Kingdom Reformation

Matthew 6:10 – Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

God, Grant Us Reformation

In his book, Hot Tub Religion, J.I. Packer makes this observation,

“…we look at the church of our day and say, ‘We need another reformation.’ But do we know what we are saying? …We are in danger of settling for too narrow a perspective of what reformation is – too narrow a notion of what it was in the past and too narrow a notion of what it will be in the future if God visits us once more.”

Packer asks a good question. Do we indeed know what we are saying when we cry out for reformation? I was awakened to how little I comprehended the word when I began to study what reformation, biblically understood, truly means. I have discovered that this simple word is filled with great meaning. Contained within the word reformation are the ideas of revival, renewal, awakening, restoration, and even overhaul.

As I have considered these words, I have come to realize that the coming of the Kingdom of God was and is a reformation. As our Lord Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God, he brought forth revival and renewal to people’s hearts, minds, and spirits. He awakened them to their great need for the living God. He brought forth restoration where only brokenness existed before. He turned existing ideas about God and humanity upside-down as he revealed God and his good news. He exchanged the temporal perspectives of man for God’s eternal perspective for every sphere of life. Because of this, I have come to see the need for reformation, biblical reformation, in three essential areas of life.

Reformation and the Individual

God uses individuals to touch and transform the church and the world. A.W. Tozer writes,

“It is mere common place to sing or pray, ‘Lord, send a revival, and let it begin with me.’ Where else can a spiritual quickening take place but in the individual life? There is no abstract ‘church’ which can be revivified apart from the men and women who compose it.”

Tozer points out that which should be obvious; that the church and world will not be reformed until faithful men and women begin chasing after God and his ways. Individuals do not have to wait for the church before they can be renewed to newness of life and the things of God. Our own faith must be real and personal before it can be social and corporate. Tozer adds,

“Every prophet, every reformer, every revivalist had to meet God alone before he could help the multitudes. The great leaders who went on to turn thousands to Christ had to begin with God and their own soul. The plain Christian of today must experience personal revival before he can hope to bring renewed spiritual life to his church.”

It is true, or course, Christianity is about community and relationships. No Christian is called to live alone on an island. However, this community is a community of men and women who have been personally and individually touched by the Holy Spirit and brought forth from death to life.

Reformation and the Church

One aspect that unites great leaders from Christian history, such as the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, and John Wesley, was their prophetic word to the church in their day. Sadly, they were sometimes viewed as John the Baptist – as lone voices crying in the wilderness. However, the Holy Spirit moved through these faithful men to bring about reformation in the church in their day. God is still using people the same way in our day. In my own denomination, the United Methodist Church, I see faithful men and women standing up for the true and living God and his Word.  I also see God renewing lives in his church through a variety of renewal groups.  And I know it is through the prayer of these men and women that God will bring a mighty reformation to our denomination. This is true for churches in every denomination or no denomination at all. However, we need to be guided by a proper understanding of reformation, so we might know what direction to take, and therefore, what path not to take.

The puritan pastor and writer, Richard Baxter, has helped provide clarity concerning the notion of reformation. In his book, The Reformed Pastor, Baxter showed that the idea of reformation, biblically understood, combines the heart and mind. In other words, we are not experiencing true reformation in the church when only one aspect is emphasized. Baxter points out that there must be inward spiritual renewal as well as outward correction of doctrine in Christ’s church. It does the church little good if she is only emphasizing correct doctrinal adherence and ignoring inward spiritual vitality. So too, a church that cares little for doctrinal faithfulness and only concerns herself with “religious feelings” cannot rightly be called faithful either. Instead, genuine reformation will reflect these two sides of the same coin. J.I. Packer comments,

“The Bible records many striking movements that textbooks usually call reformations. In every case this same two sidedness applies. These movements had an outward aspect; immorality and idolatry were put away. But they also had an inward side; men and women were stirred to seek God and renew their covenant with him.”

