A short reflection on the Protestant Reformation and the ministry of Keith Underhill

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This speech was prepared for the farewell celebration of K.U. on 31-10-2015

Today we join many other Protestant believers in celebrating the annual Reformation Day, which is a commemoration of the day Martin Luther pinned his 95 theses at the door of the University chapel in Wittenberg German in October 31, 1517. 498 years have passed since that momentous event! In his scholarly article, Luther was challenging teaching and practice as put forward by the Roman Catholic Church of the time and asking for a re-evaluation of issues. He mainly protested the claim put forward by the Pope that people could obtain forgiveness of their sins if they or their relatives bought the indulgences. The indulgences were written declarations of forgiveness with the Pope’s seal which chosen agents of the Pope were selling.

This seemingly insignificant action by a relatively unknown Augustinian priest, scholar and lecturer of theology, set in motion debates that culminated in what is known as the Protestant Reformation. The supremacy of Scripture over the traditions of the church was reaffirmed and the doctrines of salvation by faith alone were rediscovered. The Protestant church desiring to be ruled and guided by the Bible as a final authority broke away from the idolatry and superstitions of Roman Catholicism. The sweet message of the gospel of grace resounded in the ears of God’s people. The Scriptures were translated into the common language of the people. The liturgies were now put forth in vernacular so that the people could worship with understanding and joy. Many unscriptural traditions, symbols and ceremonies that marred worship and life of God’s people were kicked out. What a refreshing phenomenon the Protestant Reformation was!

Providentially, as a church here at Trinity Baptist Donholm, we are this Saturday, also celebrating 40 years of the ministry of our Pastor, Keith Underhill. He is a man who would be glad to be associated with the Protestant Reformers like Martin Luther. He has unapologetically affirmed the authority of Scripture above any traditions of men as the Reformers did. Judging from my short experience as a one of his theology students at the PTC, I can say that he is quite scrupulous to ensure that all the students formulate all of their doctrine and practice from the Scriptures. In the life of the church, as a pastor, he is also very careful like the 16th century Reformers and their 17th century successors- the Puritans, not to make room for any practices, ceremonies or teaching that cannot be shown to be firmly based on the Scriptures.

Our brother Keith is also not ashamed to be identified with the doctrines of grace (commonly referred to as Calvinism) as expounded by the Reformers. In my assessment, his firm belief in the biblical doctrines of grace seems to be a major motivation for his zeal for biblical preaching and missions to the unreached. Today we celebrate God’s grace in enabling him to initiate church planting efforts among the Rendille and in West and North Pokot where we have about 12 local congregations that somehow attribute their existence to his ministry. There are also many other Reformed Baptist congregations that have been planted in towns and villages throughout this country through his ministry. Many pastors have also learned theology under him at the PTC since 1980. It seems that a recovery of biblical doctrine in every generation always fire up zeal for prayer, preaching the gospel of God’s grace, daring missionary ventures and reverential worship. Our brother has often motivated the pastoral students to zealous service by reading from Acts 20:24 ‘But I do not account my life as of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I have received from the Lord Jesus, to testify of the gospel of the grace of God.’ These words seem not only true of the Apostle Paul but also of our brother Keith in his persistence in the ministry. Praise be to God who has granted him energy and zeal even in his old age (he is turning 70)!

Although our brother has not attained popularity like that of Luther, those of us who have been privileged to partake of his ministry know that God has tremendously used him to bring a Biblical reformation in this country that only the great Day will reveal. Furthermore, I thank God for granting him the contentment to work in relative obscurity and not to attract attention to himself. This is a commendable grace in these days of exhibitionism fueled by social media where preachers will not as much give you a cup of water without announcing it on Facebook or Twitter.

When we look back at the Protestant Reformation and assess the state of most churches that identify themselves as Protestants today, one wonders whether we have remained true to our roots. There is still widespread superstition and teaching that is not deeply grounded in Scripture amongst many protestant churches today. In most places chaos reign instead of reverential worship and the Scriptures have been abandoned as many seek ‘revelations and miracles’. In some quarters, there is a lot of motivational speaking and leadership lectures or classes instead of biblical preaching about the central doctrines of sin, faith, grace, God’s holiness and glory. Others are deeply caught up in the so called ‘prosperity gospel’ and seem to be worshipping wealth and health and preaching about money all year round. Many are in the word of faith stuff that teaches, ‘you are a god and you should declare and decree things into being’. Oh how such teaching obscures the glory of God! Have we undervalued the Scriptures and are slowly going back to where the church was before the reformation? Is the gospel still resounding Sunday after Sunday in our pulpits calling sinners to salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone?

Those of us who remain here in this local church which identifies itself as ‘Reformed’ should know that we have a task to continue with reformation. Ecclesia Semper Reformanda!’ That is the motto for us, which means, ‘the church reformed is always reforming’. Let us not settle down to an arrogant, self-satisfied contentment and think we have arrived. We are to continually examine our attitudes, practice and doctrine, always seeking to align ourselves more and more with the Word of God. That is the spirit of the Protestant Reformation.

Thank God for Luther. Thank God for the Protestant Reformation. Thank God for Keith, who has labored among us these last 40 years and now is retiring from the pastorate! We pray for forty more years of God’s grace and biblical reformation upon those of us who remain here at T.B.C. The Lord God, who has been with Keith, be with our remaining elders, our deacons and all God’s saints here at Trinity Baptist Church. Amen

P. Kivati 31/10/2015

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