There were wars between nations and cities. Monarchies were brought down and republics were raised up. Nation state boundaries were stringently defined and enforced. Confusion reigned in the Church of England as Catholic and Protestant forces gained the ascendancy or were brought down by the reigning monarch. The Enlightenment rose as an alternative understanding of the world and nature, removing yet more power from the Roman Catholic Church which had controlled centres of learning.
The Church underwent ‘schism’ or separation into different ‘denominations’. The Bible was widely translated and distributed in the common tongue of Western nations, and slowly into other languages, thanks to the printing press. Tracts, books, music and propaganda followed thick and fast – and only slowed down as the internet has taken the production of material of all persuasions to hyper-speed.
The Uniting and Anglican Church traditions that make up the Strathfieldsaye Community Church are “protestant” traditions, direct descendants of the Reformation movements five hundred years ago. A generation ago and before, that may have meant an inability to worship with Roman Catholics, strong and even occasionally violent disagreement on some matters, and at the least, suspicion and distrust.
We praise God those days are over! However there are still real differences between Protestant and Roman Catholic understandings of how God reconciles us to Himself, and how God reveals Himself to the Church, and through whom.
Does this mean we fight? No!
Does this mean we can agree on some of these matters? Perhaps. Ongoing dialogue has been happening for a very long time towards this goal, and while there has been some progress, there are some matters that we cannot agree on.
What we can do is examine the Scriptures and test what is heard from positions of power and influence within the Church, in the pulpit, in the paper, on TV, on the internet.
The point is that we can do that. We do have the Bible in language that we can readily understand, in book, electronic, audio, webpage, searchable, study-able, commentary laden forms. We are free to read the Bible. That is a freedom that was hard-won, literally with the blood of many martyrs across history.
We have also been given the promised Holy Spirit to interpret and understand the Bible with us. Jesus promised that He would send His Spirit after He had gone, and did just that.
Never before has the Bible been so readily available. So what a tragedy it is that the Church is so Biblically illiterate, and too often lives off a diet of a few minutes a week of teaching from the pulpit to feed them for a week – when there is a banquet open to them each minute of each day. Sixty-six books of grace and truth are right there, all the time, equipped with the Holy Spirit to help us.
To honour the Reformers who are our spiritual ancestors, make the effort to freely read the words of Scripture they fought and died to release to the people. Of course it can be difficult to understand all of it, but the more often you read more of the Bible, God’s great plan of new life in Jesus Christ becomes clearer and clearer – and you will find your own life being reformed, slowly but surely, toward the person you were created to be in Christ Jesus, your Lord and God.
[Our readings for this Sunday were Acts 17:11-12 and John 16:5-16].
Preached on November 5 2017.