At the risk of boring you, may I share a little church history? It is after all, the 505th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation next week. Transport yourself across the pond to England or Europe in the 1400’s. For over one thousand years the Roman Catholic Church was strong and the popes were powerful. Popes believed they stood halfway between God and man, below God but above man. The Vatican had no army, but they had the power, they claimed, to take land, confiscate gold, and send people to heaven or hell. Kings came to beg forgiveness from corrupt popes. In 1077 Emperor Henry IV, walked through the Alps and stood barefoot in the snow for three days begging Pope Gregory VII to forgive him. He was absolved of sin only after kissing the popes’ feet and paying a huge sum of gold. The church grew rich, and the people starved. I could share further examples of abuse by the popes of the past, but suffice it to say, most were less than good. Over time the papacy lost power and morality.
There was a breakdown of the church’s intellectual unity. People wanted to disengage faith from reason. Observation and experiences became more important than faith and biblical authority. At the same time there was a decline in popular piety. Europe was in shambles. Wars, crusades, plagues, and peasant revolts all contributed to a lost time for the church. People sought hope in religious relics, shrines, and pilgrimages that left them unfulfilled. Add to this the fear instilled by church leaders about eternal salvation hanging in the balance as coins linked in the bucket outside the church door. Sound familiar?
Then some things happened. John Wycliffe (1329 – 1384), a college professor in England, translated the Latin Vulgate into English. He said the Bible, not the church, was the final authority. Those were radical words. So much so, that 40 years after his death his bones and his books were dug up and burned. John Huss (1373-1415), a Czechoslovakian priest, taught and preached against indulgences. He was arrested, imprisoned, and burned at the stake naked. Erasmus lived during this time also. People called him the “John the Baptist of the Reformation.” He organized the Greek text of the New Testament used by Martin Luther. And of course, in 1436, Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press. It changed the world because now the Bible was printed and didn’t need to be hand copied or read only by the priests.
Many times when we sow in the wind, we reap the whirlwind. Actions have consequences. Trouble or good comes because of how we have carried ourselves. Church history is full of examples of the church having a broken wing and unable to fly as God desires. It is not all pretty. Yet, God loves and cares for his bride, the church. As I labor here, for that I am grateful.
I’ve run out of space. If you don’t mind, I’ll write a little bit about our Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin next week
Anyway, that’s how I see it. – Pastor Pete