We, in Denmark, had the great privilege of hosting Dr Peter Hammond who is (among many other things) the president of the Reformation Society. Dr Hammond made many fascinating presentations from history and the frontier mission fields last summer for our annual Reformation Resurrection conference but his touching presentation on the life of Martin Luther really stood out to me. Luther's bold stand against the evils of the Roman Catholic church, coupled with his dynamic recovery of our precious doctrine of justification by faith, often get lost in the shadow of historical revisionism which has painted an ugly picture of the reformer.
Without a doubt, Luther got things wrong, which he readily admitted himself. But we often forget the term "Semper Reformanda" - the Church reformed and always reforming. Later reformers went on to make more of the necessary reforms as the Protestant movement veered further and further away from the elaborate and idolatrous works righteous system that emanated from Rome. I think Paul Washer said it best when he declared that we stand on Luther's shoulders. If our theology is superior, it is only because of that monk who discovered the doctrine of justification by faith alone as he groped around in the immense darkness of that Catholic monastery and found a way out. Should we expect Luther to have had all his theological ducks lined up when he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg?
It is interesting to note these words in the second chapter of the book of Judges:
When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110 years. And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. (Judges 2:6-10 emphasis mine)
This is the turning point that sent Israel spiraling into some of the darkest chapters of their history - in fact the book of Judges finishes with several horrific stories and the closing words:
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)
Perhaps Frank Sinatra was actually paraphrasing the book of Judges in his song "I did it my way" which may also be the only song in the hymnal of hell.
Please note carefully the bold words I quoted above in Judges 2:6-10. Israel's tragic descent started with their failure to teach history and that history is His Story. Ray Comfort once said that "the only thing we learn from history is that we don't learn from history". May we not be like those before us and around us who run headlong towards the cliff. May we look back at our rich reformation heritage and the undeniable Sovereign hand of God in a movement that transformed every sphere of European society and won many into God's Kingdom. May we take the time to listen and learn as we take this journey back into the 16th century so we can press on in the 21st century with the knowledge that unless God builds the house, we all labor in vain . . .