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.
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.