true faith come from?” And for every preacher, for every Christian, that’s a vital question. “Where does true faith come from?” And the catechism says, “True faith is worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the holy gospel and confirmed unto us by the holy sacraments.
And what a beautiful summary that is of Christian ministry by the work of the Holy Spirit. But I like particularly, “through the preaching of the gospel,” it’s the Good News of Jesus Christ that the Spirit uses to work faith in our hearts, and then confirms it through the gospel sacraments.
FERGUSON: What was that catechism you mentioned?
THOMAS: Steve Lawson reminded us last night of that wonderful story of Lloyd-Jones at the beginning of his ministry in Sandfields, in South Wales, that the first thing that he did was to nail the pulpit to the floor. So, I’ve been thinking about that ever since I was reminded of it last night. Just the image of Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones with a hammer, and some nails, and hammering this pulpit into the floor.
But it was a demonstration of the centrality of the Word. Wasn’t it Lloyd Jones who also said, that the way to fill Westminster Chapel was to announce that he’d be preaching in his swimming trunks the next week?
LARSON: And you’re not advocating for that?
PARSONS: I think, also Chris, it might be helpful to say that in these ordinary means of grace — and if we can sort of borrow some of the language of the marks of the church, and the ordinary marks of the church that, it’s only when a church is concerned, as Calvin said, with the pure preaching of the Word of God, the right administration of the sacraments, and subsumed within that is right and consistent church discipline. And that if a church isn’t carrying these things out consistently and wisely and graciously, that they’re not a true church.
FERGUSON: I’m not a great fan of the expression ‘means of grace,’ as it happens. But I think we shouldn’t miss out from this the pattern of, for example Ephesians 4, with its emphasis on the ministry of the Word, and what it actually produces in the life of the church, where it produces a community in which each part is doing its work properly, and outbuilds itself in love. And you know, we are — we’re not just a teaching institution.
We’re — the Word of God creates a new kind of community, and so the preaching of the Word without the creation of that new kind of community ordinarily does not make the same evangelistic impact on the world around. But the creation of that community helps people to see that the Word that is preached has illustrations in the life of this new community, that are beyond contradiction. And you know, often one finds that people who think little of the gospel, find that they cannot contradict the reality they experience when they come among God’s people.
And it’s that reality that begins to work in their hearts to open their ears to listen to what the Word is actually saying. So, you know, we’re not speaking when we speak about means of grace and the importance of the preaching of the Word that all we need is more ministers. Or even all we need is more preaching. But what is produced by that is — I mean that is one of the griefs about the United States, there has been so much evangelical preaching that has changed nothing.
And, the statistics — those of you who know James Davison Hunter’s books, or Paul, or David Well’s books, the deficit between the amount of preaching there is and the amount of transformed living that there is, is absolutely colossal. And we need preaching that closes that deficit, prayer that results in the closure of that deficit, and new gospel communities that give illustration of the power of the gospel. There’s a huge need, I think, in the Christian church today.
LARSON: When we titled this conference ‘The Next Five Hundred Years’ there was no presumption that we were going to gather a conference to pontificate to what the church needed as if we could answer that. We are not wise enough to be able to formulate pragmatic answers to that. Instead, we came prayerful, this idea of the next five hundred years, and what you’ve heard has not resulted in anything that’s going to be more than preach the Word, pray the Word, sing the Word. The means of grace.
But in the arc of human history, is it possible, that we’re — if the Lord should tarry — still within the early church. And then, what is the mission of God over the arc of human history? And what can we prayerfully hope to see on into the future without getting into the various millennial views and progressive history types of things. What is at the heart, the mission of God, and as we look towards the next five hundred years.
GODFREY: Well, as I sat listening to the international panel, one of the things that struck me was how truly global Christianity is today, much more so than it was at the time of the Reformation, and to some extent that is the fruit of the Reformation, and we can really rejoice in that, but the historian in me sat and pondered those parts of the world that once were full of churches and Christians and gospel light, where that light has so significantly gone out.
And I’ve been contemplating writing a book for which I have title. I have a friend who’s keeping all the titles of books I don’t write, and he’s going to publish them, the titles, after I die.
So, this may fall in that category. But I think we need a book entitled something like ‘Embracing Weakness,’ because when we read the end of 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. And when I thought of the struggle of Christians with Islam, and with secularism, and with sin and with trouble all around the world, it reminded me belatedly, that into the end of the day, Jesus builds His church.
And he’ll do it. He’ll gather the elect, not one will be lost, and so we need to embrace the weakness of suffering, hard as that is, and have confidence that He will accomplish His purpose, and he’ll be glorified in it.
FERGUSON: You know, the man who was my minister when I was a student said, “I’m not quite sure what I’m doing here, but I think what I’m trying to do is to be a minister of the gospel to build a church that will either be prepared and ready for revival or able to withstand persecution.” And just reflecting on what Steve was saying earlier about Luther, this was a big thing for Luther wasn’t it? The theology of glory or the theology of the cross.
And my observation is that we always have this tendency towards the theology of glory. We want to be bigger, we want to be stronger, we want to be dominant, but we don’t want the cross. Which is what Bob was saying. And we just, I think need to keep reminding ourselves of this, that all the way home we are under the theology of the cross.
We will have all eternity for the theology of glory, but now is the time for the theology of the cross. And it must always be in our minds that whatever we do in the life of the church we must always be cautious about this issue; is this helping to build a church that will be able to withstand persecution. Because that’s what it means to live life under the cross. Whether that mean incidental persecution or whole church persecution or the persecution of the church in a nation, life under the cross. Remember how Paul says at the end of 2 Corinthians 13, in distinction from the kind of things he seems to say in Philippians 4, “I’m weak, but I can do all things in Christ.”
He says, “I’m weak in Christ. I’m weak in Christ because of my union with Christ. I live this life in this world always with weakness.” And I think until we grasp that we’re always going to be reaching out for what we think is the real Christian life — when Christians are dominant, when Christians are dominant in politics, when Christians are dominant in science, and when we don’t need to live to need live under the cross. But we’re under the cross and we will be there all the way home and the Heidelberg catechism puts that almost perfectly.
He’s trying to work out which number it is. Which Lord’s Day addresses that point?
LARSON: Gentlemen we give thanks to God for your ministries and how the Lord has raised you up. Would you join me in thanking these men? If you’re singing in the Hallelujah Chorus, come on down, and we’re going to gather up here. Standby. You don’t want to miss this part. This is not the Presbyterian version of an altar call, I assure you.
So, we’ve been putting together this map over the past few days, and let’s take a look and see what this map looks like. Well, central Florida is very well represented, I should say. Look at that. Wonderful. So many people, hundreds of thousands online have joined us on Facebook live. All of the conference media is available through the Ligonier app. It’ll be available on Ligonier.org. And then this coming week, it’ll be announced that it’ll be on YouTube, and all the other various ways.
So, take what you’ve heard here and share it with others. Let them know about what is happening at Ligonier Ministries through Ligonier Ministries for the benefit of the local church. We are grateful for these days, to gather together. It’s sad whenever they come to an end.
But as Christians, we know we don’t say goodbye, do we? We say, until we meet again. So, until we meet again. And Randall, you’re going to see us out. Thank you.