(This has nothing to do with your cell phone…)
“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
The reformation of the Christian church, more rightly titled the reformation of the Catholic Church taking place in the mid-1500’s was a time of great turmoil, and yet a time of great triumph. What arose from the ashes of a scorched European landscape was so much more than a church (church being the ‘people’, not the buildings or denominations) that positively thumbed its corporate noses at the Roman Catholic establishment, but a faith whose core had changed; and changed for the better.
We Christians take so much for granted today. The simple fact that we have bibles to read, that we have churches that run in opposition to Roman Catholicism, that we meet together in our own privately owned or rented buildings or even homes are all things that just a short time ago in the course of meandering time, were not possible, and in some cases punishable by death. As an example, you had your hands on a copy of the Holy Scriptures it was illegal in some places if to even read them as only the ‘Priesthood’ could rightly interpret them, even if you could read that language (a rarity in itself in most cases). Today I think I have probably 20 or more copies of various translations and languages of the bible sitting about the house, and just as many in eBook or electronic format on my home PC’s, iPad or even my phone. Not only that, but I probably have ten times that amount in reference books and materials to help me study them. Our resources today are virtually endless sin comparison to what was available even 500 years ago.
With the printing of the bible in common languages of the day, came with it the advent of what one book calls “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea”, and that is putting the scriptures into the hands of the people, and letting see and interpret for themselves the very Words of God. A dangerous idea it is indeed.
As with anything, when left to be interpreted by everyone, each on their own, a variety of results will be obtained. This was the fear of the Roman Catholic leadership. If the writings get to the people, the people will misinterpret it and:
1. (Along the party line): will not understand the true means to salvation, and will form heresies that will keep them from eternity in heaven. -OR-
2. (along the line of reality): The people will find out that the form of Christianity that we have been perpetrating on them for the mere purposes of subjugating the people and keeping them under the control and rule of our authority, would be lost.
Still, by the hands of Martin Luther and others who made mainstream, or nearly so, the Bible in common language, Christianity changed around the world, and almost overnight.
But in adjusting to the new idea of the scriptures being in the hands of the laypeople, so too the churches adjusted, even those churches who opposed tradition. There become Lutherans. And Calvinists and all sorts of new traditions in what was now monikered as the ‘Reformed Church’. Things were different back then. The church and the civil government were very much intertwined. Not necessarily that the church ruled the civil government, as that was in part what the reformation was about. But rather, that the church and the civil government were in a lock-step alignment in acceptable civil practices and mainstream morality. In other words, a true democracy where the people both in the church and in civil government decided by majorital opinion what was going to be right and acceptable as honorable behavior in their society. While there are obvious pros and cons to this method of civil theocratic rule, suffice it to say that making civil adjustments to the new understanding of scripture too time and patience on the part of everyone.
One thing that had to first be addressed was through what lens was the bible to be interpreted? Prior to the reformation it was only interpreted through the lens of the Roman Catholic Church, or more properly, the Pope. The trouble with that is, the Popes were corrupt as any other man, and some more so. Papal posts were purchased with money, sex and promise of graft. Popes were permitted secret rooms for their mistresses, and fathered children out of wedlock at a pace that rivals teens in America today. Kingdoms were crushed and genocide was a common practice to maintain a ‘civil rule’ of the church over the world. Obviously looking through that lens to determine biblical right and wrong was not going to work. Reformation ensued, and now scriptures were looked at independently for what seemed like the first time.
As the reformation ran rampant across the European country side, and then over the world, the view of scriptures was then seem through the eyes of the commoner. But the pious commoner knew too well that they lacked the education to make a true interpretation from time to time. Let’s face it, even a high school level education was not the norm until just a couple of hundred years ago. This left it to the wrangling factions of reformation to make determinations on scripture.
Long story short, Lutherans saw things differently from Calvinists, and they saw it different from Zwingly and others. In their time scripture was then judged through the lenses of individual Confessions, or letters of understanding or what we might call Statements of Faith set out by each sect of the Reformed Church. Nothing could have been better for the Catholic Church. Seeing infighting among the protesters was their glory.
The problem within that idea – making bible interpretations based on the lenses of independent church confessions is that it allows for “proof texting”. Proof texting is a practice still used today where individual verses are pulled part and parcel, all out of context, as “proof” for their point of view. First of all Paul warned us in scripture, using himself as a witness not to shun the teaching of the entire counsel of God. We must take all of scripture into consideration when looking at a verse and its application to any given situation. Secondly, to go into your research of a subject with a preconceived conclusion or a presupposition of any type is not to look at something independently, but with a bias towards the answer you want it to be. This is not education, but indoctrination. Any biblical scholar will tell you that you need to begin looking at any topic with an open mind and heart allowing God to show you what truth really is, all the while preparing yourself for the very real possibility that you are wrong.
Knowing that our human nature is such that is loves to be right, having the bible scriptures in common language and leaving interpretation up to the individual can in fact be a dangerous thing. Much false doctrine has come from it. But equally as important is that fact that by having the bible in our common language, we have the ability, using intuitively the very scripture itself, through a process called inductive bible study, we can refute false doctrine and stand firmly on the truth knowing that the bible’s message supports that truth.
While leaving biblical interpretation up to the laypeople of Christianity is in fact a dangerous thing. Much err can come from it. But it is also the most freeing and genuinely loving thing that can be done. Luther nearly killed himself bringing the New Testament into the common German language, but he later said he could not have lived not having done so. Since then, more Germanic translations were made, later the King James Version (with some admitted bias from the King) and now literally thousands of bible translation exists in hundreds of languages.
In the end, what we must learn is not to live our life as a follower of Christ, viewing God’s word by proof texting based on how we want to live our lives. Sadly, this action is predominant not only in the lives of Christians, but in the doctrines of churches. We cannot choose to live life a certain way, and then later seek to justify that lifestyle by proof-texting our way into a comfortable feeling of justifying our own sinful choices.
By proof-texting, different denominations over the years have set themselves firmly based on tradition rather than scripture. Individuals so the same thing. Each new generation faces what they see as ‘new challenges’. In doing so, society, culture, and ‘relevance’ play an attractive role on shaping our view on things, when our sole view, as Christians, is to look at each challenge in life, none of which are unique to any generation, through the lenses of biblical truth, not through the lens of our ‘generation’. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a Christian way of life, or the function and doctrine of the church must adjust to society. It is society that must be affected by Christianity of we are to have a real difference, or become truly ‘relevant’ to any generation.