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Gospel-Stewarding History

Today marks the 499th anniver­sary of Mar­tin Luther issu­ing his 95 The­ses and thus spark­ing the Protes­tant Ref­or­ma­tion. As we look at what we face in the world today, Agape Christi his­to­ry teacher Brady Erick­son argues that it is vital to con­sid­er what has come before.

The study of his­to­ry is foun­da­tion­al to any civ­i­liza­tion that hopes to pros­per in its pur­suits. So it is no won­der that in this day of his­tor­i­cal apa­thy, the threads of society’s fab­ric are begin­ning to fray. It could seem futile to hope for a rever­sal of such apa­thy, since pre­vail­ing sen­ti­ment teach­es that our world is noth­ing more than a col­lec­tion of star­dust and that we are but off­spring of chance. But what if the past was not mere cos­mic acci­dent, but rather the grand unfold­ing of a dra­ma?

With this per­spec­tive, let us con­sid­er the encroach­ing dark­ness and our long­ing to see a glim­mer of hope. This dis­heart­en­ing scene should not leave us hope­less. If his­to­ry has shown us any­thing, it has been that dark­ness must come before dawn. And greater still, that there is a time­less weapon that push­es back the advance­ment of the night with a word. (Eph. 6:17)

No time in his­to­ry has giv­en us a greater exam­ple of this strug­gle to bring the world into the light of day than the Protes­tant Ref­or­ma­tion. The years lead­ing up to the Ref­or­ma­tion were right­ly called the Dark Ages, for men had been tak­en cap­tive by the tem­po­ral pow­er of the day. Those unac­quaint­ed with this time in his­to­ry might think this was the domin­ion of a bar­bar­ic war­lord, for such men did cer­tain­ly exist and rule with might. But the pow­er that most threat­ened the free­man was one that endan­gered both body and soul through the cor­rup­tion of the church.

With­out dwelling too much on the iniq­ui­ties of Rome, we must, at the very least, paint a pic­ture of the bur­dens it inflict­ed in that time. The king­dom once described by the Mas­ter as “not of this world” (John 18:36) was noth­ing but of the world and was built by cun­ning and deceit. One his­to­ri­an said, “The noon of the papa­cy was the mid­night of the world.” (Wylie 2012) This mid­night brought about great tur­moil, but like the till­ing of a field before the har­vest, so must the king­doms of men be tilled before the seeds can take root. The stage had been set per­fect­ly for a light to shine forth from the dark­ness, and when it came, the dark­ness could not over­come it. (John 1:4–5)

This pecu­liar light came in an unas­sum­ing way. It was from the pages of a once hid­den Book that it shined most bril­liant­ly. It cap­tured the gaze of every man who would but look upon it by faith. It made those who believed it as bold as lions, and it was the com­mon thread in every reformer who dared to face death for its life-giv­ing truth. This was, of course, the mes­sage of the Gospel. And this same Gospel is the cen­tral sto­ry of his­to­ry itself. One his­to­ri­an summed up his life-long study of his­to­ry in this way: “The Gospel is the ful­fill­ment of all hopes, the per­fec­tion of all phi­los­o­phy, the inter­preter of all rev­o­lu­tions, the key of all seem­ing con­tra­dic­tions of the phys­i­cal and moral worlds; it is life — it is immor­tal­i­ty.” (Schaff 1858)

The Gospel shapes the way we look at his­to­ry, because it is what his­to­ry is meant to point us to. If you study his­to­ry with­out the ori­ent­ing light of the Gospel, you have stud­ied in vain. The rea­son there is hope in the midst of this crooked gen­er­a­tion is that the Gospel hasn’t lost its pow­er. The very same Gospel that changed the course of his­to­ry dur­ing the Ref­or­ma­tion is the same Gospel that we must stew­ard to the next gen­er­a­tion, as they take up the fight for the King­dom of Light. There­fore, we must study his­to­ry, for it has been giv­en to us so that our faith might be strength­ened by the great cloud of Gospel wit­ness­es who went before us. In this way, we hon­or God’s work­ings of old and bring hope to the work­ings of tomor­row.

Ref­er­ences

Schaff, Phillip. His­to­ry of the Chris­t­ian Church. Peabody: Hen­drick­son Pub­lish­ers Mar­ket­ing, 1858.

Wylie, James A. The His­to­ry of Protes­tantism, vol.1. Birm­ing­ham : Sol­id Ground Chris­t­ian Books, 2012.

 


 

Mr. Erick­son teach­es His­to­ry, Omnibus, Log­ic, and Greek to 4th-9th graders at Agape Christi Acad­e­my.

 

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