We are here on this Reformation Day to give thanks to God for the Sixteenth Century Reformation.
Why 31st October? On 31st October 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the Door of the Parish Church of WITTENBERG. Nothing dramatic in doing such a thing – others nailed notices to the church door – no newspapers in 1517! What was dramatic was that these thesis/statements/propositions challenged the medieval church in the practice of selling indulgences.
Martin Luther was not the FIRST and not the LAST of the Reformers of the Church. Visit the Reformation Wall in Geneva and you will see many, but not all, of the Reformers who preceded and succeeded Martin Luther.
We read in our service some verses from 2nd Chronicles 34 – the recorded story of the Reformation of the Old Testament Church under King Josiah – Reformation is nothing new in the life of God’s Church. Indeed all organisations/institutions need reforming from time to time.
Josiah was a naturally reforming Monarch Vs. 1-7. As he began his reign he began to do away with all those elements in the life of the nation which HE KNEW were not in keeping with the mind and will of God. 34;3 – “In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David. In his twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles, carved idols and cast images.”
One might well ask – how did such pagan practices ever enter into the life of the Old Testament Church? The answer to that question unfolds for us in the rest of the story!! Suffice for us to note at this point – if it happened in the Old Testament Church it could all too easily happen in the New Testament Church.
The PATTERN of REFORMATION of this Old Testament Church under young King Josiah is a BLUEPRINT for the REFORMATION OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY – And every Reformation since.
1. THE WORD OF GOD WAS DISCOVERED VS. 14
“While they were bringing out the money that had been taken into the temple of the LORD, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the LORD that had been given through Moses.”
While in the process of renovating the Temple they discovered the ancient Book of the Law of the Lord. [Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy]
How could such a thing happen? How could these ancient people of God effectively lose their ‘bible’? God’s Word had become lost in the midst of all the religious worship and ritual. They were still going through all the outward demonstrations of religion but the Word of God had no place in it – God’s Word had been pushed to the side!
Similarly in the medieval Church of the Sixteenth Century the Word of God did not have central place. If the Word of God had been given central place many of the practices of the medieval Church would never have seen the light of day!
It was the re-discovery of the Word of God at the time of the Sixteenth Century Reformation which heralded in the greatest revival of true religion since the days of the apostles. REVIVAL/REFORMATION starts with the discovery of the Word of God!
What was true of the Old Testament Church and the Medieval Church is equally true for the church today. The Word of God must be discovered and made central in the life of the Church. Martin Luther discovered the Word of God when he read – Galatians 3:11 “The righteous will live by faith”
One of the great Reformed Documents of the Church – The Westminster Confession of Faith – Ch. 1 :6. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.
The Word of God was discovered at the sixteenth century reformation!
What is true for the Church generally is also true for us as individuals. It is only when we discover the relevance of the Word of God for our own lives that we become true children of the Reformation. It has been the experience of multitudes throughout the ages that when they become Christians the Word of God becomes real! Passages which they read before have a new meaning and relevance because they have DISCOVERED the Word of God!
Have you discovered God’s word for yourself? Have you discovered its relevance for your own life?
2. THE WORD OF GOD WAS READ VS. 30
“He went up to the temple of the LORD with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the Levites—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD.”
As far as Josiah was concerned the Word of God was not just something to be admired from a distance – given a place of special reverence – left on the shelf, or put in a glass case. It was to read. Not having had the Word of God for so long the Old Testament Church, as far as Josiah was concerned, were to have the Word of God read to them. These were the centuries before the printing press – and besides the vast majority could not read.
Similarly in the days of the Medieval Church the vast majority of the people could not read. Even if they could, it would have made little difference – the Latin would have been a language they could scarcely understand. But the God of providence was at work. Not only were we on the verge of the development of the printing press but courageous scholars were at work translating the Word of God into the common language of the people.
John Wycliffe and his followers produced full English versions of the Old and New Testament in the late 14th century. At the same period the Czechs have their own vernacular Bible, subsequently much improved by John Huss.
Martin Luther completes his translation of the New Testament from the original Greek into German, in September 1522. Martin Luther said, “It is a miracle how God has so long preserved His book! How great and glorious it is to have the Word of God!”
William Tyndale (1494-1536) completes his English translation in 1526. William Tyndale said, “It is impossible to establish the lay people in any truth, except the Scriptures were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue”.
If there was one single thing which advanced the cause of the Reformed Faith in the sixteenth century it was the Word of God in the common language of the people – AND THE PEOPLE READ IT OR HAD IT READ TO THEM.
We are blessed today with such a variety of translations that no one can say that they cannot understand the archaic language – We have the very Word of God in our own language!
G.K. Chesterton once said, “When a man reads the Bible he is not merely reading a book, . . . he is being dealt with by God”
Have you read that WORD and have you been dealt with by God?
3. THE WORD OF GOD WAS OBEYED VS. 33
“Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites, and he had all who were present in Israel serve the LORD their God. As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the LORD, the God of their fathers.”
Josiah was not content just to have this newly discovered Word of God read to the people so that they might hear for themselves – he put the Word of God into practice – HE OBEYED IT. As far as Josiah was concerned God’s instruction in His Word was of first importance – therefore he removed from the nation all those things which God’s Word prohibited!
Similarly in the sixteenth century reformation the Word of God was to become normative in the life of the Church. Later Reformers would call it the ‘Regulative Principle’ – The life of the church is to be regulated by the Word of God and only those things which the word of God prescribes are permitted.
This is applies not only to the institutional Church, but also to the individual.
God’s Word shows us ourselves as we truly are – deserving nothing but the wrath of God due to us for sin – but also showing us the mercy of God in Christ! God’s Word not only shows us ourselves as we truly are BUT calls us to obey.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks the question. (Q. 3) What do the Scriptures principally teach? Answer. The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.
Orangemen are well aware of that. The Qualifications state “; he should honour and diligently study the Holy Scriptures, and make them the rule of his faith and practice;” The Qualifications are not of course ‘aspirational’ – like the Thirty-Nine Articles of religion, which Church of Ireland clergy must assent to at ordination – Orangemen must assent to the Qualification prior to initiation.
Within the Ritual of the Orange Institution, the Bible is referred to as that which “contains the precepts whereby all men, particularly Orangemen, should govern and regulate their conduct and actions through life; . . .”
Do you take the Word of God so seriously that you OBEY it?
We have a lot to thank God for in the Reformation of the Sixteenth century.
The question arises – How can we best thank God – How can we best say ‘thank you’ to God for the Reformation of the sixteenth century? The answer is an obvious one – by DISCOVERING – READING – OBEYING the WORD of the living God!