The history of our great nation and the history of our faith is much more than an epic 12-hour television event that tells the extraordinary story of our past. How did we get here? As David McCullough observed, “History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.”
History gives you truth and explanations. History brings you wisdom without giving you wrinkles and gray hair! As Sir Winston Churchill once remarked, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” In an era where statues are being taken down, plaques are being stored away and history is being re-written it’s of the utmost importance we have this conversation! Daniel Webster said, “History is nothing more than God’s providence in human affairs.”
Charles Kauffman, an early writer of Pre-1900’s National history text books observed, “Notice that while the oppressors have carried out their plans in history there were other forces silently at work which in time undermined their plans as if a divine hand were directing the counter plan, whoever peruses the story of liberty without recognizing this feature will fail to fully understand the meaning of history!” In other words, if you don’t understand what God has been up to, you won’t get the truth of history.
As This week is the 505th Anniversary of the beginning of the great reformation when Martin Luther, a stubborn monk and towering thinker, published his Ninety-Five theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany on October 31st 1517, the eve of All Saints Day launching the Protestant Reformation, a momentous religious revolution with whose influence we still experience to this very day.
The Rev. John Wise of Massachusetts is considered by prominent historians as one of the six greatest intellectual leaders responsible for shaping American thinking. His works and sermons were read and widely studied across early America, including by the leading patriots and Founding Fathers. Speaking of the Reformation… he said, it is that which “began a glorious reformation.” Wise explains: “Many famous persons, memorable in ecclesiastical history, being moved by the Spirit of God and according to Holy Writ, led the way in the face of all danger … for the good of Christendom.”
Early seeds of this change began with the efforts of numerous Christian leaders, including John Wycliffe, called the “Morning Star of the Reformation.” Nearly two dozen other Christian leaders also worked to spread Bible teachings across their respective countries, including Thomas Cranmer, William Tyndale, John Huss, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox and others. This era emphasized a return to the Bible as the guidebook for all aspects of life and living.
English leaders such as King Henry VIII attempted to suppress the Reformation’s individualistic teachings by public executions and burnings at the stake; and Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth I, and subsequent monarchs continued those efforts. In fact, King James I even concocted two revolutionary new government-church “doctrines” to help him suppress the growing influence of Reformation teachings in England: The Divine Right of Kings, and Complete Submission and Non-Resistance to Authority. The Pilgrims came to Massachusetts in 1620 to escape the hounding persecution of King James, and a decade later, 20,000 Puritans also fled England after many received life sentences and were persecuted for adhering to Reformation teachings.
American Founding Fathers and leaders including John Adams made a clear distinction between America’s Christianity and Europe’s Christianity. For example, Noah Webster emphatically declared: The ecclesiastical establishments of Europe which serve to support tyrannical governments are not the Christian religion, but abuses and corruptions of it. Daniel Webster agreed, rejoicing that American Christianity was … Christianity to which the sword and stake are unknown… general tolerant Christianity is the law of the land!
I’ve often thought Martin Luther and John Calvin were the keys to what happened in the 16th century. When they came along there was a certain political and social climate in place that made it possible for them to take the stand they took. One of them was that the Roman empire was breaking up and because of that there was a better chance for their survival and the spirit of God was able to place some incredible things in motion. I’ve often thought about how there are things happening today that are more like the 16th century than any time since. If that’s true we need to be extremely sensitive to the voice and leading of the Holy Spirit and not off track when God comes to do big business.
Oscar Ellison wrote, “Got any rivers you think are un-crossable? Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through? God specializes in things thought impossible. And he can do what no other can do!” We have been honored with the privilege of looking backward to our glorious history and around us to where God has placed us today… right where He wants us. To again hearken to founding father John Adams, “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it.” May history’s record of our stewardship find us faithful!