2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, that period in English History when Henry VIII sent the Pope packing so he could marry his new sweetheart and the Church of England was born! Obviously it’s much more complicated than that, and its influence was felt across the whole of Europe, so much so that some people are saying it was a bit like a 16th Century version of Brexit. One man dominates the history books of the Reformation – Martin Luther, who in 1517 allegedly nailed his grievances about the way the Church was doing things to the door of a church in Wittenberg in Germany. Given that this is an anniversary year, several new books have appeared on the shelves of Waterstones to help us make sense of it all. The one I’m reading, ‘A nearly infallible history of the Reformation’ by Nick Page is both funny and informative and I can recommend it to anyone interested in understanding more about the origins of our church tradition.
Reading this book is helping me to see that although Luther was the most famous of the Reformers, he didn’t act alone and that for centuries before Luther other people had also been raising their concerns about the Church and calling for reform, some loosing their lives in the process. The book has also reminded me that Luther was far from perfect and that the characters from history that we often raise up as superheroes always come with their own two feet of clay!
The history of the Early Church and before that, God’s relationship with the people of Israel, also highlights the works and words of certain characters which some churches then immortalise in stained glass, holding them up as examples for us for follow. But they too had their weaknesses as well as their strengths. Moses, is just one example, as we discovered last Sunday in our new series on the Book of Exodus. Like Martin Luther he shook things up, challenged the leaders of his day and helped lead a group of people into new ways of thinking about God and relating to him. But also like Luther he too was a flawed character. In Moses’ case he had a hot headed temper that led to murder. I think that it is always encouraging to discover that people in the Bible were just as human as the rest of us, making their own set of mistakes along the way. But God still called and worked with them, maybe because as time went on they become all too aware of their weaknesses which made them even more reliant on God.
See you then.