SWBTS professor: Modern church in need of Reformation

The church is in need of a new Reformation just like the first one that swept across Europe in 1517, Jason Lee, associate professor of historical theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in chapel Oct. 27.

Lee, preaching during the Fort Worth seminary’s annual Reformation Day chapel, cautioned, as had Martin Luther when he nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” to the church’s door in Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517, that works — however spiritually impressive to man they may seem — have no saving power.

“Let this warning reverberate today,” Lee said. “We must not add any sacrament or work to saving faith. Works have no meritorious effect, whether they are medieval Catholic sacraments of penance or the Mass or if they are modern evangelical ones of baptism, walking an aisle or local church membership. In themselves, these are fine, but if they are the certainty of our salvation, then they are additions to our faith.”

Lee said that anything that is added to faith in Christ “replaces Christ’s merit and puts us in jeopardy of our just reward of punishment.”

To counter serious missteps in the modern church, Lee offered five theses to recapture a proper understanding of the doctrine of salvation and the purpose of the church.

First, Lee said Christians must realize that “preaching must center on the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need for faith.” Lee said that pastors too often spend weeks “casting their vision” and miss valuable opportunities to share the gospel with people who may never return to the church.

“Preach faith and the gospel from the pulpit and not self-help,” Lee said. “Do not mentor people from the pulpit; in life-on-life situations is where the practical wisdom is dispensed.”

Second, “preaching must be consumed with the Bible,” he said. “Teach the Bible as the heart of ministry. A steady diet of topical sermons creates an anemic and apathetic church.”

Lee said that the Bible should be the center of every ministry in the church, from the music ministry, to the senior adult ministry, to the children’s ministry, and to the counseling ministry.

“Our counseling ministry must be consumed with the Bible. Otherwise all we have to offer people is baptized secular social sciences that do not offer grace, but instead offer techniques on how to cope with life without it,” he said.

Third, Lee said pastors should avoid the temptation of seeing “bigger” as “better.” “When a pastor, church staff or a church body is more focused on building their kingdom instead of ‘the Kingdom,’ something has gone dreadfully wrong,” he said.

Lee said he finds it troublesome that pastors or a pastoral team will attempt to shepherd a flock when they do not know where half the sheep are, and when they also do not know the names of 60 percent of those who do attend on a regular basis.

Fourth, Lee said that pastors and ministers should put aside egos and “truly equip the saints to do the work of the ministry so that they can experience the maturity that comes as each part does its part” as in Ephesians 4.

“Resist the rampant professionalism developing in our churches. While the academic and professional training we receive at seminary should make us more proficient in our ministry tasks, it does not mean that the paid staff should monopolize all the ministry efforts of the church,” Lee said. “When we have to hire a new associate intern for evangelism because we need someone to visit a prospect, then something is wrong. When the total ministry vision and activity of the church cannot extend beyond budgetary restraints or staffing limitations, we have a problem.”

Fifth, Lee said now is the time for American Christianity to influence the world for Christ.

“Make disciples of all nations. Our mandate has not changed in 2,000 years. We have still been given the message of ‘be reconciled to God,’” Lee said.  He encouraged utilizing resources to reach the lost, rather than to make churches more comfortable.

“We can spend our time, money and energy constructing affluent church buildings, but I have been to the great cathedrals of both Protestant and Catholic in Europe. Those cathedrals are empty. How did they spend their days of affluence? How will we spend ours?”

Seminary President Paige Patterson said Lee’s sermon was a clarion call to the churches of America today.

“Dr. Lee’s Reformation Day sermon culminated appropriately with five theses which could, with great profit, be nailed to every church door in America. These five theses would provide a restatement of that which is most poignant in Reformation truth for all churches today,” Patterson said.

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