Around the world this year, multiple celebrations and events are marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
As Baptists we may wonder if the Reformation has anything to do with us. Why should we celebrate something that happened 500 years ago?
I believe the Reformation has much to do with us, and we are duty-bound to celebrate it. Here is why: At its heart, the Reformation was a rediscovery of the gospel.
During the years prior to the Reformation, the false belief that people had to earn the forgiveness of God had largely obscured God’s glorious gospel. This doctrinal belief led to the corruption and spiritual weakening of the church.
But God, as He has done so often, began to stir and awaken His people. The gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone came in power once again. Luther said this discovery to him was like the opening of the eyes to the blind. Preaching of this gospel inspired and emboldened the church, and this renewed vigor resulted in the training of death-defying, God-exalting missionary-pastors.
Souls were saved, churches were purified and planted, and the missionary efforts extended even to the Americas.
Furthermore, the Bible was translated into the language of the common people, giving them direct access to the Word of God. For all these reasons, the Reformation is the greatest revival in the history of the church after Pentecost.
So, should you celebrate the Reformation? Only if you appreciate knowing how your sins can be forgiven; only if you rejoice in being able to share that news with others; only if you love to see souls saved; only if you love having the Word of God in your own language; only if you want to see the gospel spread around the world.
If those truths rejoice your heart, you have reason to celebrate the Reformation. Of course, the Reformation was a human event, and there were excesses and things with which we’d disagree. But that has been true of every spiritual revival.
If we long to see a radical renewal of the church in our day, we’d do well to study this divine outpouring from the past and see what lessons we can learn. If we look back carefully, we will be able to see forward more clearly. So, let’s acknowledge the dynamic work of God 500 years ago in renewing His church and pray that He might revive us again. (BP)
Ray Van Neste is professor of biblical studies at Union University.
Ray Van Neste