Monday, 30 October 2017


I have been mulling over writing about Martin Luther and the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation for quite some time.  In this 500th anniversary year we have had the opportunity to visit the sites in Germany that are most closely linked to Martin Luther.  I was surprised how "un-touristy" it all was.  I liked Wittenberg and enjoyed listening to a Lutheran service in English in the Castle Church that finished up with a rousing rendition of Luther's great hymn of the Reformation, "A mighty fortress is our God." It was stirring and moving.  The painting by Cranach in Luther's local church where he used to preach, was particularly fine.  It visually described some of the basic tenets of Luther's teaching.

On October 31st 1517, Martin Luther had nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.  These 95 statements challenged the Roman Catholic Church of the 16th Century to question what it means to be a Christian and to reexamine what they believed and taught from a Biblical perspective. 
Much has been written about this in the past and especially this year.  As Luther nailed the statements to the door, the hammer blows echoed around Europe and within a very few years Christianity as it had been known was changed.  Tragically the following years were soiled  by division, persecution and appalling treatment by people claiming that their version of Christianity was the only true one. Thousands were burnt at the stake, tortured and hounded into exile.  Many Christians could not live alongside those who did not think the same as them.  The American colonies became initially a safe haven for many but sadly the divisions were reproduced and multiplied in the new lands across the Atlantic.

There clearly was a great need in the 16th Century for a reforming of the church in a more biblically coherent way.  In my mind it raises the question of  is there a need for reformation today?  Every age and every generation has a challenge to look at what it is teaching and what it presents to the world.  For me the Reformation dictum of "sola scritura" - Scripture Alone has always been important.  The Bible gives us a safe bedrock in which to base what we believe.  However it raises the issue of interpretation.  Saying the Bible alone sounds good but it opens up the whole area of how we interpret what it says, or rather who interprets it.  The Roman Catholic church of the 16th Century said it was the Pope alone who could interpret the Bible.  Protestants disagreed and have argued that all are free to interpret the Bible but within Protestantism there have been endless debates and division based on each other's interpretation.  We have made the Bible a book of academic and theological discussion that leaves most people disinterested.  Indeed today the majority rarely open the Bible or give it a second thought.

It saddens me that there are still people who, through the internet, express disapproval of the beliefs those they do not agree with and condemn them with as much enthusiasm as the Spanish Inquisition did in the past.  

One of the big things that I have discovered in recent years is that the writers of the Bible wrote about what they had experienced first and then put it into words.  Today however, with a so called modern rational approach,  people tend to discount experience and retreat into the mind and an academic dead end.  Luther would have been surprised by this as his great discovery was that salvation was by faith alone which was totally experiential.  In his studies of the Letter to the Romans Luther felt himself reborn.  His reformation began with an experience that  changed him and transformed Christianity.

Today we are seeing the beginnings of a new reformation in Christianity that is beginning to impact the world.  It is based on an experience of God as Father who unconditionally loves us and is for us.  This reformation is beginning to change many across the various expressions of Christianity in the world today.  It is rooted in Biblical Christianity but it begins with not an academic discussion but a revelation of being loved by God himself.

I am longing to see this experience-based approach re form the church today.  I don't long for a first century or sixteenth century version of Christianity.  I long for an authentic, twenty first century, biblically based, love filled, and experiential expression of Christianity. I long for a church where people are individually valued and loved, and are enjoying their Christian life to the full.  I long for a church where the focus of our lives is the trinity of a loving Father, a saving faith in his eternal Son Jesus and an overwhelming experience of his love being poured into us by his life giving and holy Spirit.

1 comment:

  1. Great piece Trevor ... really enjoyed reading it. Thanks for a different perspective on it.