This forthcoming Tuesday (31st October 2017), marks 500 years since what is considered to be the beginning of the Reformation. A schism in the original apostolic Western Christian church which would go on to lay the foundations for much of our own history as a country.
The story begins with a German priest named Martin Luther who, according to theological legend, nailed 95 articles to a door in protestation against supposed Catholic idolatry. Modern scholars have since refuted this and claim he just sent his 95 articles in a letter to Rome by means of an Archbishop (but it does sound far more Hollywood this way!).
Luther’s main problem with Rome was that they had turned their backs on the main purposes of the Holy text and had instead become obsessed by the trappings of Mass. He also disliked some of their other recreational past-times, like selling signatures for instance, and claimed that all this frivolity got in the way of God’s work. He also reflected on a more peaceful line of the Bible and argued that good deeds alone would not see you to Heaven but that at the heart of everything, God was a merciful God and not a Machiavellian tyrant.
When I moved from Methodism a couple of years ago, I flirted with the idea of becoming Roman Catholic. I have always had doubts over the validity of the foundation of the Church of England but once I met with my then Vicar, I soon realised that I was an Anglican and given my upbringing, the fit was far more natural. A High Church man, I do see all seven sacraments as sacraments and even pray the rosary, but I also realise I struggle with the concept of total papal rule. I’m British after all and by nature, Independent-minded (that’s what I would like to think anyway).
Now, Britain held off the Lutheran revolution for 17 years but once Henry VIII realised he could not get an annulment sanctioned by the Pope over his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (formally his brother, Prince Arthur’s, bride) he knew he had to turn his back on Papal command and instead turn to this Protestation (or Protestant lifestyle as was the adopted term). Anglicanism in my eyes, and given His Majesty’s original intentions, is the mid way between Roman Catholicism and full blown Protestantism. Some say it is Catholicism without the Pope; others argue, the High end of the Protestant Church (albeit it does come in varying scales). I also think the Methodist which remains in me, also feels at home given some of the ‘still’ similarities between the two - now - denominations; I also have many friends in the church who adhere to a Baptist reading of the Book or even more Free Church still. That’s why I love being a Christian and why I feel our nation remains Protestant.
Some of our greatest achievements as a country have come off the back of Reformation. For example: architecture, literature and science has been defined by Reformation and some argue Brexit is a modern day Reformation - an analogy I can buy into as someone who voted Leave myself. They (the Church) has also been at the heartbeat of hundreds of thousands of communities up and down the width and breadth of the UK and for a long time, were the main providers of an education to children too poor to afford schooling in private methods.
Our whole identity is so engrained in the Reformation mindset that everything since 1534 makes logical sense to retain that as part of our identity. Her Majesty the Queen retains the role as Head of our Church; even going right down to oaths we make in Court & elsewhere.
Another example was Empire. The modern reading of that word alone sparks some into a frenzy but way-back-when we were all imperialists, the gospel of Christ spread throughout it. Empire has now been replaced by the Commonwealth, but at the very heart of that, still remains Jesus. In Parliament, amongst the benches of peers, our Clergy still give their input to the conversation of the day. Again, some people greatly dislike that approach but if we get rid of the church from our every day society, what is left? A nation without a heartbeat?
Sir Roger Scruton said; “Faith exalts the human heart, by removing it from the market-place, making it sacred and unexchangeable. Under the jurisdiction of religion our deeper feelings are sacralised, so as to become raw material for the ethical life: the life lived in judgement.”
So, as I go to Church this Reformation Weekend - like millions of other brothers and sisters in Christ across the entire Church family - I’ll sit and think fondly of Luther, King Henry VIII, Thomas Cramwell and all other pioneers who followed since. Our country owes a lot to you.