As we celebrate Reformation Day (the day that commemorates when Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the church door at Wittenburg) today, I believe it appropriate to address an attitude that has appeared in the church. The attitude I speak of that relates to the Reformation is that of disdain for the 16th Century. There exists a complete lack of regard for the Reformation and what it accomplished or produced (Reformed Theology, ‘Calvinism’, etc.) within modern Evangelicalism, yet they are want to remember that without the Reformation, they most likely would not be where they are since they would probably be Roman Catholics.
Perhaps this has only been accentuated to me recently and the attitude has existed for a long time. I say accentuated because at the current institution I am studying at, I sit in an 1 hour and 15 minute class two times a week where the professor, as he walks us through the book of Matthew, continually lambasted the 16th Century and the study of Scripture that emerged from that era. Sometimes I get the distinct impression from him that if he could have his druthers, he would completely erase the 16th Century (at least in regards to the church) from history. Which ironically enough would throw him into the Roman Catholic church since this professor’s denomination came straight out of the Reformation.
Unfortunately he is not alone in his opinion, especially within his denomination. For example, the president of a sister seminary endorsed a book called “A Cultish Side of Calvinism” saying, “…I am grateful for this warning”. Further, a professor that I had in my undergrad stood before his class of freshman one day and stated that he ‘hates reformed theology’ adding to that a clarification that he knew that ‘hate’ was a strong word but that he was using it correctly.
What idea has taken hold in the minds of the men that the church no longer approves or appreciates her heritage? It is as though the church believes that the Holy Spirit has not worked in the church since the Day of Pentecost nearly 2,000 years ago. In some cases of church history, scholarship is thrown straight out the window and a direct path to John the Baptist is sought in order claim that the denomination remained unbroken from John the Baptist. (postulated in the book ‘The Trail of Blood‘) The belief that Baptists remained an unbroken line of pure believers right from John the Baptist still holds water in many Baptist churches unfortunately. (Never mind that it is technically John the Baptizer, not John the Particular/General/Southern/Free-Will/etc. Baptist)
It is a great tragedy to me that the evangelical church has sought to separate itself from its roots and as a result, views the Reformation as a scourge rather than a great blessing. (Have we gone Roman Catholic all of a sudden in our view?) The Reformation, and all that came out of it, not only changed the landscape of the church bringing the true church to the forefront, but through it God ensured that the gates of hell did not prevail against His church. It is not as though the Reformation invented doctrine or that its intense study of Scripture was a new art; hence the name ‘Reformation’ and not ‘Revolution’. The true Gospel of Christ was re-discovered in the very place that the Roman Catholic church had sought to hide it from the people: Scripture.
This is why the Reformation is so vitally important to understand why evangelicals treasure Scripture. Prior to the Reformation, ‘church’ was a Latin Mass and you as the attendee, not knowing Latin, were reliant solely upon your priest and whatever he said was ‘gospel’. When men such as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox and others set out to study Scripture, they discovered a gospel quite different from the Roman Catholic church’s sanctioned message: a Gospel of Scripture, Faith, Christ, Grace and the Glory of God – not popes, mass, liturgies, works, or prayers to saints. Suddenly it was realized and proclaimed that Salvation was not based upon the pope, the mass, indulgence or special prayers, rather it was reliant upon Christ and His historic/redemptive work alone.
Then came the advent of the printed Scriptures made available to the common man. No longer were you required to be a monk, priest, or official in the church to read and understand the word of God. When this occurred, the quickly eroding foundation of the Roman Catholic church began to crumble from underneath them. The common man was now offered a true feast that would satisfy their famished soul.
That is the legacy of the Reformation. The common man given the Scriptures no longer bound and guarded by Romanism. Without the Reformation…where would we be? Let us praise the Lord for his intervention throughout human history: first, through Christ, then through the Reformation.