2017 will be the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. On 31st October 1517 an unknown monk in a small town nailed 95 debating points to a church door. It was a common academic practice to invite debate but these ‘theses’ went viral and Martin Luther became famous overnight.
Luther was protesting against the Church’s way of raising money (which was to complete St Peter’s, Rome). It was through the sale of ‘indulgences’ for shortening the time loved ones spent in Purgatory. Crudely the Church promised, ‘As soon as the gold in the casket rings, the rescued soul to heaven springs’.
Luther, a newly appointed Professor of Bible in Wittenberg, understood that the Scriptures know nothing about ‘indulgences’ or ‘Purgatory’. In his 27th ‘thesis’ Luther rejected these as ‘human doctrines’. This was the genesis of Luther’s mantra, ‘the Bible alone’ as the sole authority in matters of faith.
Luther would have been aware of Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees, ‘‘You make void the word of God by your traditions’ (Mark 7). Jesus stood for ‘the Bible alone’ and Luther was following the Lord.
From that time two things happened. Luther and other Reformers began reshaping Christian theology based solely on the Bible. At the same time they began translating the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into the language of the people. Luther translated the Bible into German and Tyndale did the same in English.
We take the Bible for granted. But imagine how things would be if we did not have the Bible. We would not know the identity of the Creator, the meaning of life, the Saviour’s love, the Spirit’s power or the pathway to pleasing God.
God blesses us through his Word in many ways of which the most important is his sure promise that he loves us and saves us as we respond to that love, for example, ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8).
But God also blesses societies where the Bible has been powerfully influential, for example, values like respect for authority, dignity of the individual, equality of king and commoner before the law, abolition of slavery, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, sanctity of marriage, separation of church and state, the example of the Good Samaritan rescuing people in need, the primacy of compassion and mercy.
When society loses the Bible it loses its values: truth becomes relative, gender differences are blurred, the sanctity of marriage lost, and respect for authority weakened.
The Reformation crossed the English Channel. Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer came to believe Bible alone as he stated in Article 6 (of the 39 articles):
HOLY Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of anyone, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.
Cranmer’s achieved the reformation of the English Church by three instruments:
The Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion
and the Ordinal for Bishops, Priests and Deacons.
Each of the three is carefully expressed in the theology of the Reformation.
The Reformation came to Australia with the First Fleet with Chaplain Richard Johnson, a Church of England minister, a man dedicated to the great truths of the Reformation.
The Church of England in Australia followed the Mother Church in adopting the same three instruments, the Book of Common Prayer, the Articles and the Ordinal.
In 1960 the Church of England in Australia became the Anglican Church of Australia. Our constitution specifically recognizes the authority of Cranmer’s three instruments.
Our National Church, our diocese, our parish is based on those same three. The Articles are to be found at the back of our Prayer Books
These govern our national church, our diocese, our parish.
Our church – this church – is a child of the Reformation.
We affirm with our Lord, St Paul, Luther and Cranmer the great truth that the Bible Alone is the authority in the church for matters of faith.