So I had the distinct privilege of speaking at a chapel service for a Christian school. Since it was only two days before Reformation Day, I decided that maybe a look at the "solas" of the Reformation would be a good topic.
I have a sweat shirt with the Five Solas on it and I wore that. Because of the other celebration some folks have on October 31 I started by telling the students that as a pastor I usually wear more "professional" clothes when speaking, but with the impending holiday I thought I could get away with wearing the hoodie. I asked them which holiday I was referring to, and predictably they all said the "H" word.
Again, I did this on purpose, knowing the tie in, knowing what most of them would be thinking of. But when I jokingly pretended not to know what celebration they were talking about, and instead I was speaking of Reformation Day, they all looked at me like I was from another planet. I started to talk about Martin Luther and his 95 Theses and the whole reformation deal. Which lead to the reason for the sweatshirt, I told them, the 5 phrases printed on it. We then talked about each of those. (For those who may not be aware, I'm talking about the "summary" of the Reformation ideas about salvation: Sola Fide-Faith Alone; Sola Gratia-Grace Alone; Sola Scriptura-Scripture Alone; Solus Christus-Christ Alone; Soli Deo Gloria-God's Glory Alone. See here)
Now, I don't expect some grade school kids to know all the details of Reformation history. I don't even expect them to have a grasp of the "solas". And if this were a government school, I wouldn't even expect them to have a clue about any of it. But this was supposedly a Christian school. You would think that there would be some working knowledge of Church history going on here. But the kids seemed to never track with anything I was talking about. It was all shocking new information to them.
It's not the kids fault, of course. They aren't being taught much in the way of Church History because their teachers aren't giving the information. And honestly, the teachers probably haven't never been taught either. So where does the fault lie? With the church.
How many of our churches teach Church History with any kind of depth at all. If we interviewed the average person in the pew, how many could give any sort of detail about the Reformation? How many know anything about Jon Hus, or Martin Luther, or the "Johns": Calvin, Knox, Wycliffe, etc" We all pick up our English translation Bibles (maybe even argue about which one is best) but how many have any clue about the sacrifices made so that we might have that gift?
Again, I don't think folks need seminary level, or even college level, history classes. But we need to know where we've come from as the Church. We need to understand the battles that have been fought, the sacrifices that have been made, and how God has sovereignly been at work in it all.
Might I offer one suggestion. Rose Publishing has a DVD based study led by Dr. Timothy Paul Jones of Southern Seminary. One class at our church has already been through it, and I'm about finish up a
second class. While sometimes names and dates and places can all be overwhelming, Dr. Jones does a fine job of trying to summarize, show overall themes, and even has some fun in the process. It's a great introduction to church history and a worthwhile study in general.
This isn't just a commercial for Rose Publishing. It's not like have any idea I'm even posting this. And this isn't the only resource out there. And it's not just about celebrating Reformation Day instead of that other pagan thing. It's about the blank look on those children's faces when talking about the foundational principles which have guided and shaped the history of the Church. Let's get with it Church. If we don't have a grasp on where we've been, we may not truly understand where we're going. Biblical History is of course foundational. But a working knowledge of post-biblical church history is important as well.
If you are a pastor, make sure you include this somewhere along the way. If you are a teacher, then research and teach it. If you are a church member, ask your leadership to offer at least some basic instruction, or volunteer to do it yourself. But let's not let yet another generation slip into further ignorance of church history.
Oh, and Happy Reformation Day! (tomorrow, of course; or today if you're reading it then, or yesterday, or whatever)