How Baptists Should Think About the Reformation

As has been mentioned several times already this morning, I’ll point out once more that this Sunday churches around the world are celebrating the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation.

It doesn’t seem to be as big of an event here in Whitewater, but back in Watertown where there are a number of Lutheran churches, it’s not unusual to see signs on people’s yards advertising this momentous event and inviting people to visit their churches for the associated festivities.

And at the risk of repeating things that people already know, I’ll mention that on October 31, 1517, the German Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed a document to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany that contained 95 discussion points or “theses.”

He was bothered by the Pope at the time and the Roman Catholic church selling indulgences. An indulgence was a document someone could pay for that would clear someone of sin. Luther took issue with the idea that someone could pay a man to make God forgive his sins.

So, this act of posting these debate points sparked what we know as the Reformation and eventually gave rise to the various denominations within Protestant Christianity.

The Lord used this man’s bold testimony and preference for what Scripture says – rather than what the Pope or the Church says – to dispel a good deal of the darkness that had been covering most of Europe for almost 1,000 years at that point.

Ideas promoted by the Reformation include the following Bible teachings. That a person can have all of his sins forgiven by simply trusting Christ’s sacrifice on his behalf. That the Bible – not the Pope or Church declarations – is sufficient for determining what we believe and what we do. These and other precepts from Scripture were really by-and-large recovered in significant ways by what transpired during the Reformation of the 16th century.

Baptists are not Reformers

And yet… here we are – Baptists. We’re not Lutherans. And we don’t believe everything even Martin Luther taught.

Baptists don’t accept baby sprinkling. Calvin and Luther did.

Baptists view the Lord’s Supper as a memorial rather than a “sacrament.”

Baptists believe that God is not done with national Israel. We don’t believe that the Church replaces Israel in God’s future plans.

Baptists believe that there should be no official state church. We believe in religious liberty. And it’s really because of the Baptist influence on this nation’s early founding that we don’t all have to attend – say – the local Anglican Church today or face fines or imprisonment. We don’t all need to present our children to be baptized in the local Lutheran church or face the repercussions. That’s not something the Lutherans or Anglicans or Reformed churches brought to this land. It’s a uniquely Baptist position.

Reformers did not hold to the concept of religious liberty. That’s why when – for example – Germany – after Luther’s influence – still had an official state church. It just wasn’t Roman Catholic anymore – it was Lutheran. But it was still THE state church of which everyone was a member.

Baptists don’t believe in killing so-called “heretics,” atheists, Muslims, or anyone on account of his religious beliefs. And that’s impossible to avoid doing when you meld the church with the state. Because according to Romans 13, the state has the right to execute people. They don’t bear the sword in vain. And so, if the church and the state are one inseparable entity – then when you have to discipline a person out of the church… the best that person can hope for is exile – which is not pleasant – or death – which is even worse.

And we could go on. But the point is that to one extent or another – Luther, Calvin, and other Reformers would have differed with us on these points.

Add to this the fact that there were groups that held to certain Baptist beliefs before the Reformation had its official start… and it can be difficult to know how to think about a day like today.

We’re Baptists. Talking about the Reformation on its 500th anniversary. And the question that might be on your mind is “How are we to think about the Reformation as Baptists?” How should we evaluate Luther and Calvin and Zwingli – these men who are so closely tied to the Reformation – and whose impact we can generally appreciate?

And to help us evaluate this question biblically, I want us to turn to the Old Testament and examine some of the kings of Judah.

Old Testament History Summary

And just to remind us of how Old Testament history worked out – God originally established Israel to be a theocracy. That is, they were to be directly ruled by God. For them, “church” or religion and state were one inseparable entity.

So, they went along like that for a while with Moses and Joshua being their human leader – but ultimately God was ruling over them through those two men.

Then came the period of the Judges and things did not turn out well for Israel. Lots of rebellion and confusion. Everyone doing their own thing.

So, the people finally seek a king. They get Saul – who looked great, but whose heart was not all for the Lord. So, God rejected him and replaced him with David.

David was a king and a man who was patterned after God’s heart. He ruled well. But he wasn’t perfect and he did sin and it did affect him and his family in very severe ways.

After David, Solomon was king – he built God’s temple, and sadly had a lot of wives who influenced him into becoming an idolater.

As a result of this disobedience, God allowed the kingdom of Israel to be split into two kingdoms under the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. Another man named Jeroboam took the northern ten tribes and left Rehoboam with only two tribes of Israel.

From there, the northern kingdom had nothing but wicked idolatrous kings.

But the southern kingdom – always led by a descendant of David – they had several good kings. And king differed from king in the level of goodness.

And yet, Judah had numerous bad kings as well.

