Why the Reformation is Still Relevant
It has often been told that superstitious people operate on superstition primarily because of the fear of the unknown. Why do we fear the dark? Not because there is darkness, but because we don’t know what the darkness hides, what lurks in it. We try to appease that unknown for implicitly we don’t want it to hurt us. The Pinoy phrase “Tabi tabi po" on mounds at your garden operates on the same principle. We appease the unseen, for we never know what it will do to us.
The people of the Medieval Age Europe also operated on fear. The Medieval Period was a world of famine, of crusade-led wars against the Muslims to reclaim Jerusalem, of bubonic plague. But the fear that towers most among the people was that fear that you can never enter heaven. It is this fear that many of the clergy fed upon, as Tetzel (a friar) would collect indulgences, money to release your dead loved ones from the torment of Purgatory, into heaven. If they don’t pay, Tetzel threatened, their loved ones could suffer the endless fires of hell. The collected money, these sweat and tears of the people would fund the great basilicas in Rome, as people cower in fear and in their ignorance. Masses would be held in Latin, a language that common people didn’t understand. And to be educated is to live a dangerous life.
The motto of the Reformation sounded so true. “Post tenebras lux.” After darkness, light. Thanks to that movement, Bibles have been translated into the common language, people were encouraged to read, to question authority, to think for themselves, and also to realize this truth in Scripture: No amount of good works can achieve salvation. It is only on the dependence on Christ’s free gift of salvation can we have it. Sounds cliché from a typical born-again preacher. But this gave a freeing spirit to those who lived in fear for so long.
It is FREE. Salvation. You only had to believe.
This gave confidence to millions of people as they lived and suffered for this conviction.
So here are 6 lessons I learned from studying the Reformation.
1. It is ok to question authority.
Is it the chicken or the egg? The Roman Catholic Church insists that it has equal footing in authority as the Scriptures since it was the one who approved it through councils. Really? But those councils just affirmed what has been universally accepted to be truth, balanced with the canon of the Old Testament which was already complete by then. So what happens when the church collides with Scriptural principles? Do we not choose? Who’s the original, the simple church in the New Testament bereft of rituals, or the church full of rituals and countless saints?
2. Truth is simplicity. Complications are often fabrications.
Occam’s razor. Truth is often found when you remove the embellishments. Imagine, the thousands of saints and ‘mother of god’ removed with only One to kneel down to and worship. The removal of icons and the acknowledgement of the invisibility of Divine presence, made God’s infinity seen. “For God does not dwell in temples made by human hands” says Acts 7:48. It also removed that weird heavenly bureaucracy, those hundreds of saints to-go-tos before you could get to God himself, and other weird places to go to in the afterlife before you could get into heaven (talk about Hell, Limbo, Purgatory, and Heaven). The Reformation gave people confidence to pray to God himself directly, with Jesus as the only mediator (1 Tim 2:5) and to go to heaven directly when they die, they only have to “believe” in Jesus. (John 1:12)
3. Check where it all came from. Truth is often found in dusty primary sources.
One wonders why the Temple in Jerusalem as described in the Old Testament didn’t have any image or icon of worship. Or why a Catholic should pray to St. Claire when in the Old Testament, Moses would have been a very good candidate for he overshadowed all the prophets combined in the OT. Or how about when Cornelius in Acts 10:25-26, knelt to Peter and Peter said, “Stand up, I am only a man.” Yep. That should lead to questions and more questions. The Bible, in a historian’s perspective, is THE primary source of Christianity. Something is not in line when those who profess the faith contradict what is written on it.
4. Authenticity is still better than theatrics.
When the icon was removed as the object of worship after the Reformation, and the walls of the cathedral was removed as the only sacred space, the whole world where the believer moves became the place of worship. The clergy who serves at church became no different than the farmer who faithfully toils the field or the noble who rules his people with compassion. Because God is invisible and everywhere, any person can worship without showing off rituals. Authenticity was put back to the center. It also removed the bureaucracy within the church. All are sinful in front of the Creator.
5. Persuasion is still way better than coercion.
The Catholic church had a history of hysteria. Many of its popes were control freaks. If a heresy arises, crush’em. If a person contradicts what the infallible Pope says, burn’em at the stake. But history attests to the fact that the church survived in spite of heresies. When the Reformation spread around Europe and nations declared on which sides they were on, the Catholic church did a major tactical change. They reaffirmed their beliefs but they also went mellow in dealing with those who disagree with them. Truth is truth and it may need some defending but it will, most likely, defend itself. That’s what made the Reformation so potent. Spurgeon said, “The gospel is like a caged lion. It does not need to be defended, it just needs to be let out of its cage.” Persuasion friends. Not coercion.
6. No one is infallible. And yes that includes the pope.
Many popes that lived have uttered apologies for the silence of the Catholic church during the Holocaust, and for the pedophilia scandals that plagued the celibate clergy, etc. This should put to silence that belief in the catholic church that the Pope cannot commit error. “No one is righteous, not even one,” says Rom. 3:10.That is the great equalizer. Tears down lofty positions and removes the temptation to fake it like the holier-than-thou pharisees of old.
With that, this historian celebrates with the rest of the Evangelicals around the world, in the time that light broke through and the Bible was opened to us all.
Happy Reformation Day!
*Enjoy Reformation History by viewing the Lego version here! Credits to @wunztwice from flickr.
IndioHistorian Reformation Day posts HERE.