“History … illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.” —Cicero
History must not be left to the past, it must live. History does not live in dusty old books on shelves and must not be confined to forgotten corridors in the mind. History must be lived in the hearts of the present. It serves not merely to inform us concerning the facts of the past, but its value is realized in its power to testify to God’s faithfulness and man’s dereliction. Rightly perceived, history is the legacy of God’s sovereign providence in route to glory.
The glory of God is at stake in our understanding and appropriation of history, and affords the ultimate ground for history to live in the passions of our present resolve. We live in what is commonly called the “information age.” Indeed, ours is an age of information yet ironically it is also an age of indifference. We must deliberately fight against the post-modern tendency of relegating history and its details to something that we can just look-up when needed. With the Internet, digital media, public libraries, etc., history is in danger of being sought after only on a need-to-know basis.
Ease of access mitigates need of memory—and this tends to allay heart conviction.
It is not for mere knowledge that we must learn our history. Knowledge is a means to an end, and the greatest end for which we must strive is a genuine heart conviction for God, a thirst to make much of Christ for the glory of God and the joy of man. The proper use of church history guards against traditionalism while it strengthens traditional faith.
In this commemoratory celebration, we turn our attention to a piece of history that no one professing to have a part in Christianity can afford to neglect. That grand progress of divine providence known as the Reformation is reasonably the most important history of the Christian faith since the Council of Chalcedon (ad 451). This is history we need to know in heart.
All history belongs to God, but not all history is equal. We are stewards of history—and since the very days of Christ and the apostles, no history is more central than that of the Reformation.
The Protestant Reformation—or better, the Great Revival of Christianity in the Great Return to God in the Gospel of Christ—is the foremost transformative, significant, vital, crucial, weighty, valuable, influential, and worthy history of the world since biblical times. As to the enormity and ubiquity of its consequences, no one can justly appreciate. The Reformation rediscovered the biblical worldview of Christianity. It unleashed a God-centered mindset; a biblical philosophy of education, literature, art, music, language, culture, industry, science, economy, civil government (even the foundational principles of America’s democratic republic), human liberties, justice, social aid (soup kitchens, hospitals, orphanages), missions, marriage, and the recovery of biblical morality. It is all an outgrowth of a reverently enormous and revolutionary view of God. The Holy Scripture was set forth as the chief means to the glory of God as the chief end with man’s delight in God as our deepest fulfillment.
The many revolutions born in this providence were more a matter of divine revival than ecclesiastical reform. Much larger than merely a schism between the Roman Catholic Church and Evangelicals (“Protestants”), this history is a sacred providence that outstrips the likes of any other since the time of Christ and the apostles. It is a history that, rightly understood, extols the praises of God in the vastest convergence of divine grace outpoured in nearly two thousand years. It is not about Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, William Tyndale, John Calvin, John Knox, or any other contributing factor—it is about God.
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).
Not to overstate the matter, but the world in which we stand cannot be conceived rightly apart from the redirecting course of events in this history, which was administered through the invisible hand of the Almighty. We heartily give thanks to God for raising up instruments and molding the hearts of tangible examples that we can appreciate and aspire to follow, in as much as they follow Christ, but we do not venerate mere men. No, the Reformation is preeminently an occasion to exalt God and extol His graces administered in the providence of a time and place made ripe and ready. If we are to steward this history well, we must celebrate the power and gracious workings of the Holy Spirit, in and through the lives of mere mortals. We attribute the greatness of the Reformation to the goodness of God alone and humbly acknowledge and willingly bind our hearts to be good stewards of this sacred history. May we not be remiss in our stewardship.