“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 in the course of time. Rightly perceived, history is the legacy of God’s sovereign providence en 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, artificial intelligence (AI), etc., history is in danger of being sought after only on a need-to-know basis. Ease of access eases need of memory—and this tends to ease heart conviction. In other words, increase access to information and you decrease the need to internalize that information. Decrease internalization and you decrease heart conviction.
Ease of access eases need of memory—and this tends to ease 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.
As stewards of history, we turn our attention to a piece of history that no one professing to have a part in Christianity can afford to neglect. 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.
As it relates to the world, the Reformation is the foremost transformative, significant, vital, crucial, weighty, valuable, influential, and worthy history of the world since antiquity. 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. Christ in the Holy Scriptures proved to be the chief source, the gospel the chief means, the glory of God the chief end, and man’s delight in God his deepest fulfillment.
“No other movement of religious protest or reform since antiquity has been so widespread or lasting in its effects, so deep and searching in its criticism of received wisdom, so destructive in what it abolished or so fertile in what it created.” —Euan Cameron
The many revolutions born in this period 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 and is relevant for you.
“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 now live 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 fallible 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.