The Importance of Teaching the Reformation to the Next Generation
If you are an evangelical Christian, you are a child of the Reformation. You may not agree with all the Reformation ideas, but they are the reason you can be what you are. Without the Reformation, we would be stuck under Papal rule, unable to read the Bible in our common tongue, committed to spending our earthly existence chasing indulgences by observing as many sacraments as possible to avoid purgatory and gain heaven. If you go to church and hear the gospel preached from the pulpit, you have the Reformation to thank. Indeed, if it were not for the Reformation, Christianity would not be the Christianity we have today. That is why it is important, first for us to learn about the history of the Reformation, and then teach it to the next generation. There are six reasons why I think teaching the Reformation is important:
1. God Uses Flawed People.
As you begin to scratch the surface of the Reformation, you will soon find yourself face to face with the faults and shortcomings of the Reformers. It is usually the opponents of the Reformation that are quick to point out the flaws of the Reformers, and they have a full arsenal to choose from. Some of the faults existed because the Reformers were a product of their time, much as we are today. They had different blind spots than us, yet that makes them no less at fault. Other faults are glaringly wrong, even for the time they were in. Luther's horrible words directed to Jews, Anabaptists, and others who did not believe the same gospel as him, or Calvin's quick temper and controlling nature to name only a few.
We need not hide or attempt to mitigate the sins of the Reformers. They were not super Christians. When we present the Reformers to others, their faults and flaws display to us that God does His mighty work through weak people. Although we do not condone their actions, they teach us, sinners as we are, that there is no level of Christianity we need to achieve in order for God to use us. This is a great comfort to a young Christian who may feel as though God will not use them unless they become a better Christian.
2. The Gospel is the Power
The weakness of the Reformers bolsters the truth that the power to change lives - even the world - lies in the gospel. It is the story of God's redemption plan for sinners that is the dynamite which blasts to bits the hardened hearts of sinners. No attempt to win people by effort, technique, relevance, or any other human endeavor will achieve what the biblical gospel does. Paul writes that the "gospel is the power of God unto salvation," and the Reformation puts that truth on display.
It was the recovery of the gospel that both rocked the established traditionalism of the church and shook the unbelieving world. This was the center of the Reformation, reforming back to God's word. It must be our reformation as well. As we teach the Reformation, we teach the centrality of the gospel and constant reformation back to the word of God as the great importance in the Christian life. If the next generation is to continue as Christians, they must continue in the gospel as it is revealed in the Bible.
3. Fidelity to Scripture
If we are to be gospel people, we must be Bible people which means we cannot adopt any other word than that word from God. The Reformation teaches us that Christianity thrives where Scripture is faithfully taught and adhered to, and dies where human tradition and philosophy thrive. Where else are we going to find the gospel? Where else are we going to find the sure word of God?
When the Bible was finally translated into the common tongue, it was as though someone had lit the beacon of the lighthouse. The people had been floundering in the sea of tradition and ancient language, and the light from that lighthouse was a glorious light to them. Protestant pastors would preach for hours and hours on end; the people glued to their pews (most likely wooden benches) intent to catch every word. It was the gospel of the Bible that brought the Reformation. For us to cling to anything else would be foolishness, and the Reformation clearly displays that to our current day.
4. Boldness to Stand in the Face of Opposition
In the Reformation, we find one of the grand displays of boldness the history of the church has to offer. Before the Reformation, many had given their lives for the sake of the true gospel, but it was the Reformation that saw such a large collection of people who dared to stand against the Church. When we teach about the Reformation, we teach boldness in the face of adversity. As Christians in the West, we have not faced much adversity (compared to Christians throughout the centuries) against our faith. However, that seems to be changing, and so we will need to prepare our future generations for the opposition they may face.
We need only to look to Martin Luther as he was called to recant. He was brought before the authorities where execution was imminent if he would not recant. Luther, explaining how he could not go against Scripture nor conscience, made his famous statement, "I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” Luther stood true to Scripture in the face of death. His example, and the many others of the Reformation, instill boldness in those we teach. We see their unwavering faith in God. We see their hope in the power and authority of God, and we are helped. To know that Christians have stood in the face of adversity and prevailed helps us in our oppression.
5. Purpose and Meaning
In times of war, our priorities are different than in times of peace. In times of war, we only have time for the basics. The times of peace cause us to forget our basic priorities because they are not under attack. In the Christian life, we face much the same problem. We have been at peace with the culture around us for so long that we have forgotten what really matters in the Christian faith. The Reformation teaches us the important things, the basic priorities of faith. It teaches us the true gospel, proper worship, and the importance of the corporate church setting to name a few.
As we teach the Reformation, we are teaching the next generation that the Christian faith does not begin with them. There is purpose in knowing that we are not creating anything new, but rather stepping in line behind all those who have gone before us. There is purpose in carrying the faith from one generation to the next.
The focus of the Reformation was on Christ and our total devotion to Him. Teaching the Reformation will have us teaching Christ with the intention of cultivating an affection for Him. Herein lies the ultimate purpose of the Christian, that we love God with everything we are. This is found in Christ alone, the central message of the Reformation.
When we see that we are not the first, nor the best Christianity has to offer, we are put in our proper place and humbled. We can't just go and make up a Christianity for ourselves, for we have 500 years of faithful Christians passing down the faith. Even the Reformers were not creating their own religion; they were simply reclaiming the Bible's message.
In holding fast to Scripture, the Reformers had a big view of God. Their understanding of God humbled them. They no longer trusted in themselves for righteousness but in Christ. Philippians 3:8-9 sums up the basic priority of the Reformation:
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith."
When we teach the Reformation, we teach humility and cultivate a humble attitude among our hearers.
There is no denying the importance of the Reformation in the history of church and culture. We are compelled, as we see the ideas of the Reformation, to agree that they are not made of human philosophy, but biblical truth. The message and goal of the Reformation has proven itself for the last 500 years, and we do well to carry this tradition to the next generation, teaching them to stand firm in their faith.