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In our day, many Christians have a view of church history that is a popular, but unfortunate, caricature. They believe the church started in the first century, but then soon fell into apostasy. The true faith was lost until Martin Luther recovered it in the sixteenth century. Then, nothing at all significant happened until the twentieth century, when Billy Graham started hosting his evangelistic crusades. Regrettably, we form caricatures of history on account of our ignorance of history. Too often, our historical awareness is sorely lacking. What’s more, we don’t fully know where we are, because we don’t know where we’ve been. We might be aware of certain historical figures and events, but we are often unacquainted with what our sovereign Lord has been doing in all of history, particularly in those periods that are less familiar to us.
This is the seventeenth year that we at Tabletalk are focusing on a specific century of church history, and we do so in order that the church of the twenty-first century would better understand how the Lord has worked throughout history to keep His promises. For Christ has promised to build His church and that the gates of hell will never prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). Every century has a story to tell about Christ’s faithfulness to His promise, even those centuries that are perhaps less well known to us than others.
We rightly celebrate the lives and ministries of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Reformers whom the Lord used to help bring the church back to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Yet the Reformation did not end with the passing of the sixteenth century. The gospel seed planted by the fifteenth-century forerunners of the Reformation was watered and tended by the Reformers in the sixteenth century. However, it is in the seventeenth century that we begin to see the full flowering of Reformed doctrine, piety, and practice. During the seventeenth century, so much of what it means to be Protestant and Reformed was codified in the creeds and confessions that we affirm and confess today.
Rome was not built in a day, and neither was the confessional, Reformed, Protestant church. The faithful men and women of the seventeenth century continued the work of the sixteenth-century Reformers by bringing every doctrine, every practice, and every thought captive to the Word of God. May they serve as a model to us as we stand on their shoulders, holding firmly to the divinely revealed truths they faithfully proclaimed for the sake of Christ’s church, kingdom, and glory.