6 November 2017

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater!

31st October saw the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In the run up to it, the BBC put on a drama called Gunpowder. Rather than remind us of what the Reformation was about, they decided to recreate gut-wrenching scenes of Roman Catholic sympathisers being tortured by Protestants.

There's no doubt that the treatment of Roman Catholics was appalling. What sinful men and women did, and do, in the name of religion is always to be condemned. But anyone with an ounce of wisdom can see that such brutality has nothing to do with Jesus Christ, nor the gospel message of the Bible. So it's really unhelpful to stir up old divisions like this, and also be in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Because you might look at these atrocities and write the Reformation off altogether. That would be a terrible mistake. The Reformation may have led to conflict, but that wasn't the intention. The Reformation was really the rediscovery of the most important message ever, from God to humanity, that had got lost under layers and layers of church tradition and corruption.

The man who is credited with its rediscovery is Martin Luther.

As a monk, Luther studied the Bible. And as he did so, he became more and more infuriated. On the one hand, the Bible made him painfully aware of his own sin and how utterly perfect God is. As hard as he tried, he could do nothing to improve himself to have any hope of pleasing God. On the other hand, he saw the terrible corruption of the Roman Catholic church; in particular, the selling of 'indulgences' by priests. To finance the building of St Peter’s in Rome, the Pope issued a statement that if people paid money to the church, they would purchase for themselves, or for relatives who had died, exemption from the punishment due on their sin. In other words, you could buy your way into heaven. Martin Luther knew this was a lie, feeding on people's fear of God's judgment.

Then he rediscovered in the Bible the best news the world has ever heard - the most important message from God to humanity. It was this: 'No-one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known to which the whole Bible testifies. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and non-Jew, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus' (Romans 3:20-24).

In other words, we can't do anything to make ourselves right with God. But we don’t have to - Jesus Christ has done everything necessary for us. When we put our trust in what Jesus Christ did for us, we are made right with God as a gift. Complete forgiveness of all our sins and an eternal place in heaven with God has been purchased for us by Jesus Christ. And this gift, free to us, is available to all people who put their faith in him.

The good news then is still the same good news now, because it is God's everlasting message to all people everywhere. He has shown us the way - the only way - we can be right with him. That's what he wants - for us to be with him in heaven forever, rather than suffering forever the punishment our sins deserve. God himself has made this possible at great cost to himself. It's why we should celebrate the Reformation and not let the BBC or anyone else prevent the world from hearing the best news and most important message ever.

Want to know more? Come to St George's in Rogers Road on Sundays at 10.30am. All welcome.

Simon Smallwood
Pastor at St George’s