On Site Insights
I love the study of history, and in particular, I love the study of church history. In my own study, I have found the best method of understanding an event of history is to voraciously read the best authors on the subject, and if at all possible, go to the site of the event with books and notes in hand. I call it – ”getting insight while being on site.” This method has never failed to produce profitable and memorable observations and experiences.
Having just returned from leading a Reformation Tour, I am still benefitting from the unrivaled clarity the experience provided. The Reformation – which changed the cultural landscape of the world by reclaiming the authority of Scripture, the clear proclamation of the Gospel and the renewal and revival of the church – was propelled by four key Reformers from four important cities. They built upon each other and enhanced one another’s efforts by creating an irresistible, interdependent, Christ-centered, Gospel-saturated, Spirit-filled movement, which reverberates to this day. Our trip focused on the key cities where these servants of Christ diligently labored. First was Wittenberg, Germany, where on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the 95 Thesis to the door of Castle Rock Church, initiating the Reformation. A few years later came the ministry of Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich, Switzerland, at Grossmunster Church. In addition the attractive and influential ministry of Martin Bucer in Strasbourg, Germany, relentlessly grew in size and impact. Finally in 1534, the epicenter of Reformation influence broke out in Geneva, Switzerland, eventually led by John Calvin. We eagerly visited these sites to follow the footsteps of these Reformers. The result was a number of “insights” which seized my mind and heart while being “on site.”
Two by Two – Leadership Plurality
The Reformation was an unstoppable Kingdom movement as Christ not only assembled a constellation of glorious lights of Pastors/Preachers/Theologians, but He also providentially brought alongside of them complementary and ministry enhancing colleagues. The ministry of Luther was strengthened by the scholarly and stabilizing influence of Philip Melanchthon. Zwingli was joined by the powerfully capable ministry of Heindrich Bullinger. Martin Bucer was initially assisted by John Calvin and then later Johann Sturum. Then John Calvin enjoyed, not only the presence of numerous Reformers that he mentored in Geneva, but he was notably assisted and encouraged through the ministry of Theodore Beza. These men raised up by the Lord each uniquely united with a Reformer mitigated their weaknesses while providing enhancements to their ministries, which also positioned them to effectively propel the ministry forward as the Reformers passed on to glory.
The Importance of Christian Education
As the church was being revived and renewed, the Reformers lost no time in establishing Academies for public education and pastoral training. The Bible was now in the language of the people, so they eagerly and thoughtfully promoted public education for all regardless of gender, social status or economic ability. Because leadership was and is crucial, they also facilitated training for the next generation of leaders, pastors and theologians. This commitment to Christian education would become so foundational that the children of the Reformation, when coming to the New World, would first plant a church and then inevitably establish a school sometimes before even a stable food supply was secured.
The Primacy of Preaching
For the first time in hundreds of years, God’s people not only had God’s Word in their own language to study, they could hear it preached in their own language. But in terms of ministry philosophy, the Reformers believed in the primacy of preaching, knowing that Christians who know God’s Word could interpret the experiences of life with sound doctrine. Sermons were preached 3 times on Sunday, theological lectures Monday-Friday mornings, and preaching on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights. Attendance was overwhelming and enthusiastic.
The Reformers understood there would be no change in culture without a commitment to Gospel-transformation through Great Commission disciple-making. But they also knew discipled believers were called to promote public policy as a witness for Christ – to manifest the heart of God as instruments of common grace while equipping the church to be “salt and light.” This resulted in multiple Kingdom initiatives producing significant social, economic and relational benefits in the cities where they served.
Primacy of Worship – “In Spirit and In Truth”
The leaders of the Reformation realized that multiple crucial theological issues needed to be addressed thoughtfully and courageously thus the great Reformation mottos surfaced – Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Christus, Soli Deo Gloria. Initially they viewed the church as a “kettle” filled with all kinds of things, some of which needed to be removed or refined, particularly the Divine service of gathered public worship. Benefitting from his fellow Reformers, Calvin’s perspective ultimately prevailed. He believed the “kettle” needed first to be emptied and then refilled. Thus, Divine worship, the primary privilege and duty of the Gospel-saved believer, was to be simple consisting only of those elements positively commanded in Scripture and fully engaged from the heart. The result being acceptable worship “in spirit and truth” to the Triune God for the sending grace of God the Father, the saving grace of God the Son and the securing grace of God the Holy Spirit.
These are just a few insights produced by being on site, yet even as I write them, I sense urgent prayer rising in my heart…O Lord do it again! Why? The churches in the cities where the life changing and world-shaping Reformation movement flourished are now museums. May the barren landscape of despair once again be flooded with the River of Life flowing from the Risen Savior through the Glorious Body and Bride of Christ with power – the Church on mission and on message for Her Lord and Redeemer.