letters to surfers

Q How dare you go against the great doctrines of the Reformation?

by Robert Brow   July 1999  (web site - www.brow.on.ca)

One of the principles of the Reformation was that accepted tradition must be constantly reformed in the light of further study of the Bible. The Reformation began when Martin Luther rejected the current tradition of people paying for indulgences to forgive their own or other people's sins.

Another tradition had been that the Bible could only be read in Latin, and church services must be in that language. Martin Luther pointed out that no such thing was written in the Word of God, and everyone should be free to read the Scriptures in their own language. For that purpose he translated the whole Bible into his own German language.

When the Bible was read carefully another great discovery of the Reformation was that people could be put right with God by faith alone, not by the sacraments of the mediaeval church.

None of those great doctrines is questioned on this web site. What is questioned is whether the reformers were right to picture the atonement (our at-one-ment with God) as a legal substitution in a Roman law court. The model offered here views the death of Christ as a sacrifice instead of us (and therefore a substitution) but the explanatory model is in a family setting rather than a law court. The biblical arguments for this are given in several articles, and also the Commentary on Romans.

Whether one model or the other is what the writers of the Bible had in mind has to be settled by careful study of the Scriptures, beginning with what Jesus himself said in the Gospels. Traditional explanations, even those of the great reformers, are not infallible. They may need correcting. Jesus himself reproved the Pharisees for putting their traditions before the Bible. "For the sake of your tradition you make void the Word of God" (Matthew 15:6).

As G.K.Chesterton once said "Tradition means giving votes to our ancestors.

It is the democracy of the dead." The Holy Spirit is continually teaching the meaning of the Bible to the living in each new generation. As Paul encouraged us, "Be continually transformed by the renewing of your minds" (Romans 12:2). A closed mind is unable to consider anything new. The renewing of our mind means that the models we have received from previous tradition may need changing.

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