1517 Was Cool And All, But What Does It Have To Do With Me?

Ancient ScriptureLeslie A left a comment on yesterday’s blog post stating that her articles on the Protestant Reformation were also pretty much ignored by her readers. Okay, so I have assurance that my writing skills weren’t the reason my Reformation articles went over like a lead balloon.  There’s a modicum of comfort in Leslie’s comment, weird though that may  be.

I love my blogger friends!

As I thought about her comment (or more accurately, the apathy toward history that seems to characterize most people in our century), I couldn’t help wondering if the self-absorbed nature of our post-modern culture has something to do with it. Sure, we’re concerned about the myriad of problems in today’s church.  After all, that’s the church we inhabit. The events of 1517 and 1619 have little to do with the issues we face.

And yet, those in the Woke Movement attempt to use revisionist history to lay guilt on white people and demand … I’m not exactly sure what they’re demanding, but white people evidently owe a perpetual debt to them. History is useful if it offers personal gain, apparently.

It’s harder for us to conceptualize of any personal benefit that we might derive from studying church history.

There are most definitely benefits, of course, beginning with your ability to read the Bible in your own language. Without this almost universal access to God’s Word, discernment ministry could never exist.

As a matter of fact, the 16th Century Reformers discerned the errors in Roman Catholic doctrines and practices by studying Scripture. Consider the story of Martin Luther, for instance.

Luther, you’ll recall, struggled profoundly with the sense that he could never really please God. Despite hours spent in confession each day, followed by acts of penance and contrition, he rightly believed that nothing he did merited God’s forgiveness. None of those things gave him righteousness. But in reading Romans 1:17‘s declaration that the righteous shall live by faith in the original Greek, rather than in the Latin Vulgate, he discovered the key! As R.C. Sproul explains in Justification by Faith Alone: Martin Luther and Romans 1:17:

Now there was a linguistic trick that was going on here too. And it was this, that the Latin word for justification that was used at this time in church history was—and it’s the word from which we get the English word justification—the Latin word justificare. And it came from the Roman judicial system. And the term justificare is made up of the word justus, which is justice or righteousness, and the verb, the infinitive facare, which means to make. And so, the Latin fathers understood the doctrine of justification is what happens when God, through the sacraments of the church and elsewhere, make unrighteous people righteous.

But Luther was looking now at the Greek word that was in the New Testament, not the Latin word. The word dikaios, dikaiosune, which didn’t mean to make righteous, but rather to regard as righteous, to count as righteous, to declare as righteous. And this was the moment of awakening for Luther. He said, “You mean, here Paul is not talking about the righteousness by which God Himself is righteous, but a righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have righteousness of their own.”

By going to the language that Paul actually used in writing the letter to the Romans, Luther found that Roman Catholicism taught a view of salvation that the Bible simply doesn’t teach. As the Holy Spirit worked genuine salvation in him, he continued studying Scripture and seeing the ways that Catholicism deviated from God’s Word. Through Scripture, in other words, he and other Reformers gave us a model for discerning truth.

The Protestant Reformation affects you in more ways than you might expect, including giving you the greatest tool for practicing discernment. As you learn how the Reformers walked in Biblical discernment, you can develop your own discernment skills.

Maybe history won’t increase your bank account or enhance your marriage. If it bores you because it doesn’t offer those kinds of benefits, you might want to pray about any self-absorbed attitudes you could be harboring. Once you deal with those attitudes, you might be surprised at how church history impacts your life.

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