Someone has said that for many Christians, church history began with the first Billy Graham crusade. They think that as long as we derive our beliefs from the Bible, we can ignore the two-thousand year history of God’s people. Church history, they reason, really only benefits scholars and historians. What possible relevance could the past have for the present?
How easy it is to forget that we are heirs of a rich history that began in the New Testament and continues on to this present day. To study church history is to study the ways of God; it is to appreciate God’s providential guidance of His people. We forget that the better we understand yesterday, the better we will understand today.
“The Reformation” refers to a spiritual rebirth that took place in Europe during the sixteenth century. Many of us believe that it’s the most important recovery of the Gospel in the history of the church. Look around the evangelical world today and you’ll agree that we must rediscover these same truths if we want our own churches to be all they can be for the glory of God.
So why should we be interested in Martin Luther five hundred years after his lifetime?
The answer is quite simple: his influence is still with us, whether we are Catholic, Protestant, or simply enjoying the freedoms we have come to cherish in the West. Luther stood at a pivotal point in history between the Dark Ages and the Modern Age, between a time of religious oppression and a growing respect for individual conscience. Luther stood against a thousand years of religious and political traditions and insisted that belief could no longer be mandated or coerced.
The path to religious freedom in Europe would be fraught with conflict, setbacks, and even wars—but once the idea of freedom of conscience had been introduced, it could not be stopped. Europe could no longer comfortably return to religious suppression and the control of a power-loving church.
The cultural and historical aspects of the sixteenth century are over, but the issues that surfaced during the Reformation speak directly to our predicament today. In the crucible of controversy and heated confrontations, the reformers debated the authority of Scripture, justification by faith alone, the nature of Christian unity, and the changing role of the church and state. The history of the Reformation introduces us to stories of God’s remarkable providence, to the truth that He often uses flawed human beings to further His work, and to the high price paid by those who were determined to remain true to the faith despite opposition.
The reformers rescued the gospel from encrusted medieval traditions, but we have our own task before us as we confront the distortion and misuse (often neglect) of the gospel, even by those who claim to love it.
Let the reformers motivate us to rescue the gospel and share it with our generation.
To learn more about the Reformation, you can request a copy Pastor Lutzer’s latest book, Rescuing the Gospel, for a gift of any amount by clicking here.