Posts Tagged 500th anniversary of the Reformation

What has the Reformation given us?

Martin Luther © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland

Martin Luther © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland

On the evening of the anniversary of the Reformation, I attended an exhibition, debate and discussion at John Rylands Library.

The night began appropriately with the printing of indulgences (on an antique printing press) accompanied with music and an exhibition of artefacts and books from the reformation era. These artefacts included original handwritten and printed indulgences. A Tyndale New Testament and The practice of prelates and Luther on Galatians.

A summery toward the end of the evening focused upon what the reformation has given us today. Where would our world be if not for the Reformation?

This question is a good one and one that could possibly provide a never ending list. However, I have listed a few of the things I think are the direct results the Reformation has given the people of Britain and things inspired by the Reformation and the Theology and principles. These are things that we can be thankful for;

  • The New Testament published in the original Greek
  • The Bible in English
  • The Apocrypha in English
  • Chapters and verses of the New Testament
  • The old and modern English language
  • The Bible in multiple languages
  • The freedom to read the Bible for ourselves
  • The freedom to interpret the Bible
  • The liberty to believe
  • Hymnbooks
  • Music
  • Independent Churches & Congregations
  • Seats in Churches
  • The priesthood of all believers
  • Religious liberty
  • Freedom of speech
  • Puritan history
  • Democracy
  • Free education
  • The bank of England
  • The Wesleyan revivals
  • Novels
  • The abolition of the slave trade
  • Chetham’s Library, Manchester
  • John Rylands Library
  • Ongoing Bible translation

The list could go on…

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Was the Reformation exclusive to Calvinism?

John Calvin © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland

John Calvin © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland

In only a few days now the actual 500th anniversary of the Reformation will be upon us.

31 October for me is a time that can inspire things to be straightened out. A time that inspires misconceptions to be challenged and for the voices of the people to be heard.

At this time of such a momentous anniversary, there is a common misunderstanding today that I have noticed for sometime, where popular preachers from America often associate the labelling of ‘reformed Theology’ as somewhat exclusive to Calvinism.

There are a lot of brothers in America who claim ‘reformed Theology’ is little more than Calvinism in a nutshell.

Calvinism they say, is nothing more than the pure Gospel.

These claims however are highly speculative and cannot be verified beyond doubt in the face of history and Scripture.

The facts remain that reformed theology can be divided into about four branches or positions.

  1. Lutheran
  2. Calvinist
  3. Anglican
  4. Hussite

The facts remain that when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg in 1517, John Calvin was only eight years old.

Calvin was born 10 July 1509 in Noyon, France, which is nearly 600 miles from Wittenberg. When Luther stood at the Diet of Worms in 1521 and the outbreak of the Reformation spread, Calvin was an 11 year old boy who went on to study Philosophy in Paris. He went on to study and pursue a career in law and would not experience a conversion to Christ until 1533 when he was about 24 years old.

By that time Luther had already been excommunicated, translated the New Testament into German and his complete German translation of the Bible was close to being published. The following year Tyndale’s New Testament was in its final revision and the majority of key reformation books had been published and distributed.

By 1536 Calvin was working hard to reform the Church in Geneva and his publication of ‘the Institutes of the Christian Religion’ was in its 1st edition. And through his preaching and influence in Geneva, Calvin’s branch of the reformation spread throughout Geneva and the reformation reached its peak by 1545 and by influence continued on till about 1620. By 1545, many publications had been published and the majority position of the Reformation was Lutheran. Calvinism mainly taking root in France, Netherlands, and Scotland and remaining until after the counter reformation of 1648.

From the mid 16th century – the mid 17th century, Calvinism had taken root in England, Scotland, Greece, and Wales during the Puritan era, while Lutheranism held a majority throughout Europe, even making its way back to Rome itself. Thus, the simple facts remain that although Calvin’s influence had branches within the Reformation, it was probably not referred to as Calvinism until the 18th or 19th centuries, the majority of Calvinistic thought process at that time being the development and spread of the doctrines proclaimed in 1618 at the Synod of Dort and the Puritans who left England during the 17th century for America.