And I think as we briefly consider some of these kings of Judah we can see that evaluating a leader – whether he be the pastor of your Baptist church or a Protestant Reformer from the 1500s – isn’t a simple task for a mere human.

But thankfully, we have God giving us examples of leaders and providing his divine insight into how we ought to think of them. And perhaps we can glean some principles that we can use in evaluating men who lead God’s people.

We’ll study 13 of the kings of Judah from Solomon to Hezekiah.

Solomon 1Ki 11

So, let’s start with Solomon. Son of David. Wisest man in the world. Built God’s marvelous temple. But look at 1 Kings 11:6…

“And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord, as did David his father.”

And then the author of Kings tells us that Solomon worshipped idols.

So, was Solomon a good king? Well – surprisingly – God says no. That’s the divine testimony. And yet, did he do good things? Yes.

So, how are we supposed to think about Solomon? I’d say we’re supposed to be a little confused about him. So much potential. He used much of it for the Lord. But he went astray at the end.

Rehoboam 1Ki 14

Let’s look at Rehoboam, Solomon’s son.

Look at 1 Kings 14:21…

“21 And Rehoboam the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. Rehoboam was forty and one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city which the Lord did choose out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there. And his mother’s name was Naamah an Ammonitess.

22 And Judah did evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins which they had committed, above all that their fathers had done.

23 For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree.

24 And there were also sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord cast out before the children of Israel.”

So, what Rehoboam is remembered for is his not listening to the advisors of his father Solomon. Egypt stole much of the wealth that Solomon had accumulated under his reign. And then he dies. And that’s it.

Rehoboam was a bad and insignificant king. Pretty straightforward with him. He was just plain bad.

And actually, God doesn’t even say directly that he was bad in 1 Kings 14. He says the people were bad. And I think we can assume that if God is saying that the people are bad, the king was too.

Abijam 1Ki 15

And unfortunately, Rehoboam’s son Abijam was just the same, according to 1 Kings 15:3…

“3 And he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father.”

So, another bad king.

So, if we’re trying to connect Old Testament Judah with Christendom of the 1500s in Europe -when and where the Reformation started – maybe we’d say that Rehoboam and Abijam would be similar to the Roman Catholic Church or the Pope or the various cardinals and prelates of the Church. Just bad. False living and false worship and false theology.

Asa 1Ki 15

But then, coming back to the Old Testament, we have King Asa. And 1 Kings 15:11 says of this king…

“11 And Asa did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, as did David his father.

12 And he took away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made.

13 And also Maachah his mother, even her he removed from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove; and Asa destroyed her idol, and burnt it by the brook Kidron.

14 But the high places were not removed: nevertheless Asa’s heart was perfect with the Lord all his days.”

So, here’s something interesting. Asa did right. And yet – God finds fault with him. He restored morality – he destroyed idolatry – and yet, he didn’t remove the high places.

These high places were apparently where people would worship. And I intentionally didn’t use a direct object with that verb “worship” because that was the issue.

When the people of Judah were generally more orthodox, it seems like they worshipped THE LORD on those high places. And yet, those high places were very easy to convert into a place to worship IDOLS.

And so, God commanded the people in the Law to worship him only in the Tabernacle – and later the Temple. So, to worship even the Lord in a high place was a sin. And so, by not destroying the high places, Asa gets a mark against him by divine testimony. He was good. But not quite as good as God desired. And yet, God does give him credit.

And so, again, as we try to figure out how to think of the Reformers, maybe Asa is just about like a Luther or a Calvin – a man who gets so much right and is worthy of commendation. He came out of a bad situation with those who went before him doing evil in the Lord’s sight. He transcended their wickedness… and yet, he holds on to some of the unbiblical customs of his day.

In Asa’s case, that meant keeping the high places. In the case of Luther or Calvin, it meant perpetuating the unbiblical practice of baby sprinkling or the idea of a state church or the insistence that the Church has replaced Israel.

So, could Judah rejoice in King Asa? Yes. Can we rejoice in the Reformers? Yes. Were there significant errors in King Asa’s leadership? Yes. Were there significant errors in the Reformers’ thinking? Yes.

Can we Baptists take the good and leave the bad? I think so. Can we recognize that there might be areas in our thinking that are just as unbiblical? I think we need to be humbly aware of that possibility and open to the Lord’s correction.

Jehoshaphat 1Ki 22

Now, Asa’s son King Jehoshaphat was very similar to his father, according to 1 Kings 22:42…

KJV 1 Kings 22:42 Jehoshaphat was thirty and five years old when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi.

43 And he walked in all the ways of Asa his father; he turned not aside from it, doing that which was right in the eyes of the LORD: nevertheless the high places were not taken away; for the people offered and burnt incense yet in the high places.