This is true reformation experienced in the Bible and in Church history. These two works, the inward and outward works of God, are really one work seen from two points of view. We cannot have one without the other. Prophetic voices must call Christ’s Church back to both emphases if we are going to experience real reformation. Martyn Lloyd-Jones declared that we have no reason to expect God to usher in reformation and revival if we are not being faithful to God in our present situation.

Reformation and the World

The Lord Jesus Christ came to a dark and lost world with the good and transforming news of the Kingdom of God. Individual believers, and the church, are called out of the world to bear witness to the Light of the world. We are called Christ’s ambassadors as we proclaim God’s message of reconciliation. Along with that beautiful, life-transforming message, God calls us to love our neighbors by serving them and standing up for them. We are called to be who we are in Christ – salt and light to a dark and decaying world. We live in the world though we are not of it.

Our faithfulness in our little part of the world will help bring about the reformation God desires. The Kingdom Jesus ushered in and proclaimed was not about slight adjustments here and there. It was about a complete overhaul – in our thinking, speaking, attitudes, values, priorities, beliefs, and behaviors. As God’s will is done in our lives as it is in heaven, God’s Kingdom-influence will be extended to the various spheres of our lives.

So, let us pray that God will bring biblical reformation into our lives for his greater glory and the blessing of our families, churches, workplaces, communities, and world.

Walking Points

Meet with some fellow Christians to discuss the following questions.

  • What areas of your life do you need biblical reformation? Explain each.
  • What are you presently doing to grow more faithful in these areas?
  • Do you regularly pray for God to bring reformation and revival into your life? Why or why not?
  • If you are part of a group of Christian men, watch the video and read the material, “If Men Will Pray.” (Click here for link) Discuss your thoughts with your group.
  • For one month, commit to regularly praying for reformation and revival for yourself and your group of men. At the end of the month, discuss what insights the Lord revealed to you.

A Model of Pastoral Ministry

A Role Model

Question: Who has been a leadership role model for you (outside of Biblical characters) and what have you learned from him/her?

Answer: The leadership role model who has done the most to shape my ministry is Richard Baxter. Richard Baxter was a pastor in the 1600’s who served a local church in Kidderminster, England. He was much admired as a pastor by the Wesleys.

“John Wesley’s father Samuel, once a nonconformist wrote: ‘I wish I had [The Reformed Pastor] again: Directions to the clergy for the management of their people which I lost when my house was last burnt… [Baxter] had a strange pathos and fire.’”

“John [Wesley] himself told the Methodist Conference: ‘Every travelling preacher must instruct them from house to house… Can we find a better method of doing this than Mr. Baxter’s? If not, let us adopt it without delay. His whole tract entitled The Reformed Pastor, is well worth a capable perusal.’ On another occasion he challenged his preachers: ‘Who visits the people on Mr. Baxter’s method?’”

“Charles Wesley and William Grimshaw of Haworth conversing together agreed that preachers should ‘visit from house to house, after Mr. Baxter’s manner.’”[1]

A Living Example

Baxter was a living example of all he wrote in his book, The Reformed Pastor. By “reformed,” Baxter meant “revived.” His book was originally written to clergy in his area and appealed to them to rediscover their calling as shepherds of souls – to really care for their flocks as Christ loved the church. The book is moving and was used of God to pour conviction on my soul as a pastor. However, mere words often fall flat. There must be a life behind those words that matches their eloquence. His was such a life.

Baxter was known throughout England as a godly man. He sought to live a life that was above reproach and one that could never be attacked as hypocritical. Like Wesley would a century later, Baxter lived a modest life because it was more important for him to give his money to the poor, as well as to purchase books and Bibles for them.

Loving Pastor

He truly loved his flock at Kidderminster. He developed the practice of visiting every family in his church at least once a year at their home (over 2,000 people). There he would pray with them, make sure they knew the life-transforming truths of the faith, and see about any areas of their lives in which they needed help. He did not then leave them, go home, and forget about them. They were continually on his heart.

