For four and a half centuries world history has felt the influence of the Reformation. Today that influence is more potent than ever, and it is growing. This seemingly preposterous statement can be amply justified if seen in historical perspective.

We need to remember that for at least its first century and a half, the heart of the Reformation experience—what from the standpoint of the Gospel was its essence—was shared by only a small minority in a mere fragment of the inhabited earth and was almost eliminated by persecution and by compromise with factors that denied or distorted the Gospel.

The heart of the Reformation experience as expressed by Luther was salvation by faith, as he had discovered it through the Scriptures after prolonged inner struggle. In other words, it was the new birth into an eternal life of fellowship with God wrought by the Holy Spirit in response to faith in what God had done through his Son. The history of God’s preparation for the decisive act through his Son and the record of that act and of the effects of that act in the first century after Christ are in the Scriptures.

In the sixteenth century, partly through contagion from Luther and his written report of his experience and its implications, several thousands entered into the new birth through faith and by the study of the Scriptures. However, they were mostly in Northwestern Europe. Northwestern Europe is only a part of the western peninsula of the continent of Eurasia, and these thousands were at best a minority of the inhabitants of that small segment of the globe. Many of the thousands were members of the Anabaptist movements, whose designation arose from their insistence that the new birth was wrought in response to the faith of the individual, ...

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