Five Hundred Years Later
Should We Care about the Protestant Reformation?
Jason C. Glas
Ask the average American about the Protestant Reformation and you will undoubtedly be met with puzzlement. Mention Martin Luther and someone will ask, “Wasn’t that the Civil Right s leader?” No, that is Martin Luther King, Jr. Despite our cultural confusion and ignorance, our church is celebrating the Protestant Reformation this entire month. Now that invites a question. Why are we commemorating the Reformation when so many churches are not? The answer to that question is long, but simply most people believe it to be irrelevant and uninteresting. In this instance however, ignorance is far from bliss. Just because you may not know its significance does not mean it has no impact on your life or society. Sure, who has time for history when there is work to do, life to live, and things to accomplish? It is far more interesting to check latest AP and Coaches poll for college football, or see what is happening on social media. In our fast-pace, entertainment saturated society, who cares about a bunch of dead guys and what they did 500 years ago?
Well, we should care because the Reformation is one of the most important events in all human history and Western civilization (Europe & United States). It is because of the Reformation you are free to worship at Covenant Baptist Church. It is because of the Reformation our pulpit is in the center of the worship building and the Bible is explained in our language. It is because of the Reformation you even have a United States. It is due to the Reformation you have such things as representative government and economic freedom. The Bible we know, the gospel we understand, the church we attend, the hope we possess, and the lives we enjoy today exist because God caused the greatest revival since Pentecost to sweep across western Europe in the sixteenth century. I say “revival” because the “Protestant Reformation was, first and foremost, a theological revolution.”[i]
If this is true of the benefits we inherited from the Reformation then what does it tell us about the future of our civilization if we lose all that was gained by the Reformation? Our ignorance of this event is not merely a disappointment but irresponsible and a major contributor toward the destruction of our nation and decline of Western civilization. Regarding our scope of ignorance, one social commentator remarked,
"...that Americans are very interested in and knowledgeable about what has happened in the last twenty-four hours, somewhat concerned with the last twenty-four days, vaguely aware of what occurred twenty-four months ago, indifferent about what happened twenty-four years ago and blissfully ignorant about the past twenty-four centuries."[ii]
Consider this, 168 times the Bible calls us to “remember” things such as God’s word, God’s covenant, God’s actions, God’s attributes, God’s faithfulness, our sinfulness, judgements against us, and so forth, why? Well, as one theologian said: “Idolatry is rooted in forgetfulness… Fidelity is rooted in remembering.”[iii] All around us no one is remembering, and even if they are, they reconstruct history for moral, social and political revolutionary agendas. Despite this abuse, Christians are called to know Scripture and doctrine so we can, as Jude says, “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3) (i.e. to maintain orthodoxy). Jude says we must “contend”[iv] earnestly for the faith. Contend here means to fight or make a hard, strenuous effort and push to win. That is what we are called to do in biblical and theological remembrance to ensure faithfulness for the future. On March 30, 1961, Ronald Reagan delivered perhaps his most memorable quote to the annual Chamber of Commerce meeting in Phoenix, Arizona:
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
If we understand this politically, why can we not understand this theologically? It can also be said that evangelical orthodox faith is but one generation away from extinction. The deterioration of a public theology among our nation is causing the collapse of our political and economic freedoms. Liberty, free trade, representative government, and a host of privileges enjoyed over the last 500 years would never have seen the light of day without this incredible time of God’s gracious and providential favor.
So, does the Reformation matter and is it worth celebrating[v]? Remembering the Protestant Reformation is to reflect upon a time where light shined during incredible darkness. We do not worship the Reformers, because they were simply God’s imperfect instruments for the Reformation, nor was the Reformation without mistakes. Nonetheless, if
you appreciate having a copy of the Bible in your own language, you should celebrate the Reformation. If you’re a pastor and you are blessed with a wife, you should celebrate the Reformation. If you’re encouraged to know your mundane daily tasks are spiritual when done for God’s glory, you should celebrate the Reformation. If you appreciate congregational participation in worship, you should celebrate the Reformation. If you are accustomed to hearing the gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone, you should celebrate the Reformation. If you rejoice in seeing this gospel going around the world, you should celebrate the Reformation.[vi]
[i] Gary L. W. Johnson, Whatever Happened to the Reformation? Gary L. W. Johnson & R. Fowler White, eds. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), 3.
[ii] Ibid., 2.
[iii] M. Halbertal quoted from: Richard Lints, Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion NSBT: D.A. Carson, ed. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2015), 79.
[iv] ἐπαγωνίζομαι – (verb infinitive present middle) defined as: make a strenuous effort on behalf of, struggle for | fight, contend | contend, athletic imagery
[v] celebrate (v.) mid-15c., originally of the Mass, from Latin celebratus "much-frequented; kept solemn; famous," past participle of celebrare "assemble to honor," also "to publish; sing praises of; practice often," originally "to frequent in great numbers," from celeber "frequented, populous, crowded;" with transferred senses of "well-attended; famous; often-repeated." Related: Celebrated; celebrating.
[vi] Ray Van Neste and J. Michael Garrett, Reformation 500: How the Greatest Revival since Pentecost Continues to Shape the World Today, Neste & Garrett, eds. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 9.
Jason C. Glas © 2017