Walking the cobblestone streets of Wittenburg, I approached the (remodeled) doors on which Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses. Climbing the stairs of Wartburg Castle, I entered a room that I had seen many times in books and in articles, the chamber in which Luther translated the New Testament into German. Luther’s burial place in University Church; the Augsburg Cathedral in which the Augsburg Confession was written; Luther’s home, including the table around which the famous—if not infamous—Table Talk was written. All of these important sites to reformation history have been studied by me for the last quarter century from various angles.
In September I stepped, for the first time, into Germany and experienced the places and faces that I have studied in books and seen on maps over the years. German church history came alive amidst my experiences.
Experiential church history.
Anthony Burgess, one of the pastors at the Westminster Assembly, once compared the difference between the knowledge of biblical truth and true saving knowledge of biblical truth, as a man studying a map versus a man walking the streets, meeting a city’s people, and experiencing sites and sounds first hand. The difference between these two men is vast. It is an experiential difference.
We need to move beyond the knowledge of the Bible and Jesus Christ to an experiential knowledge of the Bible and Jesus Christ. We must know Christ, not merely know about him.
Geerhardus Vos, during a debate at Princeton Seminary over the seminary’s future, said that the highest points of church history have been “when the belief in Bible history and the religion of the heart went hand in hand and kept equal pace, when people were ready to lay down their lives for facts and doctrines, because facts and doctrines formed the daily spiritual nourishment of their souls.”
Do you know the Bible, but not know the God of the Bible? Do you know the truths of Scripture, but have never taken hold of that truth for yourself? The church of Jesus Christ best flourishes when a thorough knowledge of the truth and a religion of the heart commingle unto the glory of God.
We must walk the streets. Smell the smells. See the sights.
I am reminded of the words of JC Ryle, “You believe that Christ died for sinners, and that he offers a pardon to the most ungodly. But are you forgiven yourself?… What does it avail the sick man that the doctor offers him medicine, if he only looks at it, and does not swallow it down?… There must be actual business between you and Christ.”
Move from knowing to knowing. There is a difference. I knew German reformation history. I know it differently today. Know, don't just know.
How do you know the Bible, its truth, and the Christ it uplifts?
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