[notice]The first article in a series that examines our Christian heritage with a focus on reformation. What did the reformers achieve? And what do they say to us today?[/notice]
There is a character in the Bible which most of us are familiar with. His life was synonymous with suffering and sorrow. His name was Job and his life’s story has become recommended reading if one wants to understand the issue of suffering or the reasons why bad things happen to good people.
Amongst many of his utterings and mutterings directed at God and whoever cared to listen, there are some noteworthy things he says in chapter 29. In this chapter Job recounts the contributions he made in the lives of others. Apparently before his affliction Job was involved in the eradication of poverty, caring for orphans and widows, justice, and other social interventions.
This brings me to the issue of reformation. Reformation history details the exploits of men and women who were spurred by their faith and convictions to stand against injustice and evil social conditions prevailing in their time. At great risk to their lives these believers could not allow themselves to be spectators while mankind perished at the hands of despots and religious zealots.
History tells us of Martin Luther, the German Reformer (1483-1546) who did the unthinkable by translating the Bible from Latin to German. German was the language of the people and therefore those who viewed themselves as the custodians of divine truth and guardians of Scriptural purity were offended at what they perceived as the devaluing of the Holy Scriptures. For this and other “sins” Martin Luther was expelled from the religious establishment that held sway at that time.
What can we learn from his exemplary life? Firstly, Luther esteemed and affirmed the authority of the Scriptures. He is quoted as having said, “a simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it.”
Secondly, he was unflinching regarding his convictions. He taught that salvation was a gift from God and that it should be received by faith. This was in contrast to the system of indulgences that was being practiced in his time. With this system people paid money to the church for their salvation.
Thirdly, Luther knew what he was fighting against. As a learned man and a monk he was familiar with the system and its errors. His fight against it was not emotional nor was it personal. Luther was calculating and strategic in dealing with his nemesis.
Fourthly, Luther was a nonconformist. He was not a person of populism but a person of principle. He was a lover of knowledge and sought to use it to liberate those who were slaves of ignorance. What would he say to today’s church? You know he also lived in a time where the then church was a cohort of the political order. His stand against a compromising church did not only get him excommunicated from the church but he was also condemned by the emperor. He had to go into hiding because his life was in danger.
Do we need reformers today? You bet we do. We need them now more than ever before. Some of the founders of multinational organizations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, etc. may not be with us any more but the impact of their work and vision still is.
Have you prayed and asked God to reveal your role in today’s world? Are you agitated about the state of our world or are you comfortable living your own life? We have many privileges today and the fact that you have Internet access to read this article is testament to such. In the midst of that we must not forget, however, that there are people who, just like Job, are cursing the day they were born. There are people alive today who struggle daily just to survive. Every day they have a goal to make through that day with their senses still intact. We may not possess the eloquence and theological acumen of Luther but certainly we can all possess the compassion of Florence Nightingale, the first nurse. We will explore more about her life next week.