The Reformation: A Bible Movement (Part 3)
In the first two posts in this series, we considered the way in which the Reformers viewed the Scriptures as to its authority and clarity. In this final installment, we turn our attention to the need for clarity in the propagation of Scripture for reformation today. For those committed to the Reformation project today, the doctrine of the clarity of the scriptures has certain implications that we should not ignore.
This job though, of making the text clear and easy to understand is not merely the work of missionaries and translators. It is not merely the work of pastors either, though it is that to be sure.
It is the work of all Christians whether you are a parent struggling with how to form the thought processes and desires of your child in a biblical way, a member of a Bible study casually debating the meaning of that week’s biblical passage, or a student attempting to explain to a friend why you don’t partake in the same “social practices” as the others in your school. We are all to give an answer, a defense of what we believe for the hope that is within us (1 Pet 3:15), and that defense should be clear and intelligible in order to be a proper defense.
The clarity of the scriptures calls us to do the hard work of making our beliefs clear. Or to put it in a more Pauline way,
Because we worship a God who has mercifully condescended to speak to us in the confines of human language, of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and in forms of those languages that are the most common, with words and grammar that are intelligible…
Because we worship a Lord who brought his word to us, in the form of his Son, his Logos, made incarnate, a substitute for us…
Because it was the practice of Jesus to debate with the best of the learned scholars of his day, and yet make himself and his good news plain to the least educated, the most disenfranchised people of his day…
Because we of all people, have benefitted the most from the clear articulation of the good news, through which we were called to faith in Jesus Christ, justified by his life and death, adopted as sons of God, sanctified in the Spirit, and made to long for glory…
…then we of all people can personally understand the call to proclaim the teaching of scripture in as clear and intelligible a way as possible.
And yet this is still a difficult job. It is hard work.
It is hard work, because it is a matter of the human heart. Each one of us has the sinful desire to lift ourselves above others, to establish our legitimacy and validity over and against others, and that temptation can often influence the way in which we talk about our deepest held beliefs.
The medieval church against which the Reformers were reacting, is not the only institution to ever use theological learning as a barrier to protect themselves from those they deem undesirable, unworthy, or threatening. The complex matrix of interpretative tools used by the medieval church, was not the first nor was it the last, attempt to make knowledge a weapon against faith.
As a seminary professor, I have been tempted this way myself by the temptation to introduce into my teaching just enough obscurity to ensure job protection. After all, if the students have to keep coming back to the experts for answers, then the experts can ensure their own continuing relevance.
I think Reformed Christians are particularly susceptible to this temptation. Our system of belief is so well-defined, so rigorous, that we might be tempted to see its preservation as an end unto itself. Many of us have committed hours of study to the great minds of our tradition. We have poured over the theological debates, the heresies, and the treatises, and so we should not be surprised by the temptation to hold up our unique positions as a shibboleth. We’ve done the hard study, why not distinguish ourselves from the unwashed evangelical masses? Don’t we deserve it?
And yet ironically, this sentiment is in direct contradiction to the Reformed commitment to the primacy and clarity of scripture. While identifying as Reformed, we embrace the stance of the medieval Catholic church in practice.
If we want to lay hold of the Reformed tradition, may we learn to repent of such arrogance and pursue clarity of thought and expression. God’s word does not change, but the world in which we minister does. May we be committed to the hard work of proclaiming God’s eternal word in the vernacular of the day for the glory of God and for those who will hear it and believe. As we do so, the Holy Spirit will delight to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ. Of that we can be sure.