SHOULD THE BIBLE STILL BE THE FINAL AUTHORITY FOR MATTERS OF LIFE AND FAITH IN TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY EUROPE? Or is that famous cry of the Reformation – Sola Scriptura – simply tired, old-fashioned, irrelevant and obsolete? Do we in fact need a fresh Reformation today, or would that simply be turning back the clock? And what difference did the Reformation make, anyway?
These questions focused my thoughts late last week as I set out from Iasi on Romania’s eastern border, on a 26-hour trip westwards towards Bern in Switzerland. After a week’s teaching in a DTS, and a two-day visit to the former Soviet-Union republic of Moldova, I was now en route to participate in the 500-year anniversary of a Swiss Reformed Church built in 1506.
What exactly qualified a New Zealand-born Dutchman with a Baptist background to address these questions before such a congregation? I wondered. To be honest, I had accepted the engagement under protest and later tried in vain to get released when the travel arrangements were proving to be difficult.
So here I was in a stifling-hot sleeping cabin shared with four strangers in a communist-era Romanian train rumbling through the snowy landscape towards Cluj-Napoca. There a pre-dawn flight in a propellor-driven plane took me to Budapest and my onward flight to Stuttgart in a modern Airbus. Finally the Alpine express, a clear technological advance on my night train, sped me towards Zurich and my last rail connection to Bern.
It began to dawn on me that this steady improvement in transportation the further west I travelled towards the heart of the Reformation related directly to the questions I was asked to answer. I recalled the list drawn up by Transparency International rating the world’s countries in ascending order of corruption. Consistently, countries most influenced directly or indirectly by the Reformation scored least-corrupt. (See www.transparency.org)
Images of Moldova remained vivid in my mind from earlier in the week. Number 88 on the Transparency list (Romania 85, Germany 16 and Switzerland 7), Moldova is a newly-independent nation with centuries-old Orthodoxy emerging after the long, cold night of communism. Stark poverty was evident in the north despite rich arable land. Cart and horse was common transportation even in last week’s minus 15 degree weather. Over one-half of the nation’s men had left their wives and families to work in Moscow! What values, what transformation of thinking would it take to reform Moldova and produce honest government, a robust economy, productive agriculture and healthy family life?
The truth is that the Reformation transformed nations from similar poverty and corruption by recovering God’s instructions for relationships at all levels: family, community, urban and national. These laid foundations for nationhood, government, law, justice and human dignity, The protestant work ethic, by which all was done to God’s glory, the associated notion of vocation or personal calling, the dignity of labour, the objective basis for scientific enquiry into God’s book of his works (creation), and the emergence of mediating structures for school, business, universities and clubs, all contributed towards the emergence of modern western society.
Even today after decades of secularism, much of Europe continues to enjoy the fruit of the fruit of the fruit of the Reformation. And yet without a revival of Reformation values, European society will increasingly wither as a cut-flower civilisation.
Three weeks ago in Cambridge, I joined eighty academics, and church and organizational leaders, at the Jubilee Centre Winter School united in the conviction that the Bible, and only the Bible, can give us the framework for the social reform Europe needs at the start of the twenty-first century.
You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
Till next week,