As part of the ‘500 Project’ we have asked a range of contributors from across the spectrum to stimulate and challenge our thinking. We won't always agree with all they write, but that’s the point. This piece is by Rev. Catherine Simpson, Curate Assistant in Seapatrick Parish Church of Ireland and was recently featured in the Belfast Telegraph.
What do you want to be when you grow up? It's a question we ask often of those of a certain age and, if we think back, a question we have been asked.
In many ways the Reformation was a 'growing up' of the Church, which is continually growing. The Protestant Reformation offered five Solas (Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone, Christ alone, to the Glory of God alone), the first of which was a stronger emphasis on the Bible, a call to realign our faith with Biblical teaching. This refocus on the Bible is as relevant today as it was 500 years ago.
The question is: what did the Reformation bring to the church here in Northern Ireland? If we skim across the surface, it brought the Bible in English, enabling people to read for themselves and encouraging them to do so.
As a consequence, the Reformation left its mark upon society, bringing about our education system: initially as hedge schools and Sabbath schools, later as Sunday schools. It brought a variety in worship styles and music; it brought clergy families; and every-member ministry as para-church organisations were formed, from uniformed organisations such as Girls and Boys Brigade, Church Lads Brigade and Girls Friendly Society, to the Scouting and Guiding movements. It brought more significant roles in ministry for women, and mission societies and agencies were born, and a great movement of missionaries sent out across the world. The emphasis on the 'priesthood of all believers', the call for every person - male or female - to take up their role as disciples making disciples, equipped the church to engage at ground level in its community. Flowing from this, the church began to lead the way with social justice movements. For example, in the 1790s, evangelical Anglicans founded the Clapham Sect, which began a social action campaign pushing to have slavery abolished.
The question still remains, how has the Reformation changed society today in 2017? Do we, as evangelicals today, fully understand what Scripture says, and are we doing enough to share the message of reconciliation with God and others?
The problem in our society here in Northern Ireland is that reconciliation has become a politically-loaded term, when in reality it is about the saving power of Jesus Christ. At this anniversary of the Reformation, let the Church reclaim what was rediscovered at the Reformation; let the Church retake the Reformation by explaining to all what true reconciliation is - that Christ died to save each and every one of us. Let's continue the legacy of the reformers from 500 years ago, and those from 200 years ago, who picked up the Reformation mantle and pushed to have slavery abolished. Let's have the perseverance of the Clapham Sect.
Let this 500th anniversary be a reminder not to lose heart, but to keep contending for truth and righteousness in our society. While people like Luther and Wilberforce are singled out for remembrance, each of their movements succeeded because of close teamwork. And so the lesson for us in this generation is that collaborative ministry has worked in the past: Jesus gathered his team, Luther and Wilberforce followed his example. We, as a society, are in desperate need of collaborative work here in Northern Ireland.
Let the lessons of the Reformation speak loud and clear to us today. Let's be part of the church growing up today, as we grow in Christ, inspired by the example of those who have gone before us. As we respond to the command to 'go and make disciples', use Scripture alone to explain faith alone, offered by grace alone, through Christ alone to the Glory of God alone; but don't go alone, go as a team!