Dead history or living future? Part 5
As we conclude our series on Reformation, it is time to ask ‘Where is the continuing Reformation taking us today?’ The first Reformers started a process of recovery or restoration of truth from scripture. Luther provided a key by pioneering the translation of scripture into the language ordinary people could understand. He was frightened by some of the consequences as people came out with ides he did not like! But ordinary people reading scripture together with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit can re-discover truth in the New Testament provided they determine to put it into practice.
There is a scriptural and theological background to this search for restoration. Many aspects of Old Testament history and prophecy seem to point to a remnant of God’s people rediscovering things that were lost and facilitating others entering into what they pioneered.
The return of the exiles to Jerusalem is a key example. The keys to interpreting this for our context are in the New Testament, where we see
the church as a continuation of the chosen people, inheriting the promises of Abraham through faith in Christ
Jerusalem as the heavenly city and the church in perfection coming down from heaven as we respond and obey (Gal 4:26 and Hebrews 12:18-29 and Rev 21)
the Temple as a symbol of the church, the people of God created to be filled with His presence and as a place of worship and proclamation of who He is.
The history of the Exile and the return, and the many prophetic scriptures, have a significance for us as we seek God for the restoration of New Testament theology, lifestyle and power. During the early stages of the Reformation, in 1520, Luther published a very influential paper called The Babylonian Captivity of the Church – a title that clearly applies the symbol of the Exile to the reality of the condition of the Roman church. The paper addresses each of the seven sacraments recognised by Rome and highlights the ways they had become superstitions and had been abused to hold the ordinary people in subjection.
This theme of a remnant that overcomes and pioneers for the benefit of the whole people is implicit in many parts of the New Testament, particularly in the book of Revelation. For example, in Rev 14:1-5 we see the remnant of ‘over-comers’ are the cause of the release of the gospel being proclaimed in the following section (verses 6-13), leading to the destruction of the demonic forces in opposition to God, symbolised as Babylon. This in turn releases the Second Coming (verses 14 onwards). The church has finally fulfilled its purpose of proclaiming good news in every people group (Matt 24:14)!
As we look at church history since Luther’s day we see many revival movements rediscovering truths that had not been obvious in the church’s teaching and practice for centuries. It seems this has always been done by hearing the Holy Spirit through prayer and scripture, but the voice of the Spirit is amplified by hearing the Spirit through others – seeing the example of others and receiving their encouragements and challenges.
As we look at the church scene today across the world there are many, differing challenges but many encouraging trends. There are many ‘options’ for people and congregations to adopt but among the encouraging trends are:
a growing unity among leaders of different streams within the Pentecostal, New Church and Charismatic movements
movements/networks gathering around apostolic ministries ‘fathers’ (male and female) rather than based on organisation or denomination
mission through communities and teams rather than individuals, arising from commitment to prayer.
“The reformed church must always be reformed” until it finally achieves its purpose. So let’s continue to read scripture in community, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and determination to obey what we hear.