Today we mark the day 500 years ago when Luther supposedly nailed provocative statements to a church door in Wittenberg. There are many who have written weightier reflections on this but I have been struck by the significance of this anniversary coinciding with a debate about the presenters of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The Today Programme’ reflecting on ‘Thought For Today’
What motivated Luther 500 years ago was his personal encounter with God’s grace and the realisation that he was loved and that did not need any intermediaries to have a relationship with God.
Luther’s actions enabled others to encounter the God he had come to know. This was accelerated though the printing press and giving them access to the bible and scripture in straightforward hymns. Luther challenged the powerful of the day and whether of faith or no faith there are few who today who would not recognize his impact from mass literacy to the emergency of the modern state.
The Reformation was not a rejection of very thing that went before but rather a discussion within in it – it was about listening to the signs of the times, responding a fresh to a new generation, challenging those that through power controlled access to God and using ‘things’ of the time to help others to find the grace of God.
This week also saw the Radio 4 programme ‘Thought for Today’ coming under attack by the presenters of ‘The Today’ Programme writing in the Radio Times. They believed that it was boring and seemed inappropriate. Many come to its defense. The Bishop of Leeds Nick Baines in his blog wrote ‘It is not about presenting religious views or views about religion. It is all about looking at the world through a religious lens, opening up perspectives that subvert the unconscious (or conscious) prejudices about why the world is the way it is – shining a different light on world events’
I wonder before coming to the defense of the programme we should ask ourselves some hard questions as Christian leaders. Even if 85% of the world’s population hold an individual, social/communal religious view as suggested by Nick Baines we have no right to assume a programme like ‘Though for the day’ will exist. How should we read the signs of the times? How should we look at faith through a world lens?
What Luther knew was that we need to proclaim a fresh in each generation the gospel – the printing press gave access to faith to a wider group of people than ever before and not just the powerful. The ‘Today Programme’ attracts a specific group of people what is the equivalent of the printing press for us? Maybe not Radio 4?
The Reformation gave us the idea of progress: the hope that the future might be better than the past, fundamentally different to it. (The Guardian view on Reformation: justification through faith). For me that is at the heart of the Christian faith. The Reformation was for the early part violent I would hope that as we move forward it would be in a way which was more filled with the love and reconciliation I have come to know in Christ.
How should we read the signs of the times and proclaim afresh in this generation the good news?