Geneva arms © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland

Geneva arms © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland

John Calvin’s steadfast work and devotion to the faith is to be admired and admonished, and I value his contribution to the reformation. I regard Calvin’s commentaries on Scripture among the best available. But, I am less favourable concerning the common claims that reformed theology is nothing more than Calvinism. On the contrary, the claim is little more than a fictitious propagation of this centuries favourite American Calvinist preachers, who because of their position on believers baptism, would probably have been either imprisoned or drowned by the very same people they claim to revere.

Surely it is time now for this fallacious claim to be amended!

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2017: A year of hope of renewal and Reformation!

Luther nailing his Thesis to the Church door © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland

Luther nailing his Thesis to the Church door © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland

This year, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

On the 31st October 1517, Augustinian Monk, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Thesis to the Church door at Wittenberg.

The Thesis itself was centralised around his criticism of the Roman Catholic Church, the Papacy, Purgatory, and the selling of indulgences.

Today such a move would not seem all that bold, but in his day, the content of Luther’s thesis was one of the most radical criticisms of the Catholic Church that anyone had ever read. It was the dawn of such a bold and impactful move that Luther’s life between 1517-1546 would suffer a great deal of turmoil and tribulation.

In 1521 Luther stood trial at the Diet of Worms and was told to renounce all of his writings by order of Pope Leo X. Luther refused and was excommunicated by the very Church he sought to defend and reform. The Pope put a bounty on his head and Luther was given shelter by Prince Frederick the wise, at the Wartburg Castle.

Martin Luther's opponents © 2017 Simon Peter SutherlandLuther had his opponents, but it is always good to have friends in high places!

At the Castle Luther spent his time translating the New Testament from Greek into German. Luther’s New Testament was published and what would follow for Luther would be a life of turmoil, religious intolerance and even war.

Luther wrote: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger.”.

Luther was no perfect man, but his reformation was a quest for perfection.

Every generation of Christians from the 16th to the 21st century have been inspired or have benefited in some way from the work that Luther began. There were even men who lived centuries prior to Luther who by the same Spirit sought to bring reform and renewal to the Church of their days.

Each quest has been a struggle. But the Word of God cannot be broken!

The Reformation is far from over.

Reform is not a thing of the past, it is an ongoing future. All of us, whether we be preachers or simply Christians have a part to play in the widespread movement of reform.

It is true that complaining is not always a popular thing. Today in our hyper positive thin world, the masses generally like a more positive, uplifting message rather than doom and gloom. But where would we be today if Luther and the Reformers kept silent and looked at the positives rather than the predominant errors of so many Churches?

The sad truth is that there is much to complain about and logic knows that a light does not come on without the negative too. When God said “Let there be light” He was not speaking about the darkness. But after the darkness came the light.

The 16th century Reformation had a saying: ‘Post Tenebrass Lux‘ It was a Latin phrase meaning ‘Light after darkness‘.

Today, the Christian Church in England is in a dark time. There really is no point in ignoring that. Where would we be today if the Reformers had never recognised that the Church was in an age of darkness because they were stooped up in a weak and crowd pleasing positive message? Where would we be if they had never criticised the errors of the Roman Catholic Church? Where would we be if they had looked at the positives of Rome and failed to judge? They would not have hoped for light.

Luther nailing his Thesis to the Church door at Wittenberg © 2017 Simon Peter SutherlandThis year, in 2017 each one of us, wherever we are, can write our ninety-five Thesis and live in hope that the body of Christ is not done for!

Each one of us can stand against the widespread errors and deceitful doctrines of corrupt Churches. Even in the face of danger, excommunication, slander and fear based fundamentalism, each one of us can stand boldly and love our Bibles and say before God and man; ‘my conscience is captive to the Word of God, and to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other God help me.

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