Last year, despite a nearly universal aversion to history in 21st Century Western culture, many evangelicals tolerated talk about the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation. After all, October 31, 2017 marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s infamous act of posting his 95 Theses. Though the majority of Christians remained pretty much indifferent to this anniversary, they didn’t begrudge Reformed Christians our celebration. It was understandable, in a bewildering sort of way. And on November 1st, everything returned to normal.
But should we have closed our history books to once again gather dust and cobwebs? Can we now assure ourselves that the significance of the Reformation pales in comparison to the issues in our present time? The more progressive branch of evangelicals (including those who claim to be Reformed) now busy themselves with so-called social justice concerns like racism and misogyny, filing the Reformation away as irrelevant to today’s Christian culture. In turn, those of us who see dangers in the social justice movement push the Reformation aside in order to address more immediate matters.
Perhaps you feel that way. Perhaps you think last year’s celebration was all well and good, but that was then and this is now. You may be surprised to learn that I share the temptation to move on from the 16th Century and focus on 2018.
The Protestant Reformation, however, actually gives us the necessary tools for dealing with contemporary issues. I say this because the 16th Century Reformers all pointed back to Scripture. They correctly believed that Roman Catholicism had corrupted Christianity with unbiblical teachings and practices that took people away from pure devotion to God. They remedied that problem by making the Bible accessible to everyone and then by teaching it systematically through verse-by-verse exposition. Most importantly, they affirmed its authority as the Word of God.
Present-day believers face serious issues unknown to people 500 years ago. But Martin Luther and his contemporaries faced equally serious issues unknown to the First Century apostles. Yet beneath all the issues that seem so unique to each generation lie principles that the Lord addresses in His Word. For that reason, the Reformation teaches us the value of returning to Scripture.
Additionally, the Reformers model ways to handle persecution. I particularly think of William Tyndale, who was savagely executed for translating the Bible into English. The Reformers suffered greatly for their commitment to God’s Word. As our own times produce increasing hostility towards Christianity, we’d do well to study those Reformation martyrs instead of whining that we’re losing our religious liberties. Indeed, many Reformers like John Knox probably would be puzzled that Protestants would consider religious liberty to be an inalienable right.
Dear sisters, please don’t relegate the Reformation to mothballs. The grand celebrations may be long over as we exchange heated Tweets about white Christians perpetually repenting for how our ancestors offended black people or about the Southern Baptist Convention’s alleged misogyny. But we can best respond to such controversies by following the examples of the Reformers. Like them, we must go back to God’s Word and rightly divide it. Now, more than ever, we must remember the Reformation.