I love the study of history, particularly church history. In my own study, I have found the best way to understand a historical event is to read voraciously the best authors on the subject, and, if possible, go to the site of the event. 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 leading a 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 Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church, initiating the Reformation. We next traveled to Zurich, Switzerland, where Ulrich Zwingli emerged in the years following Luther’s stand. He ministered at the Grossmünster. Around this same time, the influential ministry of Martin Bucer in Strasbourg, Germany, relentlessly grew in size and impact. Finally, in 1534, Geneva, Switzerland, the eventual home of John Calvin, became the epicenter of Reformation influence. We visited these cities to follow the footsteps of these Reformers, and a number of “insights” seized my mind and heart while I was “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 also brought complementary and ministry-enhancing colleagues alongside them. The ministry of Luther was strengthened by the scholarly and stabilizing influence of Philip Melanchthon. Zwingli was joined by the powerfully capable ministry of Heinrich Bullinger. Bucer was initially assisted by Calvin and then later Johann Sturm. Calvin enjoyed not only the presence of numerous Reformers whom he mentored in Geneva but was assisted and encouraged by the ministry of Theodore Beza. These men, raised up by the Lord, each enhanced the ministries of their better-known counterparts, which also positioned them to propel the Reformation forward as the Magisterial Reformers passed into glory.
The Primacy of Preaching
For the first time in hundreds of years, God’s people not only had God’s Word printed in their own languages to study, but they could hear it preached in their own languages. In terms of ministry philosophy, the Reformers believed in the primacy of preaching, understanding that Christians who know God’s Word can interpret life properly with sound doctrine. Sermons were preached three times on Sundays. Theological lectures followed in the mornings from Monday through Friday. Further preaching occurred on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights. Attendance was overwhelming and enthusiastic.
Worship “In Spirit and In Truth”
The leaders of the Reformation realized that crucial theological issues needed to be addressed thoughtfully and courageously. Thus, the great Reformation tenets surfaced: sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria. Initially, they viewed worship as a “kettle” filled with all kinds of things that needed to be removed or refined. 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 believer, was to be simple, consisting only of those elements positively commanded in Scripture and fully engaged from the heart. The result was acceptable worship “in spirit and truth” to the triune God for the sending grace of the Father, the saving grace of the Son and the securing grace of the Holy Spirit.
These are just a few insights gained by being on site. Yet even as I write them, I sense an 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.