Few people, at least among my friends and acquaintances, have much interest in history. When I try talking about it, their eyes glaze over, signaling that they’d really appreciate changing the subject to something more relevant. Like football.
History, of course, is extremely relevant. I suspect that our country’s collective apathy toward history contributed to the dismal choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. At any rate, most people fail to grasp the fact that studying our past can help us see how we have arrived at our present circumstances.
So it follows that church history has the ability to shed light on the issues facing 21st Century evangelicals, whether they’re false converts or genuine believers. The upcoming 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation affords us a splendid opportunity to think through the doctrines that caused us to divide from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th Century.
As we learn about the sacrifices that people made (often including horrible deaths), we start realizing the value they placed on doctrinal purity. In turn, we begin to treasure sound doctrine ourselves.
Over the past 50 years, evangelicals have been taught to minimize doctrine in favor of ecumenical unity. When I became a Christian 46 years ago, leaders in the fellowship I’d joined persuaded me that, despite theological differences like belief in Purgatory and the veneration of Mary, evangelicals and Catholics shared a common faith. So I attended Mass occasionally. And I took the Eucharist in complete ignorance that Catholic teaching views it as Christ’s continuing sacrifice.
My participation an Mass is one of many examples of failure to understand why the Reformers sought to reform the Catholic Church. Had I understood the Reformation, for instance, I would have never taken their host. I would have known that they regard the Eucharist, not as a memorial of Christ’s once-for-all atonement, but as a means of meriting grace. The Eucharist denies the Bible’s insistence that Christians receive justification by faith in Christ’s work on the cross.
I don’t claim to be an historian, but I’ve learned enough church history to see that the Lord used the Reformation to restore His people to the foundational teachings of the Bible. Therefore, as I watch the 21st Century evangelicals camouflage His Word, sometimes even by adopting the unscriptural practices of Catholic mystics, I recognize the urgency of studying the Reformation. Our Protestant heritage reminds us to return to Biblical teaching, not because the Reformers “invented” it (they didn’t), but because they recovered it.