Whether one is a Christian in the second century or in the 21st century, we all have spiritual heroes whom we admire and desire to imitate. There are those whom we all share: Jesus (of course), the Apostle Paul, Daniel, and other biblical heroes. Then, there are the spiritual giants unique to the second century: Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, who fought the lions for the sake of Christ; Justin, the teacher, who lost his head for Christ, and 86 year old Polycarp – disciple of John and Bishop of Smyrna, who would ultimately be burnt for the Gospel’s sake. What about the 21st century Church? For some of us, our hero is George Mueller who, by his continual prayers, managed to establish and provide for several orphanages in 19th century Bristol, England. For others, it is Hudson Taylor, one of the earliest missionaries in China and founder of the Overseas Missions Fellowship (OMF). For yet others, it is John Sung the evangelist who spread the flames of revival across Asia in the 1930s.
This Sunday, we celebrate the legacy of yet another group of spiritual heroes: the Reformers of the sixteen century Reformation. Some of them are less familiar to us, such as Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) and Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560). Two names, however, often dominate the story of the Reformation: Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564). Luther, as many of us know, was the one who complained about the Medieval practice of indulgences on 31st October 1517 and thereby catalysed the Reformation. Calvin, the second generation Swiss Reformer, would go on to establish a system of theological teachings and church governance that many Protestants are greatly indebted to. But who are these Reformers? What does it mean to remember their contributions in the first place?
As a start, I think we should admit honestly that much of what know about the Reformation is more from hear-say (such as popular stories about the Reformers), than from the Reformers themselves. Only some have read Luther’s short 95 Theses – the catalyst for the movement. Fewer have worked through Calvin’s monumental “Institutes of Christian Religion,” even though it is the bedrock of the Reformed faith. Fewer still have even heard of their famous works, such as Luther’s “Treatise on Good Works,” or Calvin’s Biblical Commentaries. This being the case, what exactly are we commemorating when we celebrate Reformation Sunday? What can we do to make the exercise more meaningful this year?
I have two suggestions. First, celebrating the Reformers’ legacy calls for our acquaintance with the writings and lives of Reformers, that is, through reading their own writings rather than relying on popular hearsay. This spirit of ad fontes, or learning from the original sources, is certainly the conviction that motivated the Reformers’ reforming work and, a worthy thing to imitate. What we will encounter then is a strange and yet familiar world. Yes, the Reformers do share with us the major tenets of our faith. What we will also discover, however, is the surprising diversity among the Reformers and how they even occasionally differ from us. This is certainly the case for how they understood the Lord’s Supper.
As to the second suggestion, it is to imitate the way the Reformers read their bibles. Yes, they believed with us that Sola Scriptura is an apt declaration of the Scriptures’ ultimate authority over Christian faith and conduct. Yet, they would also understand Sola Scriptura as the reading of the Bible in dialogue with the earlier Christian traditions, such as the writings of the Medieval Christians and early Church fathers (2nd to 5th centuries). Augustine, John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nazianzus – these are names of church fathers foreign to many of us, but immensely familiar to Calvin, Luther and the other Reformers. Why? Because they drank deeply from their writings. For this reason then, we cannot count ourselves as heirs to the Reformers unless we take seriously and imitate their respect and reading of these earlier traditions.
So, what do all these mean for us then? Well, between now and the next Reformation Sunday in October 2012, why not acquaint ourselves with the Reformers by reading a book or two about their stories? A good book to start with is “The Unquenchable Flame: Introducing the Reformation” by Michael Reeves. To this we may add some of the Reformers’ writings, such as Luther’s “Treatise on Good Works” or excerpts from Calvin’s “Institutes of Christian Religion.” Both are available on-line from www.ccel.org. For the more adventurous, why not read up about the Church Fathers through Christopher Hall’s “Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers”? It is my prayer that as we enter the world of the Reformers and their heroes, we may not only hear from them afresh, but also be inspired by their love and vision of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dr Lai Pak Wah
Biblical Graduate School of Theology
ECF 502 – Children’s Spirituality and Ministry Formation by Dr Ng Peh Cheng
An Invitation to Leaders and Teachers of Children’s Ministry in the Church
Ms Yeo Hwee Lin will be giving a special talk on “INTRODUCTION TO CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS,” 1ST November from 7.30 to 9.45pm. It will be held at St John’s St Margaret’s Anglican Church (B4-04Seminar room), 30 Dover Ave.
“This session will give an overview of common types of special needs among children. Specifically, there will be an introduction to Intellectual disability and Downs’ Syndrome, Learning Disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Broad strategies for church classroom teaching will be discussed. “
Hwee Lin received her Masters In Education (Special Education) from Vanderbilt University, USA. She specializes in Learning Disabilities. Upon graduation, she joined the Ministry of Education, Special Education Unit for 3 years, before she joined the team at the Rainbow Centre Training & Consultancy. Her experience includes early intervention with children of different special needs (Down Syndrome, Developmental Delay, Autism & Aspergers Syndrome), and work with youths and young adults with multiple disabilities.
Hwee Lin is currently a stay-home mum with her nearly four-year-old daughter. On the side, she has the joy of tutoring two teenagers with disabilities in Secondary Mathematics and English. She is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.
Please send an email to Dr Ng: firstname.lastname@example.org or contact her at 62276815 x 202 if you are interested to attend the talk, no later than 31st October.