“The Reformation was about, first and foremost, the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. Who Christ is, what He has done and how we continue to receive the benefits of what He has done continues to be essential for us.”
500 years after the Reformation began with Martin Luther’s “Ninety-five Theses” posted on a door at the University of Wittenberg, his legacy persists, the Rev. Jayson Galler said Oct. 29, sharing a stage in Kilgore College’s Devall Student Center Ballroom with three other local ministers in a discussion of the past, present and future of their faith.
“The Reformation came and those churches thrived and now, in our modern era, many of those great cathedrals stand empty,” the Pilgrim Luther Church minister said. “We know there are going to be divisions in different religions and yet we believe in one universal, catholic church. There will always be a remnant – as there has been in the past, as there is now, as there will be in the future.”
The church in the west is shrinking, First Baptist Church’s Dr. Glenn Young allowed.
That said, “The church throughout the world is growing,” thriving in Africa, Central America and Asia. “From a global standpoint, the Reformation has not run out of gas.”
The church will continue growing, agreed the Rev. Phillip Hodson of Christ the King Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Longview.
“In exalting the Christ of scripture there is unity and it draws us together,” Hodson said. “We can embrace the unity we have and build from there.”
The ongoing debate about the church diminishing is an old one, according to the Rev. Ben Bagley of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.
“We have a huge capacity to make it seem like this is the first time this problem has existed before,” he said, similar to so many divisive issues. “We talk about it as if it’s something we have started, something that’s new, without the reality that so much of this is how the Reformation came to be.”
Luther and the Reformation made a very specific push of moving beyond the walls of the church, Bagley said, taking the message of Christ and salvation to the masses.
Likewise, the modern church shouldn’t be comfortable just in the pews.
“It would be amazing to take some of the lessons” so well illustrated five centuries past, “and re-bring them to the surface and use them in our daily lives today and in our churches.”
With the anniversary of the Reformation days away on Oct. 31, the panel took questions from their audience in Devall Student Center, offering perspectives on modern challenges for the church.
What today can give people hope for the union of the global church?
“I think the hope is in the promise,” Hodson said, outlined in the Holy Bible. “He has prayed that we would be one. God will provide us unity around faithfulness to Him … Wherever there is faith, the spirit of God is present.”
Unity comes in practice, Young said, not necessarily in theology.
“There is such a wide diversity in how you approach the word of God,” Galler said. In the end, “He’s ultimately responsible for what the church is and where the church goes and what the church does.”
There are myriad differences between denominations, Bagley answered.
“We do agree that we’re here to make you a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
On church attendance, it’s a period of decline in the west, Hodson said, a decline in critical thinking, in a critical approach to scripture.
“In Christendom, people don’t trust their Bible any longer, and they do trust their comfort and their wealth,” he lamented. “But God is faithful and continuing and there’s nothing new under the sun.”
History shows the pendulum swings back and forth, Bagley said, periods when the church is ascendant and when it declines.
“We’ll bounce back from this and we’ll go really far the other direction and bounce back from that,” he added. Through it all, “It’s time to still preach the Gospel.”
There’s a “chronocentric” attitude, Young said.
“We think that our time is the time. We’re also western-centric,” he noted. “The church is triumphant today, but maybe not here. God’s church is alive and powerful in other places in the world.
“I don’t think He promises that the west will bounce back or that it won’t, but I think globally his church will be triumphant.”