The end of October reminds us again of the Reformation, for it was at the end of October that Luther nailed his famous ninety-five theses to the Church door in 1517.
Much has happened since Luther’s stand. We live in such a different world it seems pointless to keep remembering this act and the whole sea-change that followed it.
However, Luther was standing for permanent truths that are always under attack. Wittenberg castle church door, Indulgences, the Holy Roman Empire and the life and times of Luther may be so removed from us as to be hardly recognisable. But we still need to be reminded of the permanent truths that the Reformation enunciated.
The Reformation was not about peripheral aspects of Christianity. Central to the reformation is how we relate to God. In particular, how the sinner is justified in the presence of God.
This reclaiming of central gospel truths came at great cost. Many people died that we may have the freedom to believe what the Bible taught.
Indeed, they even died so that we are able to read the Bible for ourselves in our own language. For the reformation gave to us the immeasurable privilege and pleasure of hearing the word of God for ourselves.
This did not come easily or cheaply. It was resisted bitterly for centuries as the Roman church tried to maintain authority over the word of God. Nowadays it is easy to take for granted that we are allowed to read the Bible for ourselves.
But strangely we are now under a new threat for it is denied that we can ever know what the Bible means. Today we are being taught that everything is “just a matter of interpretation”. The plough boy for whom Tyndale translated the Bible into English will need a degree in Divinity from a good University to understand what he is reading.
Christians have nothing to fear in genuine scholarship. We must oppose censorship of unorthodox ideas. Such censorship deprives us of testing the veracity of Christianity. But scepticism about the Bible needs to be matched by similar scepticism about modern scholarship.
The new authoritarians, the liberal academics and intelligentsia, are taking the Bible away from ordinary Bible believers again. They use specialist knowledge of ancient history, Biblical languages, exegesis and hermeneutics to confuse and obfuscate rather than to illuminate. They tyrannize people into feeling inadequate to read the Bible.
This new Papacy is like the old. It is opposed to what the Bible is plainly saying. Just like the old Papacy it claims to represent what the Bible is really teaching if only ‘we’ the uninitiated really knew. And of course, such initiation is beyond us. They try to keep respectable touch with the Bible while denying its message or the right of people to find its message by reading it for themselves.
As we pass into November again and remember the titanic struggle of God’s people back in the sixteenth century, let us renew our efforts to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest God’s holy scriptures.