Based on what I see on TV, finding one’s ancestry is a big business. There are several kits that you can buy that trace your ancestry and give you a summary of the ethnicities and nationalities that make up who you are.
In a nation like ours, with a multitude of different backgrounds, finding out where you came from seems like it would be fun. Some go beyond just the basic DNA information and trace their descendants back as far as possible. My wife has been told that there is a distant relative who signed the Declaration of Independence in her family tree. I know that I am related to Adam and Noah . . .
It is at this time of year that I often think about another kind of heritage. Where did we come from as Christians? In other words, what is our heritage? Furthermore, does it matter if we know how to answer that question?
The church I served was birthed In the 1930s during the conflict between liberalism and fundamentalism. For better (and there was much) or worse (and there was some) the fundamentalism of the 40s, 50s, and 60s substantially shaped our church.
Other churches, newer perhaps, can trace their heritage back to the Jesus Movement of the 70s, or the church growth movements of recent decades. Some contemporary churches were born out of the seeker movement and others are products of the “Reformed Resurgence” of the last twenty years.
But what about before all of that?
October 31, 2019 is the 502nd anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of The 95 Theses, points for discussion and debate relating to what Luther and others saw as problems within the system of medieval Catholicism. While scholars recognize that there were forerunners to Luther’s thinking, October 31, 1517, is generally regarded as the start of the Protestant Reformation. I do not have the means or wisdom to rank events in history, but I believe the Reformation is up near the top in terms of events that have shaped western civilization.
Many denominations annually recognize the last Sunday in October as Reformation Sunday. But what if your church is not part of an older denomination? Does the Reformation have any relevance for your church? My answer is an emphatic “yes,” and I believe that acknowledging the Reformation is an opportunity to connect your church – whatever its DNA – to the great doctrinal truths that Bible-believing Protestant churches of all stripes confess.
One of the most fruitful preaching series that I preached was a series on major principles of the Reformation. I began the series with a summary of Luther’s journey to faith, and then spent five subsequent Sundays looking at each of the five major tenants of the Reformation: Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone, God’s Glory Alone.
That series enabled me to preach on justification, grace, the nature of Scripture, the uniqueness of Jesus, and the greatness of God. It allowed me to address bad thinking and believing that Christian people are exposed to, both inside and outside the church. And it gave our people the sense that, despite tracing our own church history only as far back as the 1930s, their heritage went much farther back than that.
Believing and spreading the doctrines of the Reformation cost people their lives. Yes, it led to upheaval, and yes, the Reformers weren’t without flaws. But believing churches exist today because of what has been passed down through the years, just as you exist because of those who came before you.
The term “Fake News” has been prominent in political discussions of our day. Maybe it’s time we coined the term “Fake Theology” or even (I’m bracing myself here) “Fake Church.” There’s plenty about American evangelicalism that is rooted in the pragmatic to the exclusion of sound doctrine, and a host of plain old bad thinking. Yet our people are exposed to it on the radio, TV, and in books they read. Why not give them some meat, some solid food to counter what may be popular, but has little if any substance?
I promise you this, pastor friend: if you take some time to study the Reformation and some of its key truths, you will not be the same. I believe your ministry can take on a new shape, be driven by a new passion for your people’s spiritual well-being, and that your own soul will be enriched. It will also help your people see that they are connected to Christians of different backgrounds and different times and give them a deeper appreciation for the Church.
There’s a good deal of material available on the Reformation, both for you and your people. But rather than my suggesting particular resources, go on over to Ligonier.org and see what these good folks have that can be helpful. If you don’t feel up to a sermon series, there are some great video resources that you can use in a Sunday School class.
If you’re not convinced, let me challenge you to read this article written by Michael Reeves two years ago: Why The Reformation Still Matters. And if you choose to educate your people about their spiritual heritage, may God bless your efforts and strengthen your church!
I’m copying this from the Ligonier website: This Reformation Month, watch a short video every day on the history and insights of the Protestant Reformation. And don’t forget that for this month only, you can request your free digital download of R.C. Sproul’s video teaching series Luther and the Reformation plus the ebook edition of The Legacy of Luther, edited by R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols at (link). Offer ends October 31, 2019.
The video series is superb, and anything Steve Nichols writes is worth reading. Enjoy!