Summary: If we look for it and listen for it, when we least expect it, a voice will say, “You are loved, you are affirmed, you are set free”. If we accept it, embrace it, trust in it, and let it penetrate every fibre of our being,
A preacher, who was newly called to a small country town, needed to mail a letter. Passing a young boy on the street, the pastor asked where he could find the post office.
After getting his answer, the minister thanked the boy and said, “If you’ll come to my church this evening, you can hear me tell everyone how to get to heaven.”
“I don’t know, sir,” the boy replied. “You don’t even know how to get to the post office!”
Today, we are celebrating the re-birth of the church, also known as the start of the Protestant Reformation. Sure, the church was actually born on the Day of Pentecost, but over time the church strayed away from its original purpose. It went from a God-made institution with the Ten Commandments, the Two Great Commandments and an emphasis on God’s love to a man-made institution with its emphasis on man-made rules and rituals.
There was a time when the church pictured God as an angry God who was watching over us and anxiously waiting for us to make a mistake so that he could punish us with eternal suffering in hell. The church taught people to fear God in the worst sense of the word, and the church used that fear to control the people, to get them to submit to church leaders and obey all of the teachings and rules of the church. The church used that fear to obtain wealth and power for the Pope in Rome and for the Roman Catholic Church. For example, by the 16th century the Roman Catholic Church became wealthy from the indulgences or fees that worshippers had to pay to free the souls of their loved ones who were in purgatory, which was the place between heaven and hell where the faithful were being cleaned up for heaven. There were at least seven sacraments that were prescribed by man.
By the time of the Protestant Reformation, the church was similar to the Pharisees of Jesus’ time-very authoritarian. The word of the pastor or church elders was law, and no one in the congregation could question it. Part of the reason was because the language of worship services at that time was Latin. There were very few Bibles available because they were copied by hand, and the few Bibles that were available were also in Latin. Since very few people other than the wealthy and the educated could read or speak Latin, they had to trust that what the minister said was the word of God.
The situation in the church was similar to the Parable of the Wicked Tenants in Matthew 21:33-42. Reformers agreed with the parable’s idea that because the Israelites had abused their tenancy as God’s people, God would lease his church to another people-the (new) Christian church. They also argued that because the (new) Christian church had abused its tenancy, God would replace it with the Reformed Church.
Over many years the church and its practices were reformed, but the process was not easy. One key event that helped the process was the invention of the printing press. That made the publication and distribution of Bibles easier. The Reformation was also helped by efforts to translate the Bible from Latin into the languages of the common people in Europe, specifically the efforts of John Wycliffe and William Tyndale to translate the Bible into English, and Martin Luther to translate the Bible into German. That made it possible for more people to read the Bible and discover the truth of God’s word for themselves.
Luther also believed that church music was for everyone to sing. He wrote, “The devil who is the originator of sorrowful anxieties and restless trouble, flees before the sound of God’s music almost as much before the Word of God”. That belief inspired him to compose the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, and it is a bold affirmation of the love and power of our heavenly Father.
The end result was the idea that ordinary Christians could and should read the Bible for themselves in their own everyday language and draw their own conclusions from it. They did not have to accept the words of centralized religious authorities at face value. They did not have to accept traditions at face value unless they were prescribed by the Scriptures. Naturally this undermined the authority of the established church, which is why the church prohibited translation of the Bible into the language of the people, and publicly burned such Bibles as they could find.
Even today, the Roman Catholic Church is largely authoritarian in nature even though changes were made in the 1960s by the Second Vatican Council-changes that included allowing services to be conducted in the language of the common people. In addition, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormon Church and other fundamentalist denominations such as the Salvation Army, the Pentecostal Church and some Baptist churches are still thriving today, and individual preachers can be authoritarian.