Those Who Walked Before Us: Part I
By Mallory Bierig and Rachel Rose
At some point, we’ve all been stuck in a conversation with someone who is agonizing over the state of the world. Whether this person misses the Leave it to Beaver era or wonders why the government can’t get it together, despair shapes the conversation. What happened to the good ol’ days? Why am I suffering in this way? Where is God in all this?
Well friends, He is on His throne, where He has been since the beginning and always will be. We are often quick to forget (If proof of our forgetfulness is needed, pick any book in the Old Testament and give it a read!), but Scripture encourages and admonishes us to remember who God is and what He has done. Instead of giving over to despair, we look to the cross where God’s character is put on display, and we find hope. However, this is often difficult.
The Lord knows His people are quick to forget and has compassionately chosen many ways to keep truth and hope pumping through our veins. He uses His Word, prayer, and the local church to name a few. And one of those ways, which is often overlooked, is the study of church history. God has been moving in the hearts of people from the beginning until today. Learning about what He has been up to in centuries past stifles despair and stokes the fire of faith in our hearts. Instead of giving in to the temptation to think He is far off, we are reminded through the lives of faithful men and women that He is near and at work.
Jeanie spent two weeks walking us through the reformation of the church, and I hope your hearts were encouraged by God’s protection of His Word and the Church. In our next two posts, we will introduce you to a few faithful men and women the Lord has used mightily in the life of the church and the spread of the Gospel. This is an extremely broad list, covering eight individuals and several centuries, and we can only scratch the surface of what took place in their lives. Our desire is to create an appetite for knowing church history and to provide a starting point for your own study of it. We don’t worship these men and women as perfect, but we pray that you are spurred on by the faithful lives of those who’ve gone before us and how the Lord used them.
Early Church Father- St. Augustine (354-430)
Augustine was saved in his late twenties. He remains one of the most important and influential theologians this side of the New Testament. Augustine grew up in North Africa in modern-day Algeria. He was the son of an unbelieving Roman soldier and a Catholic mother, who took him to church. He would reject the Gospel and live a worldly life for almost three decades. Augustine was in a gang as a teenager, got his girlfriend pregnant in college, and was part of an occult searching for the meaning of life throughout his twenties. It would be this man that the Lord would use to shape the church and its doctrine for the next one thousand years.
After his conversion, Augustine became the Bishop of Hippo within the decade and would spend his life ministering and writing for the Lord’s glory. Some of his most notable writings are
his Confessions, The City of God, and On the Trinity. Augustine helped to form a clear understanding of the doctrines surrounding sin and salvation, focusing on the concept that all mankind are sinners because of Adam’s sin (known as “original sin”). This led him to view God as “the Hound of Heaven,” who chased down sinners and drew them to Himself, loving man before we ever loved Him.
Reformer- Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Martin Luther grew up a Catholic, but after reading the Bible, he realized that his salvation was not tied to the Catholic Church as he had been taught. He discovered in the pages of Scripture that salvation was obtained through faith in Christ and His death on the cross. True righteousness was given by God as a result of what Christ had accomplished. This theological epiphany motivated him to write out his concerns for the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church.
All 95 of Luther’s Theses were posted on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. As a result, Luther was kicked out of the Catholic Church and deemed an outlaw. Luther spent his time as an outlaw translating the Bible from Latin to German for laypeople to be able to read it. His 95 Theses were translated and distributed alongside the Bible. These publications, along with his leadership, made him very influential in the Reformation. The idea that laypeople should have personal access to the word of God was a scandalous idea at the time. We can praise God for placing this desire in Luther’s heart! The Lord worked through Luther in mighty ways to stop the abuse of His Word.
Bible Translator- William Tyndale (1494-1536)
William Tyndale was an English scholar who defied the Catholic Church by translating the Bible into English from the original Greek and Hebrew. The cost of defying the Catholic Church was not cheap, as Tyndale would pay with his life. After serving a year of jail time, Tyndale was convicted of heresy and executed by strangulation, and then his body was burnt at the stake.
The Tyndale Bible was the first English Bible to be printed on the printing press, which made production much easier and was essential for the distribution of English Bibles during the Reformation. Tyndale was an excellent linguist, and many of the words and phrases that he coined during the translation process are still used today. Some examples of these are, “passover,” “scapegoat,” “my brother’s keeper,” “seek and ye shall find,” and “ask and it shall be given you.” As you open your Bible at home today, praise the Lord for His work to make the Word accessible to everyone! As you reap the blessing of having God’s word in your language, pray for the work of translators who continue to give their lives to make Scripture available in other languages.
Reformer- John Calvin (1509-1564)
John Calvin was well educated from a young age and achieved degrees in art, law, and theology. His theology degree should have prepared him to serve as Catholic clergy, but instead, his growing knowledge of the Bible actually led him to separate theologically from the Catholic Church and join with the Reformation. Calvin did not use his education to pursue the steady, secure life that most would have expected, but rather he exhausted himself continuously writing about the Bible. His most well-known written work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, explained the theology taught in the Bible and explained to the world what Protestants believed. Calvin is best known today for his theology of the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation, sometimes known as Calvinism or the Doctrines of Grace.
As you can see, these men served The Church mightily, but the list doesn’t stop here. Join us again Thursday as we wrap up our look at some of the men and women God used to teach His Word and spread the gospel around the world!