The Next 500 Years
Here we stand 500 years after the reformation began. I had the great pleasure of attending the Here We Still Stand Conference in San Diego last month. It was far and away the best such event I have been a part of. Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptists, and even Non-Denominational Christians gathered together to hear incredible presentations from some of the brightest minds of our day, and to celebrate the freedom we have received through the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. As I spoke with attendees, one question cropped up repeatedly.
Where will the next 500 years take us?
Questions like this are tantalizing, because they invite us to break the constraints of time and space, of future action and consequence, into the realm of the speculative and theoretical. People love to speculate for many reasons, but chief among them is this. It keeps us from having to get back to the dirty work of life and ministry whose future results are not open to our view.
It is good to remember that the Reformation was pushed forward by Gospel-captivated people who, like us, were also unable to see where their efforts would lead. Luther himself worked tirelessly, preaching, teaching, studying, writing, and translating. He was called upon to mediate disputes, to debate and to train up the next generation of pastors and leaders. But make no mistake, all this work was for one purpose: to turn people away from their works, and to the Gospel. Without the work put in by Luther and the other reformers there would be little to look back on and celebrate today. Rather, we stand atop a 500-year-old mountain which was built one shovel-load at a time in the day-to-day lives of sinner-saints like you and me.
What will the 500 years bring?
What then will the next 500 years bring? That question cannot be answered with any clarity. We can only hope that bright minds saturated in, and constrained by the Word of God will place into our hands answers to the theological questions that continue to vex the church; but we cannot forego action while we wait for answers. It is time for us to put our hands to the shovel and to build. It is our turn to work as our forebears did. In our day-to-day lives as we are called by the God's grace, and enlightened by His gifts, and bring those things to fruition in the places where God has called us we will establish the footing of the church for the next 500 years. By God's grace we will do it.
Remember, most of the church's work over the last 500 years was not done by the greatest men, but by countless faithful people who committed themselves to do their part. Their work was not glamorous, and most of yours is unlikely to be, too. The work you have been called to in Christ is to make disciples of all nations, baptizing, preaching the Gospel. You have been invited to bring God’s grace to people who are dying for want of it.
The worksite for this task extends far beyond the pulpit. It extends to your home as you love your spouse and raise your children. It extends to your job, over the cubicle divider or between the blows of your hammer. It extends to the bar over drinks with your friends or as you smoke in an alley with someone you just met. The Reformation will continue fruitfully in these places because in them we do not stop to consider the enormity of the task of building God's Church, rather we simply live with people who remind us of ourselves. People who are lost apart from Christ—sinners in need of a savior. In those places God is present. His desire is for them as it has been for you and as it was for the reformers and for all mankind throughout history. God wants you to rest from the work of trying to save yourself and receive the benefit of the work He has done for you on the cross. That work is the forgiveness of your sin and that work is finished. The only spiritual work left for you is to join with God in the sharing of the good news of His completed work.
So, what will the next 500 years bring? It will bring what you have, to whom you give it. If your concern is for the church the only thing you need to bring into the next 500 years is Jesus Christ.