It was October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Luther was simply attempting to begin a discussion about the abuses and false teaching happening in the Church. Little did he know, this would spark a movement that changed the Church and Western civilization.
But, someone might ask, “Who cares? How does studying something that happened over 500 years ago affect my life today?”
There are several reasons why modern Christians should look back and learn from Reformation, but we’ll narrow it down to a few: to learn from history, to see how the gospel can be perverted and how to fight for it, and to be reminded of the importance and power of God’s Word. It would be too much to discuss these points in a single post, so we’ll divide it up into a three-part series.
Today, we’ll look at the importance of learning from history.
Learning From History
We’ve probably all heard the famous quote, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Ecclesiastes tells us “there is nothing new under the sun.” There’s wisdom in seeking to learn lessons from the past while striving to do better in the future.
We study history in schools because it’s important. If you live in the U.S., you will probably study U.S. history, and if you live in Texas, you will most likely study Texas history. We need to look at events like World War II to be reminded of what happened and what could happen again if we’re not diligent. Learning from past mistakes can help prevent us from repeating them.
History not only teaches us, but it can also inspire us with true stories of heroism. Most of us feel inspired by the phrase, “Remember the Alamo!” There’s a surge of emotion and bravery when we see the photo Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. We all love a good story filled with drama, conflict, bravery, and a win-against-all-odds victory, and history is filled with these types of real-life stories. These stories don’t just fill our head with facts, they capture our hearts.
In the same way, shouldn’t believers have a desire to study church history? Isn’t is important to see how the church has arrived at this point, the mistakes we have made, and the ways God has used faithful servants in the past? Shouldn’t those acts of bravery by godly men and women inspire us to live for Christ today? Since God is sovereign, we can look at history and see His fingerprints and how He has worked to save imperfect people and use them to impact the world.
Studying history can protect us from error as we study what the church has historically believed and how she has refuted false teaching in the past. Many modern-day heresies are simply repackaged heresies from of old, and knowing them can help us show discernment. Of course, the Bible is the sole authority, but we can learn from godly men and women who were filled with the Spirit and studied scripture. We study Scripture in community, and this community includes those who have gone before us.
The Reformation occurred in a time when there was great corruption and false teaching. The message of the gospel had been diluted, the people didn’t have the Bible in their own language, and they were led astray by the leaders of that time. We will examine these things more specifically in the upcoming posts; as we do so, let us learn how we can fight for the purity of the gospel and the centrality of God’s Word. Let us be inspired by men like John Hus, William Tyndale, Hugh Latimer, and many others who were strangled or burned at the stake for standing up to the corruption. May their stories encourage us to stand for our faith no matter what it cost…even to the point of death.
The true gospel must be fought for in every generation. Likewise, in every generation, there will be an attack on God’s Word and biblical preaching. We see these things in our day, and the Church is called to stand and be the light in the midst of darkness. Learning from faithful servants who have gone before us can help prepare and equip us. So, as we celebrate the anniversary of the Reformation, let us learn from the past as we continue to move forward proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ as it has been revealed in God’s Word!