Few people these days know much history, mostly because they assume it has nothing to do with them. It’s boring and dusty, full of dates to memorize and bloody battlefields where too many young men surrender their lives. And we’ve all suffered through history classes in school with teachers who drone on in monotone voices that make our eyelids heavy. Once we walk across a graduation stage and firmly grip that diploma, we assure ourselves that we’ll never have to think about history again!
Between November 1, 2016 and October 31, 2017, I blogged every Tuesday about various aspects of the Reformation in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his Ninety Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Whittenburg, Germany. Sadly, those articles attracted very few readers, probably because people prefer reading about current controversies. Critiques of Beth Moore always get more clicks than essays about Luther, Calvin or Tyndale, And I admit to understanding that boring history teachers in everyone’s past have taught us that watching paint dry is more interesting than 16th Century religious squabbles. But I believe the blog posts about the Reformation were important four years ago, and I believe blog posts about the Reformation are just as important now.
This October 31, we need to remember the Reformation, even though it’s not the major anniversary that it was four years ago. As evangelicals, we still must be mindful of our spiritual heritage. Furthermore, we owe honor to the men and women of the 16th Century who suffered immense persecution to restore Biblical worship to the church. Neglecting church history sets us up to repeat the errors of past generations.
I’ve watched a few personal friends drift into Roman Catholicism lately. Even those who remain in evangelical churches have embraced the idea that Catholicism teaches Christian doctrine, and therefore should be considered just as faithful to the Lord as evangelical churches. (Of course, that type of thinking only goes to show that evangelicals aren’t as grounded in God’s Word as we should be.) Until a few years ago, I was one who thought the differences between Catholics and Protestants were insignificant. Like others, I thought that way because I hadn’t really studied the Protestant Reformation.
That lack of historical knowledge changed five years ago when our church offered the second year of a three-year Sunday School class on church history. Most of the second year concentrated on the pre-Reformers Wycliffe, Waldo and Hus, and then the Reformation itself. I especially became familiar with Martin Luther, whom God used as the main catalyst for the Reformation. The class started a little over a year before the 500th anniversary of the event that historians regard as the beginning of the Reformation. Through the class, I learned why 16th Century Reformers broke from Roman Catholic teachings, and why it matters that we remember the movement.
You can easily find my posts about the Reformation either through my drop down Categories list or by typing “Reformation” in the Search Bar of this blog. For a concise explanation of the Reformation, GotQuestions.org has a brief article outlining the basics entitled “What was the Protestant Reformation?”
In 2017, the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety Five Theses that provoked the Reformation, a wide variety of bloggers wrote about the event and its ramifications. Those articles sparked some enthusiasm for returning to the Biblical foundations that the Reformers recovered, praise God, but that enthusiasm pretty much got swallowed in 2018 as the Social Justice movement distracted us. While we struggled to awaken people to the dangers of marrying Critical Race Theory to Christianity, COVID hit, and now we’re watching politicians exploit it as a convenient way of bringing about Socialism. Quite naturally, all these issues require a great deal of attention. Consequently, the little progress we’d achieved in getting evangelicals to understand and appreciate our spiritual history disintegrated under the weight of 21st Century concerns.
As much as I’d like to review the story of the Reformation here, I believe I could better serve you by demonstrating the value of honoring the 16th Century Reformers by looking at a principle in the book of Hebrews.
Hebrews 11 famously catalogues the great heroes of the Old Testament, showing the ways that they exercised faith. The writer of Hebrews even interjects, in verse 6, that without faith it’s impossible to please God. He chronicles the ways Abraham, Moses, Rahab and others walked in faith trusting God’s Word. He follows that list by mentioning several anonymous believers who stepped out in faith:
32 And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; 36 and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.
39 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. ~~Hebrews 11:32-40 (NASB95)
The writer of Hebrews wanted his readers to remember the believers who had gone before them. I guess you might say that he wanted them to look back on their history as Jews, connecting it to their First Century experience as Christians. Essentially, he banked on the premise that history has implications on how believers behave in their own time. Doesn’t Hebrews 12:1-2 support that idea?
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.(NASB95)
In the 21st Century, Christians have an even greater cloud of witnesses than the First Century Christians had. For the past 2000 years, faithful men and women all over the world have suffered — and sometimes died — for their faith and commitment to the Word of God. The Reformers definitely belong to our cloud of witnesses. Remembering their devotion to Scripture and their abhorrence of false teaching, for example, encourages us to be careful in our own study of God’s Word. Watching their courage to resist the power of the papacy strengthens us to stand firm against compromises in our own churches.
Moreover, the Reformers teach us to go directly to God’s Word, rather than to church traditions, as guidance for working out our faith. As we see Luther understand that faith alone brings justification, for example, we desire to imitate his diligence to study the Word of God in ways that liberate us to rejoice in our salvation. As we see Tyndale dying on the stake and praying for God to open the eyes of the king, we cherish our English translations of the Bible. As we see Knox defy Mary Queen of Scots, we learn to obey the Lord over secular authority. The 16th Century Reformers teach us how to live in faithfulness to the Lord in the midst of persecution.
Those of us who watch current events believe that persecution is practically on our doorstep. Therefore we need the Reformers to show us how to stand firm when persecution gets serious. This extended cloud of witnesses gives us courage, reminding us that the purity of the Gospel is worth every sacrifice we make. If we want to respond Biblically to everything that’s happening in 2021, we can find a wealth of guidance by studying the Reformers. We may discover that history isn’t as dry and dusty as we think.Follow my blog with Bloglovin