Reflecting on the Reformation featuring Zachary Liew
Posted on 19 Oct 2022 by CERC
As I learn more about the Reformation over the years, I’ve become more and more convinced that at the heart of the Reformation, we see love. It’s not the kind of love we’re generally used to — a positive affection or sentiment, but a love for God that is working as shown in a love for His Word and His people.
I first got to know the Reformers while working on a university assignment — I was writing an essay on the doctrinal differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants on the church, and found a few of Calvin and Zwingli’s works on the church online. Their words felt like a breath of fresh air — it was the first time I grasped that the Bible could be systematically organised, and their words drew out for me the biblical connections of the nature of God’s church as His new creation born out of the Gospel. At the same time, I saw how the clarity they had on the Scriptures reflected the years they had put into studying God’s Word and their desire for Christians to truly know the great God behind the Scriptures.
Our current series on Reformation Theology further showed how the love these Christians had for God and His Word in their attempts to bring the Scriptures to their people, in spite of danger and persecution. I was particularly encouraged by the talk on William Tyndale, who endured imprisonment, betrayal and finally martyrdom for translating the Scriptures so that his fellow Englishmen can finally read God’s Word in their own language. It was humbling to also hear of the sacrifices of fellow Christians who supported his work, either by disseminating English Bibles or providing him funds. The Reformers were seeking the good of God’s people, and gave their lives so that churches could be fed with solid food from the Scriptures
Many Reformers were prolific writers and preachers who recognised the task God had given them to steward His Word. But more than that, they spent many years in public and private discourse, with the aim of defending and promoting sound doctrine. I can imagine it would be easy for some of them to remain as intellectuals — to simply think, write and debate on scholarly levels, but the efforts they made to get the Scriptures out to the public and the desire to maintain faithful church order showed that these men weren’t merely concerned about themselves. They didn’t seek to revolutionise the Christian world under their names, but saw themselves as grateful servants desiring to please their Master.
I think this is where I see that at the heart of the Reformation is love — in the blood, sweat and tears these Christians gave to study, spread and teach God’s revealed Word for the sake of His glory.
Christians should then be learning about the Reformation because it is part of every Christian’s history. Just as all of us have our own little family as well as cultural heritages that connect us to the people of the past, so are Christians connected to the Reformers as our forerunners in the faith. The Reformers were fellow brothers and sisters, whose lives and works teach us the cost of knowing God’s Word and the sense of urgency required to love God’s people and to serve Christ faithfully.
It can be tempting to see the Reformation as a bygone era, and think that today’s Christianity has since progressed beyond such an archaic past. But it is the task of every generation to learn from preceding ones, and the real danger would be for us to take for granted the work God has done through the Reformers and toss away the very treasure they died to protect.
To be clear, we shouldn’t venerate them — in fact, learning about their sins and faults should give us the encouragement to continue the work of reformation in our churches today. The period was often complicated, with political and economic interests affecting the work of the Reformers in the church. Learning about these help us navigate similar complexities in our time, and not repeat the costly mistakes that our brothers from the past had to endure which has become a lesson for us.
Importantly, we learn how we aren’t that different in our present inclinations compared to the past — after all, sin hasn’t changed much since Genesis 3, and our enemy, the devil, has been training over multiple generations to lead sinful men astray. Christians need to know that although many different heresies and errors have appeared at various times throughout church history, they all have the same roots. Oftentimes, we will find that the lessons we need to learn today are no different than the lessons Christians in centuries past had to learn during their times.
In the end, as we learn about the Reformation and the Reformers whose lives God had used, we will see that the Apostles and even Jesus Himself would want God’s church to have maturity in His Word and perseverance in the faith.
Our individual time on earth is awfully short relative to eternity, and so ultimately, we learn about the Reformation to realise that Christianity isn’t just about our own lives — it’s about the continuing work of God in the people who came before us, and the task God has set before us to work hard for the sake of our brothers who will come after us.
If you wish to learn more about how Reformers fought hard for the Gospel, come and check out the Reformation Theology series here.
Zachary Liew has been a member of CERC since 2018 and is currently attending Bangsar South Growth Group.