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Reformation Day

Mal Fletcher
Posted 03 November 2004
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This week, the world's attention has largely focussed on the U.S. election. In fact, the final votes are being counted in several states even as I write.

However, I want to concentrate on matters closer to home here in Europe.

Last week, leaders from E.U. member nations met to sign the first ever European constitution.

It is a document that purports to provide a codified reflection of Europe's identity and core values. Yet it makes no mention of God or of Europe's Christian cultural heritage.

Just after World War 2, just a little over a decade before the E.U. was born, the celebrated poet T. S. Eliott wrote these words:

'The dominant feature in creating a common culture between peoples, each of which has its own distinct culture, is religion. I am talking about the common tradition of Christianity which has made Europe what it is.

'It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe - until recently - have been rooted... I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of Christian faith.'

So great was the influence of Christianity on European cultures that for a long time the region described itself using the word 'Christendom'.

The area covered by this umbrella was always influenced by cultural factors borrowed from classical Greek and Roman life, but these were tempered by the teachings of the Christian faith. Whether they had any strong personal faith or not, Europeans identified themselves as Christians.

Last Sunday, Germany celebrated Reformation Day. It is no longer the huge deal it once was in Germany, but this day celebrates momentous events which not only changed church history; they impacted secular government and almost every other area of European life in every nation it touched.

On October 31, 1517, a little known monk professor in the university of Wittenberg nailed a document to the doors of the town's castle church. In it, he outlined 95 objections to the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, the most powerful institution in the world at the time.

Those statements led not only to a revolution in theology; they also brought about radical changes in the way that many European societies were structured.

They paved the way, in fact, for many of the freedoms which we take for granted today.

Up until the time he nailed his 95 theses to the door, nobody much had heard of Martin Luther, but his name subsequently became synonymous with personal liberty and religious freedom.

One of Luther's most powerful doctrines is called the priesthood of all believers. Luther said that every Christian should be free to serve God in line with the Bible and the dictates of his or her conscience, rather than the dictates of the church.

Priests, he said, were not the only ones who should interpret God's word, because every Christian is a priest to God.

Luther's dangerous brand of individualism, and his refusal to recognise the Pope as God's ruler on earth, led to charges of heresy.

For his troubles, Luther was excommunicated and in 1521, the German Emperor called him to appear before a council of princes. The Emperor demanded that he recant on his teachings.

After a day spent in earnest prayer, Luther's response was clear.

'Unless you can prove from the Bible that I have made wrong statements,' he said, 'I cannot and I will not take back anything. My conscience is bound by the Word of God. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.'

Luther left us with three great truths.

Firstly, Luther called us back to the teaching of the apostle Paul, who said that none of us can earn our way into heaven. His theology reminded people that we can only have peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ and what he did on the cross.

Secondly, Luther revived the New Testament idea that all Christians are priests before God - that everyone who follows Christ can hear from God in a very personal way, especially through the Bible.

That was the third of Luther's great gifts to the world: in everything he did, Luther stood firmly on the record of the Bible. He put the Bible above the pope and all the church councils as the final judge in matters of faith.

He placed proven spiritual principles and moral absolutes above the whim of political opinion and politically correct taste.

He was willing even to lay down his life, if necessary, to defend his beliefs.

Today, in defiance of modern Europe's Christian roots, many European leaders make decisions which take no account of the spiritual impact on individuals, families and nations.

Over the past century, European history has shown us that when spiritual faith is jettisoned, ideology moves in to fill the vacuum, with all kinds of catastrophic consequences.

In an age of stifling bureaucracy which is based, at best, on the fuddled morality of whimsical opinion polls and at worst on the interests of corporations and interest groups, the E.U., needs to return to the spiritual heritage that made it great.

Europe needs a revival of moral and ethical values based not on expediency or political correctness, which changes its shape like the wind, but on proven spiritual principles.

Perhaps we need a new generation of Luthers. It's time for a new Reformation in Europe.

© Mal Fletcher 2004

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Should leaders take into account the spiritual impact of their decisions on individuals, families and nations when making decisions?



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