I'm working through some old notes on the Reformation this morning in preparation for our Lifechange Sunday series - Reformation to Revival - The history of the Missional Church in England from 1500 to the present day.
You may wonder what this ancient history has to do with post modern, 21st Century Britain, but you don't have to go far to see the value in looking back. Any generation which thinks it can't learn from the past needs it's collective head fixing, & the UK certainly needs to sit down with a Shrink. Every reason why the UK has an identity crisis & is in a moral/spiritual pickle today can be traced back to roots which have grown over the last 5 centuries.
More pointedly, the church, & not just society in general, must understand how we have got to where we are in order to have a context for where we are going. Perhaps thats why so many in our ranks neither know where they are or intend to go anywhere to do anything about it?!
The Reformers of the 1500's were no such men. They were men who refused to die in the waiting room, rather they took hold of the smallest opportunity in order to effect the greatest transformation.
Take Ulrich Zwingli, the Zurich reformer. He knew what he believed & understood what radical teaching would do to wider soceity. I read his key reforms again today, whilst listening to radio reports of the Pope's arrival in the UK.
Way back in 1523 Zwingli published his 67 Thesis. His main ideas were that Christ alone is the object of true worship & therefore Christ & the gospel are necessary for salvation. Because of this, the current Church hierarchy is wrong -Christ alone is the High Priest. All of our Saint worship is idolatry,outward show – clothing, images & pomp are entirely unecessary, & there is no need for ordination, confession, absolution, celibacy. Wow!
On the weekend that the Pope has come to restate Catholic Doctrine & to initiate Cardinal Newman towards Sainthood, these Zwinglian ideas are as radical as ever. Now, Zwingli was also a fighter, he died on horseback with an axe in his hand, at war with the Catholics. He would be there today with Iain Paisley to abuse & to attempt to force a change. Let's learn something from this too, lest we turn into angry ranters, more akin to Pastor Jones & his Koran burning brigade than people who look & sound like Jesus.
The truth is sobering. At the end of the great reformation century when Elizabeth died, there were an estimated 8,500 Catholics in England. Today there are 6 million or more. What happened? They didn't need force, invasion or Armadas after all - they simply required a luke warm, compromised, unattractive & faithless Protestant church, who largely has failed to proclaim & live the gospel in order that it might take root in our nation. Zwingli is right in all that he still teaches us today, but we are the ones who must take a look in the mirror.