His preaching and teaching concentrated on the essentials of Christian doctrine and holy living. He did not have time for those who focused only on divisive and nonessential matters. His view was that life was too short for such things.

His Impact on My Ministry

These are some aspects of his life and teaching that have impacted mine. Though my ministry falls short of his, humanly speaking, it is my goal. I have tried to develop a ministry that ministers to the deepest needs of those entrusted to my care. I want to create a warm and friendly environment where folks can share their hopes, joys, fears and struggles with me. Throughout my years of teaching, I have attempted to concentrate on those things that matter most, those things of eternal significance, such as knowing God and his Word, living holy lives, and bearing witness to Christ as salt and light in every sphere of life. Baxter has helped me expand my view of ministry.

How does this relate to leadership? Well, Baxter modeled what he taught. God has been unfolding before me the idea that our lives must be lived with profound consistency. If I say something from the pulpit, in a Bible study, or in a one-on-one discipleship experience, and then live in a way that is inconsistent with what I’ve said, then I have demonstrated poor leadership indeed. Why? Because my hypocritical words will soon begin to fall on deaf ears, and rightly so. Leadership must be regularly and consistently lived and modeled before those one is leading, and that is one of the most important things I have learned from Richard Baxter.

[1] From J.I. Packer’s Introduction to The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter. Page 15.

Meet Richard Baxter

A Renaissance Man

I describe Richard Baxter as a 17th century Renaissance man. Less dramatically, and more accurately, he was an English puritan pastor and writer. But that description doesn’t do him justice. According to Baxter scholars, J.I. Packer and Timothy Beougher,

Baxter has been called the greatest of all English preachers, the virtual creator of popular Christian literature, and the most successful preacher and winner of souls and nurturer of won souls that England has ever had.”

 They continue,

As Puritanism’s leading writer on practical, devotional, moral, and apologetic themes, Baxter produced over 140 books marking out various aspects of the path of truth and holiness.”

I call Baxter a Renaissance man because of the wide interests about which he wrote. “Baxter penned treatises on grace and salvation, apologetics, …antinomianism, the sacraments, millenarianism, ethics, nonconformity, devotion, conversion, politics, and history, not to mention systematic theology.” In fact, Ian Murray points out that,

Baxter was a many-faceted man. He was both an evangelist and scholar; a speaker and an author, a poet and a possessor of a keen analytical mind.”

Relevance for Today

How important was Baxter in his day? John Wilkins, Bishop of Chester concluded, “If [Baxter] had lived in the primitive time he would have been one of the fathers of the church.” A biographer of Baxter says about him, “he came nearer the apostolical writings than any man in the age.” How important is he for today? Packer and Beougher tell us,

As two students of Baxter who cannot be sufficiently thankful for the impact [Baxter] has made in our lives, we would say to every believer, get to know Baxter, and stay with Baxter. He will always do you good.”

Read Good Mr. Baxter

Why would I choose Richard Baxter as my “patron saint?” Because he captured better than most, the worldview-focus (or the “every sphere, kingdom-mindedness”) of Christian discipleship. He understood that all of life (every sphere) must be faithfully integrated because Jesus Christ is the Lord of every sphere of life. Packer writes,

The sheer brilliance of Baxter’s achievement in crystallizing a proper form for the life of faith on a canvass as broad as life at a very high level of intelligent, Bible-based, theologically-integrated wisdom, and with unfailing compressed clarity, is dazzling to the mind. Baxter had a high view of “the unity of human life before the Lord.”

Packer says there is no world-denial with Baxter. Instead, what Baxter calls for “is the sanctification of all life through bringing all its manifold activities into the unity of a single overmastering purpose – loving God, and laying hold of eternal life in its fullness. That can be put the other way round, by saying that what Baxter calls for is a branching out of the converted Christian’s heart’s desire, to know and love and please God, into biblically informed and situationally appropriate action in every department of life.”

Richard Baxter has shaped my faith and ministry in many ways. I give thanks to God for his faithful witness. Read Baxter… he really will do you good.