On today’s episode, Dr. Stephen Nichols takes time to reflect on the legacy of the Reformation and how it shapes the task of the church today.
The Next Day
The year 2017, of course, was the five-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, and October 31 was marked by commemorations of that movement and of Martin Luther’s nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. But after October 31 is November 1—the day after. It is worth asking what comes next. It is a good time to pause and reflect on what we can learn from the legacy of the Reformation and also to think about our legacy. Church history is a book that is still being written, and chapters are still being added to it.
We have a lot to be thankful for as we look back to the Reformers. We think not only of Luther; it wasn’t just his Reformation in Wittenberg. It was across the German lands. But we can go down to the Swiss city-states and see the Reformation there. And what a great legacy those places have left for us. We could go over to England and the legacy of the British Reformation under Henry VIII and we could also go a generation ahead of that and see the Puritans and what a great legacy they’ve left us. We have the Scottish Reformation and John Knox. And as all of these different branches of the Reformation made their way to the New World and settled into America, the landscape of American Christianity took shape. Ultimately, we can trace our roots back to the Lutheran church in Germany.
Scripture talks about how we drink from wells that we did not dig and we eat from vineyards that we did not plant (Deut. 6:11). We have to think of that when we think of the Reformers: they dug the wells, they planted the vineyards, they’ve helped us think through theology, they’ve helped us think through how to function as a church, and above all they’ve helped us think biblically about what we do and how we live. We drink from their wells and we eat from their vineyards.
But if Christ does not come back, there will be centuries still to come and many will come after us. What kind of wells are we digging for them? What kind of vineyards are we planting for them? Are they going to enjoy the same wells and the same vineyards that we’re enjoying from the Reformers? As we think through these questions, there is a monument to Luther at Eisenach that is worth contemplating. On the back of the statue are the words from his hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Above all, the Reformers reminded us of the importance and the primacy of knowing who God is. From there, we understand who we are. From there, we understand who Christ is and our relationship to God. It all flows from this knowledge of God.
Another thing about this monument that we need to note is that Luther is holding a Bible. This captures the essence of the Reformation. The Reformation was a movement that had tremendous reach and staying power; it impacted not just the church but also the culture. It was not simply a church history event; it was a world history event. And it happened because the Reformers knew they had to stand on the timeless, eternal, abiding truth of the Word of God. And if we want to leave a legacy for those who come after us, we need to realize that we too must stand upon the solid and sure foundation of God’s Word. That’s our task in our moment of church history: to be timeless by appealing to the eternal and living and the abiding Word of God.
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