The Appeal Of History

We’ve covered a lot of ground this past week or so as we’ve discussed the Reformation, and yet so much more needs to be explored. I’d like, for instance, to probe deeper into the  development of Catholic doctrine to understand how they arrived at their ideas of meritorious justification, the veneration of Mary, Purgatory and the Apocrypha. I also want to profile Zwingli, Calvin and Knox, all of whom made significant  contributions to the Reformation.

Just a few days ago, in my post, Restoring Through Reformation, I wrote:

Studying the Reformation, with its call back to the doctrines of the Bible, can help us better evaluate current trends and teachings within the visible church. No, I don’t mean to suggest that the Reformation is a measuring rod. Rather, the Reformation points us back to Scripture–the same Scripture that Luther and Calvin used as their measuring rod. As we examine the writings of these men (and others), we’ll witness their reliance on the Bible and on Christ’s atoning work on the cross in ways that should inspire our devotion to Him.

As I watch many 21st Century evangelicals turn to various corruptions of the Gospel, including efforts at unity with the Roman Catholic Church, I have to wonder if they have the slightest clue what the Reformation was. When I’ve mentioned Reformation Day to some of my evangelical friends, they’ve either given me blank stares or mumbled that they don’t really care much about history. I shake my head sadly, knowing that indifference to history has devastating consequences.

Permit me to offer an illustration of why history matters. Almost ten years ago, John and I started making our infamous day trips into Boston. We visited King’s Chapel Burying Ground, where we saw the tomb of  Massachusetts first English governor, John Winthrop. Next to the tomb, we saw this plaque:

Burying Place PlaqueThe plaque quoted  a fragment of Winthrop’s famous City on a Hill sermon:

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.

Just over two years later, we visited Winthrop’s tomb again. The plaque had been removed, leaving only signage that he’d been Massachusetts’ first governor. It seemed to us that the plaque had been removed  because someone found its Christian message offensive. Consequently, this city of Boston has conveniently erased evidence that it was founded on Christian principles and for the glory of God.

If evangelicals continue to ignore the Reformation, I fear that its memory will be  erased just as as surely as Winthrop’s Christian convictions have been erased from his grave site. I already see this forgetfulness of Luther’s protest against Rome as Christian leaders like Rick Warren and Beth Moore minimize the differences between Protestants and Catholics. They forget, and would have us forget, the sacrifices of the great Reformers! They would put us right back into the deceptions that withheld the Gospel from so many men and women in the Middle Ages.

So I will continue to write about the Reformation, and the history that led up to it, with the prayer that some of my readers will understand why we must cling to the truths that the Reformers worked so hard to recover. These brave men, as well as women, risked their lives because they refused to compromise Biblical doctrine. I desire that Christians in our time would have that same unwillingness to adjust our doctrine to popular ideas and beliefs. History may bore some people, but it is our only hope for keeping away from the false doctrines that could mean the difference between heaven and hell.

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