Sometimes life is as much about moving on as it is moving forward. That’s what my New Year’s resolution is becoming.
I have always spent my New Year’s contemplations on what the future holds rather than what the former year has delivered. It just seems more “Christian” to be hopeful rather than looking back at what could’ve been or reliving success. I think that’s generally true, too. Worrying about what is in the past may include a lack of trust in God’s forgiveness. If we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us (1 John 1:9). Reliving past success may include selfish ambition and pride because if we have given God the glory, we can only glory in his completed work. Focusing on his promises and how he may use us is probably a better use of our meditations.
Sometimes though, the past has defined us in such a way that it is hard to escape it. Sometimes something has brought such monumental change that we must measure the future against the past. Every now and then, something happens that is so life changing, it is pivotal. Your life was going one direction, and then it changes direction on a dime. Those moments are rare, but they exist, and the only way we understand their significance is when we look backwards.
It’s important to remember though, the reason we look back is so that we can know how to move forward. The goal should not be to relive the past. It (the past) cannot be changed. We look back only to make our forward progress more certain, our steps more sure.
Even more rare, is a pivotal event that not only changes one person’s life, but the lives of a large group of people. In my opinion, when that happens there should be a great deal of consideration given to the entire situation. It is important when God moves in a person’s life monumentally, but when God moves a larger group of his people, it’s time to take notice.
It’s easy to think of the great works of Luther, as he was used by God, or of Calvin as he continued what Luther began. The Reformation was inundated with great men whose names we know. What’s easy to forget is how God moved his Church as a whole. A firestorm moved across Europe as the Germans, Dutch, English, and Scottish Churches rejected the false teachings of the Roman Church and God used them to purify his Gospel. Luther and Calvin were reformers, but the Church of the Living God was the Reformation.
It’s interesting, if the papists would have been more interested in the Church and the Gospel rather than silencing and defaming Luther, they may have repented and brought unity to the Church and zeal for the Gospel. Unfortunately, power corrupts and those who possess it won’t allow something so trivial as the Gospel to pry it from their hands. So God moved his Church.
Take note of this, if God had merely moved Luther to nail his 95 Theses to the door at Wittenberg, we may read them today and gain a great deal of incite into the workings of the Church. But he did not merely move a man, he moved the Church. Because of that, we take notice, and we should.
Why? Because when there is a great deal of unity in the people of God, on an issue that involves the purity of the Gospel or the integrity of the Church, the voice of God can be heard in the movement of the Church. We already know this to be true in matters of church discipline. Christ said that where two or three are gathered together (unity in discipline), he would be there among them (his stamp of approval).
Matthew 18:15–20 (ESV)
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
This principle carries over to reform as well as discipline, to the chagrin of those left behind. The papists of the 16th century cried foul against Luther, Calvin, and their brothers who were unwilling to comply and continue. They denied reform had happened and set their false doctrines in stone at the Council of Trent. They were unwilling to repent and were left with a gospel of works and circular reason. Tradition was placed higher than Scripture and the authority of the Church resided in a man, the Pope. The voice of God could be heard in the footsteps of those leaving and as we look back, we hear that voice in the history of the Church.
The same can be said for some of us who have endured monumental change this past year, but you must look back to hear God’s voice. What did he say? Was there reform in his Church? Did he purify his Gospel? Did he preserve the integrity of his Church? Can you hear him among those who gathered, binding things on earth? Look and listen.
We cannot be satisfied looking back, listening to the past. We must use what he has given us, a new perspective, a more accurate Gospel, and holiness. We cannot neglect so great a gift that began with our unity and lives in the sanctification of his Church. Take what you have learned, those truths God has unified his Church around, and give it to the rest. Give it to others so that they can move on before you think about moving forward.
2 Timothy 2:1–2 (ESV)
2 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
Have a happy New Year!