44 And Jehoshaphat made peace with the king of Israel.

Jehoshaphat did what was right in the Lord’s sight. BUT the high places weren’t taken away. And in addition, he made peace with the apostate northern kingdom of Israel!

And to the extent that the Reformers would rather have stayed in the corrupt and apostate Roman Catholic Church than coming out from among them and being separate, they perpetuated the errors of Jehoshaphat.

Joram 2Ki 8

And the errors of this man Jehoshaphat had ramifications for his children and grandchildren.

Because, as opposed to Jehoshaphat, this man’s son, Joram was one of the worst kings Judah ever had, according to 2 Kings 8:16…

KJV 2 Kings 8:16 ¶ And in the fifth year of Joram the son of Ahab king of Israel, Jehoshaphat being then king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah began to reign.

17 Thirty and two years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem.

18 And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as did the house of Ahab: for the daughter of Ahab was his wife: and he did evil in the sight of the LORD.

19 Yet the LORD would not destroy Judah for David his servant’s sake, as he promised him to give him alway a light, and to his children.

So, the implication is that this man was so evil that God would have destroyed Judah solely on account of him. That’s how bad he was.

And it’s interesting that while Jehoshaphat was a generally good king but made peace with the northern kingdom – his son on the other hand was a very wicked king and was totally immersed in the ways of Israel.

What Jehoshaphat embraced from a distance his son Joram imbibed in deeply.

And I suppose that this reality of Jehoshaphat to Joram would be akin to a church within Protestantism that generally accepts the precepts of a Reformer – Calvin, Luther, etc. – but because of their founder’s embracing of Roman Catholic errors, the spiritual offspring of these men tend toward other Roman Catholic ways.

How much of the religion named after Martin Luther has now rejected his insistence on justification by faith in Christ alone and embraces the Romish idea of baby sprinkling?

What Jehoshaphat dabbled in, Joram his son drank in. What Luther allowed to remain from unbiblical Romish teachings, his followers are now by-and-large inundated with.

Ahaziah

Moving on, I won’t even turn to a passage for Joram’s son Ahaziah. But God testifies that Ahaziah was as wicked as the kings of Israel – just like his father Joram. And again, this was all started with Jehoshaphat’s making peace with the northern kingdom and forging ties between his family and that apostate group.

But Ahaziah is killed and then his mother Athaliah in a crazy murderous rage seeks to kill all of the Davidic descendants who could take the throne after Ahaziah’s death.

Jehoash 2Ki 12

But then one of those Davidic descendants named Jehoash is saved from the murderous Athaliah and becomes king. And God says of him in 2 Kings 12:2…

KJV 2 Kings 12:2 And Jehoash did that which was right in the sight of the LORD all his days wherein Jehoiada the priest instructed him.

3 But the high places were not taken away: the people still sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places.

And it’s interesting with Jehoash that there’s this qualification on his doing right in the Lord’s sight. He does right… all the days that he has this godly priest named Jehoiada to lead him. So that’s not quite as high of a compliment as Asa and Jehoshaphat received.

Plus, he didn’t take away the high places. On top of that, he was one of the only kings of Judah who was assassinated by his own people.

So, he’s not totally evil and yet he’s not very good either. He does right – under the right influences.

And so, what we’re seeing so far is that God qualifies his praise and his condemnation of leaders. He’s not overly-simplistic and one-sided. He allows for various degrees of commendability in these men. Some are flat out wicked. Some are good – but they don’t go all the way. And then some are in the middle and are very influenced by others around them.

Amaziah 2Ki 14

And we have another mixed bag of a king with Joash’s son Amaziah in 2 Kings 14:3…

KJV 2 Kings 14:3 And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, yet not like David his father: he did according to all things as Joash his father did.

4 Howbeit the high places were not taken away: as yet the people did sacrifice and burnt incense on the high places.

5 And it came to pass, as soon as the kingdom was confirmed in his hand, that he slew his servants which had slain the king his father.

6 But the children of the murderers he slew not: according unto that which is written in the book of the law of Moses, wherein the LORD commanded, saying, The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children be put to death for the fathers; but every man shall be put to death for his own sin.

So, Amaziah obeyed certain parts of God’s word while ignoring others. He was good – not in the sense that David was good, but in the way in which his father was good. That is, he did right partially.

And yet, in God’s book that’s better than someone completely sold on doing evil. And yet, God at the same time distinguishes between those who truly do good from those who only partially do right.

One other thing to note about Amaziah is that he took revenge on his father’s assassins. And he could have kept going and killed those murderers’ children. But he didn’t. Why? Because at least in some way he was living “Sola Scriptura.” He had regard for God’s command to not kill children for their fathers’ sins. Amaziah at least partially obeyed God’s word.

