We publish a Parish Magazine 4 times a year and in each Magazine there is a letter from the vicar or a member of the Ministry team.
Letter from the Vicarage
Tuesday 31 October marks the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. It was on that date that Martin Luther is said to have nailed on the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg his Ninety-Five Theses opposing the sale of indulgences and what he perceived to be clerical abuses attached to this practice. Since then, the Reformation has made an impressive journey. Today, churches of the Reformation can be found in all four corners of the globe, with a steadily growing number living in the global south. Although for some Reformation Churches the year 1517 does not necessarily have special significance, since we associate different dates with the beginning of the Reformation, the commemoration of this quincentennial anniversary offers an excellent opportunity for all Churches to reflect on the ongoing relevance of the questions that triggered the Reformation and to discern its societal impact.
At the heart of Luther's call was the affirmation 'ecclesia semper reformands, semper reformanda': 'the church is always reformed, always reforming.' Whilst it is true that the reformers' theological children have sometimes preferred the stability of the past to the dynamic movements of the Living God, faithfulness to the Reformation is a matter of spirit and experience and willingness to constantly share our faith in new and creative ways.
In commemorating Reformation Sunday (28 October) we are stating that our Christian faith is forward- rather than backward-looking, evolving rather than static, at home in this world rather than in a previous age or a heavenly realm.
As Luther and the other 16th century reformers sought to articulate their reforming faith, they affirmed five 'solas'-sola scriptura, sola fides, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be the glory). These 'solas' expressed the contours of Reformation faith but without narrowly defining its meaning. To be faithful to the Reformed spirit, each of these must be constantly updated to respond to God's call in a constantly changing world. As children of the Reformation, we have the responsibility of describing what these 'solas' might mean in the global, postmodern, scientific, and pluralistic age in which we live. It is when we are comfortable building upon and going beyond the original insights of the Reformers that we are most faithful to the spirit from which the Reformation emerged.
What does it mean for us to say that Scripture alone is the ultimate source of authority in the Christian life and the life of the church? If this is too narrowly defined, it leads to an unimaginative, backward-looking, culture-denying, and intolerant literalism which is quite different from what the Reformers intended. Yes, Scripture is central to our faith, but it is not meant to be an idol. A reverence for and respect of the Word does not imply that we worship words or allow them to get in the way of the Living Word, incarnate in Jesus Christ.
For us to be faithful to Scripture today is to see it as a living and evolving series of books which possess an inner integrity, and not to be too selective in our reading of them. In the Scriptures, we have the fullness of what for now the Spirit says to the churches. That can make for uncomfortable reading, since these Scriptures challenge us today to be attentive to people fleeing brutal wars, persecutions, human rights violations, political instability and extreme poverty.
The Reformers challenge us to look for the word of grace within the words of Scripture. A graceful reading of Scripture opens us to experiencing divine wisdom in science, medicine, literature and the arts, and even in non-Christian faiths. Scripture is always an open door, and yet so often in the original lands of the Reformation it has become a closed book. Another insight of the Reformers is that we receive God's love regardless of our current spiritual or ethical state. Though unmerited, grace is not 'in spite' of who we are but 'because of' who God is. Grace does not diminish the human enterprise, but invites us to live abundantly, fully, and creatively. Though grace is universal, it is not unilateral or uniform. Grace works uniquely within each person. Grace does not depend on our works; we receive it rather than earn it. Still, the shape of grace is personal and depends on our relationship to God and one another.
As men of their time, the Reformers saw grace as saving 'depraved' humanity, whereas some today would interpret this differently, arguing that grace heals ' 'good, but imperfect' humanity. By this, I think they mean that grace calls us to action, bringing forth our essential goodness and inviting us to be God's partners in healing the earth. In the quest for and the formation of a holistic faith unstoppable grace comes to us, accepting and empowering us in all our brokenness. In other words, our receptivity to grace leads to action and mission. The more complete our responses to grace are, greater are the works that God and we can achieve in the world. God does not compete with us in power; rather, God's power enhances our creativity, freedom, and power to change the world.
Against their detractors the Reformers affirmed that Christ alone is the rock of salvation. They remind us that the healing and saving power of Christ is not restricted to time and place. Grace is not grace if it is limited to adherence to a particular doctrinal understanding or religious confession. Christ liberates us to seek truth and healing wherever they are found, whether in the laboratory, hospital, library, or other faith traditions. Christ opens the doors of revelation to all creation, giving hospitality and inspiration to God's beloved children everywhere. Christ is alive, and he is moving within us to fulfil his healing, justice-seeking, and life-transforming mission in our time.
As children of the Reformation, we are being invited, during this October, to take our inheritance seriously, to be aware of the need for constant reform, living our faith anew, updating it constantly, and committing ourselves to a justice-seeking, worldaffirming, beauty-creating faith. In this way, we will honour the Reformation's legacy.
With best wishes to you all,
Nicholas P Anderson
Nicholas P Anderson