For the western church, Reformation day is October 31–the day when we remember all of the men who did so much to bring about change in the early modern church. It’s when images of Luther hammering, Calvin writing, and Zwingli dying in battle come to mind. But much of the European Reformation was simply preaching and teaching the gospel to unbelievers: mission work in Roman Catholic areas.
And for future generations of the church, thoughts of reformation may not be associated with gowned Europeans, but with 20th century Chinese men and women. Names that are not so familiar to us in the west may, in the future, become better known and more influential than the names we know. Just as we recognize Calvin’s name, but probably not Fulgentius of Ruspe’s, so our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world may become familiar with names that we don’t know, even as Luther becomes a distant memory.
The preaching and teaching and sacrifice that came with the European Reformation of the 16th century continues in many non-western countries today. Because China is industrialized and now open to the west, many of the stories that we have of men and women doing reformation work come from that country. If you are not familiar with the names below, it might be helpful to do a little reading about modern Reformation heroes.
Jeanette Li: This out of print Banner of Truth autobiography is incredible not only for the story which it tells of a Chinese Christian woman living and serving during difficult times, but also for the clear way in which God directed her life for kingdom usefulness. From situations in her childhood, to dietary provision, to the incredible timing of her death, Jeanette Li’s life stands as an example of how fully a life can be dedicated to Christ’s service.
John and Betty Stam: Though this missionary couple are better known since Christian Focus republished the biography in 2008, their story is still not as familiar to the church as it should be. The out of print Triumph of John and Betty Stam is worth looking for: an account written by a contemporary, Mrs. Howard Taylor, shortly after the couple were martyred. One of the most impressive parts of the story is Betty Stam’s decision to love Christ more than her baby and to trust Christ with her baby as she faced execution in a foreign country. The church in the west needs mothers like her.
Pastor Hsi: Many of the European Reformers were simply faithful ministers of the gospel serving in extraordinary times. The same is true of many of today’s reformation heroes. Pastor Hsi is simply one example.
Jesus in Beijing: This book is the story of the collective influence of many Chinese Christians, written by a man who lived in China and watched the Tiananmen Square massacre in person and has spoken with many house church believers. The names in this book are unfamiliar to most of us in the west, but the church in China would not be what it is without these believers.
The work of the Reformation continues around the world; God is still equipping saints to revive the universal church. We might have to wait until Heaven to learn of Reformation heroes from Columbia, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Japan, and India, but we can be sure that wherever God is growing His church, He is also raising up gifted men and women to proclaim the riches of God’s grace in Christ. It is helpful to look back on the European Reformation and thank God for it. Let’s make sure we don’t idealize it or think that it was a one-time occurrence–the same sorts of things are happening right now.