This week we studied the lives and work of John Calvin, Jacobus Arminius, and Ignatius Loyola. We saw how the fruit of their work and the impact of their teaching extended well beyond their years on earth. And like all the leaders of the reform movements, they certainly had their flaws and struggles with sin. We can look back and see the darker side of the reform movements: the intolerance shown to divergent views, the oppression of minority groups, and the deeply divisive rhetoric employed at times by various leaders. We must not be afraid to name this. For everything the good leaders like Luther, Calvin, and Ignatius contributed, there are still dark spots on their careers as well. It is good to remember that leaders, in their day or ours, must not be placed on a lofty pedestal. It is also good to remember that as we lead in the places God has put us, we must keep an honest examination of ourselves as well. We must recognize our similar tendencies toward pride, anger, jealousy, or intolerance. As 1 John 1:8–9 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (NIV).
Our study of church history actually leads us to confession. This confession occurs on a corporate and individual level. We confess the collective sins of the church through history. This is an important part of our humble witness to a watching world, but we can also be led to confess our own sins. Like a mirror we hold up to see our own reflection, we recognize the same propensity toward sin in ourselves. The good news of Jesus Christ is that when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. The Lord has not left us alone in our sin. Through Jesus Christ and by the power of His Holy Spirit, we are being made new!