On my day-off yesterday, I watched a great movie called ‘Luther’. It’s about the German priest who in the 16th Century turned the institutional church – and in the process the whole of Europe – upside down. He had lived a life full of guilt as he tried to appease God, who he secretly thought of as angry, judgmental and unfair.
Then he made an amazing discovery as he read the bible; that the God of the bible is gracious and loving. That He wants a direct relationship with us, not mediated by priests or institutions. And that we cannot buy or qualify for our salvation but it is freely given as we come in submission to Him. Luther’s discovery began what has been referred to as ‘the Reformation’. And put him in direct collision with the church, which had thrived on the business of being a mediator of God’s mysteries to the people and had ended up instead being a barrier to their faith.
One of the important things Luther did was to translate the bible into German so that the ordinary person could read God’s word for themselves. He also put biblical words to popular bar-tunes so people could sing them in church. You see in those days, the bible and church were in Latin which only the priests knew, and people in a sense paid up so the priests could appease the mysterious God for them. Reading God’s word for themselves freed people to have direct access to God! The results rippled through the church and went out beyond to change all of society. Politics, business, education, and the arts would never be the same. Concepts like democracy and scientific enquiry can be traced back to what Luther had discovered. A generation was freed of the shackles of superstition and oppression as they began to understand God’s word in their language!
It strikes me that Luther’s task is not over. Today, most in our generation still think of God as a mysterious being way out there. Most have no idea that a personal God created them in love to accomplish a fulfilling and life-giving purpose. Church language is just not communicating anymore. Partly because of our fear of being ‘infected’ by the culture, we have invented our own insider language, complete with symbols, music and words that are designed to ensure we remain separate. And so we fill out our churches on Sunday morning but our continent continues to rot in corruption, negative ethnicity, illiteracy, drought and disease.
Maybe it’s time for another reformation. We as the church (church is you and me, not a building) need to stop talking our insider language and understand and engage with and in the language, music and culture of the un-churched person.
Or what do you think?