20 September 2017

Deep Impact: The Influence & Effect of Protestantism

So many people in our society wear the badge of ‘Protestant’, but do we all fully understand this title?  I would like to take some time to explore with you the meaning of Protestantism and what the Reformation has given to us in the 21st Century.

The core principle of the Reformation was that every believer had the right to read the scriptures for himself and, under the guidance of God’s Spirit, to come to an understanding of its teaching. This was in direct contrast to the Roman Church, which held, and still holds, that it alone could interpret the Bible and teach people what to believe. This belief in personal interaction with the scriptures was the first thing that drove the Protestant church forward.

The second driving force in Protestantism was the translation of the scriptures into the language of the people.  Before the Reformation, in the Roman church, services were in Latin, a language the people did not understand.  James I authorised a translation that became the people’s Bible for over 300 years.  This year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of its publication. We know it as the Authorised Version or King James Version.  It is almost impossible to overstate the influence of this Bible and it is not too much to say that the whole Western world is built on it.

In 1611 the King James Version was published and gradually the people began to devour what for centuries had been withheld from them.  They saw in it that they needed no ecclesiastical authority to interpret it, no priest to stand between them and God and no Church to grant or withhold salvation.  The individual could read the scriptures for himself and find salvation through faith in the finished work of Christ the Saviour.

Of course, the old authorities opposed this and James I’s son Charles believed that he ruled by divine right and was above criticism or question. However, people read in their Bibles that kings are subject to God’s law like everyone else.  This conflict led to the English civil war and ended with the king executed.  It was the beginning of democracy, which is now established in the Western world.  The point is that it was from the Bible that the parliamentarians drew their authority and strength in opposing the monarch.

It was the same, centuries later with workers’ rights and women’s rights. They also took their authority from the scriptures. The settlers who went from here to America sought to set up a society based on its teaching.  Later still, when the issue of slavery raised its head, the Bible was the inspiration of those who fought to end that cruel practice.  Martin Luther King and others campaigned to end racism in America and they drew their authority from the Bible.

Today aggressive atheists enjoying the freedoms that came about through its teaching try to portray the Bible as narrow, restricting and limiting.  The reality is that the freedom in which they live and express their erroneous views came about through its teaching.

As people turned to the Bible, they needed to be educated so that they could read it and so, before ever there was state education, the churches and others began to educate people and that teaching was Bible based.  It was the textbook they used to learn to read and write.  Later other subjects were added to the curriculum.

The second result of this education was that the words of the Bible became the common language of the people and its words and phrases worked themselves into the very foundations of the English tongue.  Shakespeare and Milton, perhaps the two greatest English poets quote the Bible liberally as do many other authors.  To this very day its phrases spread their richness throughout our language – ‘Judge not that you be not judged.’ ‘Let him that is without fault cast the first stone.’ ‘Touch the hem of his garment.’ ‘The salt of the earth.’ ‘A thorn in the flesh.’ ‘Fight the good fight,’ and many more all find their origin in the KJV.

One of the sad things about today is that so few are reading the Bible.  Unbelievers have said that its day is done and that it is no longer relevant. So I want to share with you now why it is still relevant to our world and to your life and mine.

Its overall worldview

Any thinking person has to look at the world and life and try to understand what it’s about. What is the meaning of life? Has it a purpose?  Have I a purpose and significance? Is there right and wrong?  Have I any hope beyond this life? These are important questions.

There are two opposing answers.

Unbelief says that everything has come about by chance.  Stephen Hawking recently said that there was no God in the beginning.  Everything just started.  Thus life has no ultimate meaning, no purpose.  We live by chance, die by chance and there is no hope beyond this life. Is it any wonder that suicides are so common when life is devoid of purpose and individuals have no lasting significance?

The Bible has a different worldview.  It says that God created all things and rules over all, that He is involved in our lives and will end all things in His time, that we derive life from Him and  are answerable to Him, that His standards do not change, that He loves His creatures in the most amazing way and that He has a home in heaven for them.  That is the worldview of the Bible.

Its explanation of the mystery of humanity

There is a mystery about humanity and that is our tendency to violence, hatred, destruction and corruption.  It affects all classes and nations.  Recently a report said that in England and Wales over a thousand old people die every year from dehydration and starvation through neglect in hospitals.  An item on TV recently spoke of continuing slavery and human trafficking. It is also said that some of our cities are no-go areas at night because of young people’s antisocial behaviour.  Recently, our political representatives were found guilty of corruption in fiddling their expenses. Why should this be?

This bad behaviour in humans is a mystery. Some say it is due to background and deprivation and can be corrected by education and training. Yet, we have the most modern teaching methods in our schools and people have more disposable income compared with our parents and grandparents who had nothing to spare on luxuries. Yet we have these problems. Also, Germany, the most advanced nation of its day, gave us two world wars and the Holocaust with its extermination programme.  Many of the intellectuals of Germany gave their backing to what was done in their name.   And at Calvary it was the elite of the nation who crucified the Son of God. So the idea that this mysterious behaviour in humans is down to deprivation doesn’t seem to add up.

The Bible explains it as sin, a fatal tendency to evil, which is in every life.  It says, “‘All have sinned;’ There is none righteous, not even one.’”  And that sin has touched every part of our life, our thinking, our desires and our strength of will.  Ultimately it will mean separation from God eternally, for sin cannot exist in His presence. In this way the Bible gives us an explanation of the mystery of humanity.

Its solution to the human problem

The Gospel in the Bible is good news because it reveals the solution to this human problem.  God sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world. No one on earth could save the human race, for everyone was a sinner both by nature and by choice.  We were lost and helpless.  But God sent His Son to save what was lost.

Furthermore, He took our place and died our death, bearing our penalty for us, so that we might be forgiven.

And He rose from the dead to bring us eternal life.  This is the solution to the human problem revealed in the Bible.
And the Bible shows that God has made it easy for us.  He asks only two things of us – repentance, a turning away from what we have been, and faith, complete reliance on what Jesus has done for us.  That is all He asks and when we obey we get forgiveness and eternal life and become new creatures.

A vision of the end

The Bible tells us that one-day in His time, God will wrap up all things and time and history will pass away.  Then those who have turned away from their past and put their trust in the finished work of Christ will receive full and final salvation.  And those who have turned away from Him in rebellion and disobedience will appear before Him for judgement. That is the vision of the end revealed in the Bible.

And so we come back to the beginning.  We celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the KJV and the Bible is built into the very foundations of the Western world, its love of democracy, its language and literature, its love of freedom and its view of human dignity regardless of colour or race because all are made in the image of God. Its influence is built on the Reformation principle that everyone has a right to study the Scriptures in his own tongue and under the guidance of God’s Spirit to come to an understanding of its teaching.

The challenge for the Church today is to create a counter-culture according to the Word of God. In that counter culture the Church will not be afraid to hold and to teach the truth as revealed in God’s Word. It will create a community in which truth is more important than feeling, where the mind rules the emotions and the individual is subject to a higher Authority, so that the worship of God in His glory, greatness and love is its chief activity, not the seeking of personal thrills.

You may be wearing the ‘Protestant’ badge, but are you reading the Bible as our forefathers did? Have you found salvation and eternal life through repentance and faith in Christ?  Wouldn’t it be a double tragedy if on this 400th anniversary, your Bible is covered in dust and you have never found salvation, though the book and the way have been available to you all your life?  Wouldn’t that be sad beyond words to describe?

Sidlow McFarland