Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.
I recently began reading a book about the Protestant Reformation period. The reading of this book caused me to consider what I thought was a more serious question. It made me look past the understanding of the ‘hows’ or ‘whys’ of the Reformation of the early 1500’s most identified with Martin Luther. While this is certainly interesting ground to cover that we would all do well to know, I instead began to ponder an even bigger and definitely more important question. How was it that Christianity got to the point where it needed a Reformation at all!
In the late 1400’s and early 1500’s there was a great deal of spiritual unrest. The Dark Ages earned that name for a reason. While religion was alive and well, most visibly in the Catholic Church, the laity was languishing at heart much like the enslaved Jews under Pharaoh. By this time the Catholic Church proper (Roman Catholic Denomination), had long since fallen prey to world. No longer headed by men of true spiritual greatness (if ever questionably), leadership in the RCC was now up for grabs to the highest bidder or most powerful ‘Lord’ or landowner. The feudal system caused well, lots of feuds, and out these feuds the winners often became church leaders as this was where the real power was. Not in government, but in the church.
So while religion was alive and well, relationship had long since died. The people, again comparing them to the enslaved Hebrews, were looking for a deliverer. Religion was just not cutting it for them, and personal faith, due mainly to illiteracy and the lack of bibles or biblical texts in the common language was essentially dead. Since no deliverer was apparent, or even very likely to come in such a divided world where the only centralized power was the church, the people began to get weary, and unruly. As this feeling spread it’s was from the laity in the church to some of the more obscure church leaders in smaller towns or areas far from the immediate reach of Rome, change was coming.
Martin Luther arose from this fray as a focal point of the need to bring faith back into the church. Fitting the description mentioned above to the “T”, Martin Luther was in fact a disgruntled priest himself. Handed a professorship in an unknown and new University in a comparatively small and unknown town of Wittenberg Germany, Luther put his thoughts to pen (or quill as the case may be), and nailed them to them to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, on October 31, 1517. Thus, with his 95 Theses nailed to that door, in the mind of most of the Christian faith began what is commonly referred to as the Protestant Reformation.
Last year about this time, God had really placed on my heart the history of Martin Luther, and the strength it required, spiritually and physically to stand firm in his defense of God’s word. He did so, virtually alone (at least in the public eye), and stood on the principals of sound biblical doctrine, placing the supremacy of scripture above all else. Sola Scriptura (in the Latin meaning “By Scripture Alone”) became the calling card of the Reformation.
All of this is good. Reformation was badly needed in the church at large. Luther and those supporting him, the feudal Lords, Princes, Regents and others in Theological Academia should be praised and remembered for what they have done. But back to my original question. How in the world do we as Christians, followers of Christ, allow ourselves and/or our churches to get to the point where scripture, God’s Holy Word is not the ultimate and only source of truth and doctrine? The answer is simple: Apathy.
Many would disagree with my assessment, placing large blame on the lack of common language bibles during the period prior to the Reformation. True enough. But scripture has been printed in the common language of the people for thousands of years! The Jews had the Pentateuch and more written in their language of Hebrew. New Testament scriptures had previously been made available in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Take your pick. Later as the aristocrats and self proclaimed Theologians began debating scripture in Latin, the language of the educated elite, that the joy of reading God’s word and allowing Him to speak to you through it began to be taken away from the laity, and placed in the hands of the elite. Why did this happen? Apathy. The church leadership began to care more about the position, and entitlement, than they did about making sure the laity had access to God’s word. What’s worse yet, because of this apathy, the people could not have cared less.
In the process apathy working its slow strangulation on the laity of the church, the peace, joy, grace and love received from God’s word directly into the spirit of the reader. Clarity was gone. The ability to stand firm on truth was gone. Closeness faded and comfort was nowhere to be found. It is at this point, struggling to make sense of their lives, and languishing in pain and suffering, that the people begin to ask the question, “Why has God abandoned me?”, when just the opposite is true.
The Reformation did not happen because God had abandoned His people, and it did not occur because God had abandoned the Church. It occurred because the people had abandoned God and His word, and the daily need to seek Him first in all things. The Church became corrupt not overnight, but over a matter of decades and centuries of apathy. The church became corrupt, not because God had abandoned it, but because the Church had abandoned God.
I think of it this way. How bad does our apathy towards God have to be that we could not care less if we did not have had bibles to read? How apathetic are we as Christians if we got so used to day to day life, even going to church without our bibles? Sounds ludicrous doesn’t it? Well, that’s how it happened then, and for many of us, that’s where we are headed today.
How many people do you know that call themselves Christians, and yet do not take a bible to church, let alone read it during the week? Worse yet, how many churches or denominations do you know whose attendees do not take nor ever need a bible at church? For that matter, we actually have churches that discourage the bringing of bibles to church because it is only the ‘church’ and its priesthood that can ‘truly interpret’ scripture anyway?
Asking the question of how the church got to the point where a reformation was needed, the logical progression of this train of thought does not allow us to stop there. Because this happened before, we must therefore also ask the question: Do we need a reformation today? Are we so apathetic as Christians that we are allowing the ‘church’ to be sole in interpreter of scripture and not being like the Bereans and checking all things against scripture ourselves? Have we lost our desire to be in the Word that knowing God, knowing truth no longer matters?
We must examine ourselves, and we must examine our churches. Do not become apathetic ourselves, and do not allow your churches to become that way either. If you are not in a bible teaching church – get in one. If you go to church and do not need a bible, ask yourself, ‘why is that’, and ‘what am I learning/being taught here?’
Apathy is defined as absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement. Also it can be described as a lack of interest in or concern for things that others find moving or exciting. As you can see it is not enough as a Christian just to be excited about Jesus. We have to be so excited about Jesus that we want to get others excited too! I find Jesus, my salvation, and my relationship to God exciting! If you are not so excited about Jesus and your relationship with God, and reading His Word daily, being in devotionals and prayer and desiring to know God more and more all the time, that YOU are apathetic as well.
Don’t allow yourself to get that way. Apathy creeps in slowly so that your prayer life suffers just a little, or that your devotional time becomes a little less and less each month. But in the end, apathy unchecked becomes an individual Christian, and eventually a church that could not care less that they no longer even need a bible.
Do we need a reformation today? Not just yes, but double yes.
We need a reformation of heart and commitment to God, so that God’s Holy Word and our relationship with Him become first and foremost in our lives. Secondly, we need a reformation of the Church corporate so that the Bible, the inerrant Word of God, becomes the one and only standard on which we all stand united. Unfortunately, and sadly, both seem to be true to Christians and the Christian church today. Without change, we are headed towards another ‘Dark Age’.
Reformation starts within.