Azariah

Next is Azariah. He’s also known as Uzziah. He’s the one who contracted leprosy. God testifies that he did right like his father Amaziah, but he didn’t remove the high places.

So, that’s the second king in a row who did right – not like David – but like his father.

And of course, in the context of the Reformation you can see people saying the right things – not because they believe God’s testimony necessarily – but because they respect the leader of their movement and the leader of that movement said such and such – and so I hold to that!

I’m struck by this when I read certain Lutheran pamphlets – where they cite and even defend biblical ideas – but they do so it seems not because they’re biblical – but you get the sense that they’re doing holding these views because the ideas are Lutheran. That’s just the Lutheran thing to say!

Jotham

Well, Azariah or Uzziah has a son named Jotham. And Jotham as well is said to have done right like his father. But the high places remained. Just copying dad again.

Ahaz 2Ki 16

But then after three generations of kings who did right like their fathers had done, we have Ahaz. Of him, we’re told in 2 Kings 16:2…

KJV 2 Kings 16:2 Twenty years old was Ahaz when he began to reign, and reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem, and did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD his God, like David his father.

3 But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, yea, and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out from before the children of Israel.

4 And he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.

So, this man murdered his son as part of an idolatrous practice known as making one’s child pass through the fire. He engaged in the kinds of things that made God drive out the nations from the land of Canaan to let Israel move in and occupy it.

And Ahaz didn’t simply leave the high places – he actively performed idolatrous worship on those things!

We could say that that Ahaz is the worst so far. Again, in terms of the Reformation, he would be like the Roman Catholic monk named Johann Titzel. He’s the one who sold the indulgences in Germany that Martin Luther was so grieved about.

A contemporary account of this man goes like this…

“He [Titzel…] said that if a Christian had committed incest, he had only to drop a coin into the Pope’s Indulgence box, and the Pope had power in heaven and on earth to forgive the sin; and if he forgave it, God must do so too.”

He also taught the people of Germany that “As soon as the coin tinkled in the box, the soul for whom the money was paid would go straight to heaven.”

So, Titzel didn’t just invent the blasphemous practice of indulgences – he hawked them in such a way as to play with people emotions. In another era, he would have made God’s temple into a den of thieves. Maybe he’s the best character from the Reformation to compare with Ahaz.

Hezekiah 2Ki 18

And then all of a sudden we have one of the best kings of Judah. His name is Hezekiah and here’s what the Lord says of him in 2 Kings 18:2…

KJV 2 Kings 18:2 Twenty and five years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Abi, the daughter of Zachariah.

3 And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did.

4 He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.

5 He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.

6 For he clave to the LORD, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses.

So, God gives incredibly high praise to this king, Hezekiah. He did right in God’s sight. But catch that he’s the only king so far that has destroyed the high places. And by doing that, he reached a new echelon in God’s estimation.

We’ve seen kings who did evil in God’s sight. We’ve seen those who did right only when under the influence of a certain godly counselor. We’ve seen those who did right like their father – but they didn’t remove the high places. But now we witness a king who does right – not part of the time – not just like his father before him – but like David.

So, we’ve seen that we could compare the kings who did poorly in the Old Testament to the Catholic leaders at the time of the Reformation. I’ve said that from our perspective perhaps the Reformers are more represented by the kings who did right – but didn’t go all the way.

And so, am I now claiming that Baptists are to be compared to Hezekiah?

Sort of. And yet, we’ve had our flaws historically. Some who have championed Baptist theology have turned to become Quakers. Some Baptists have held strange beliefs – like that you can trace the succession of Baptist churches back to John the Baptist himself – and that if you can’t trace your church’s lineage it’s not a true church!

And yet, the Baptist ideals are right – believers’ baptism, the authority of Scripture, the Church and Israel as distinct entities, religious liberty – these ideas are right – because they’re biblical.

But, let me go back and point out some interesting parallels between Hezekiah and the Reformation.

During the Reformation, there emerged a concept known as the “Five Solas.” Sola in Latin means “alone.” There was grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, and to God alone be the glory.

And I think we see several of those ideas in the summary of Hezekiah’s life.

Hezekiah is said to have trusted in the Lord. The success he had was by faith alone.

Hezekiah kept God’s commands as delivered by Moses. He was following Scripture alone.

And his actions resulted in God alone being glorified.

And we’ll stop with our study of the kings of Judah there. I trust that the Lord will help us to be better equipped to evaluate the merits and de-merits of these kings, the Reformers, and any leader of God’s people – with humility, with mercy, and with a view to our own propensity to wander and stray.

And so, may the Lord help us as a church and help us individually thank him for the Reformation whose 500th anniversary we commemorate today. May the Lord help us fairly evaluate these men from the past as God would. And may the Lord help spark a new Reformation marked by an attention to His word in our lives, in our churches, and in the world.