It’s often hard to step back and see the wide horizon of the moment of time, in which we live. The breathing space that decades, and even centuries allow, is a luxury not usually available within a lifetime.
We are blessed on this Island, as perhaps more than anywhere, its history is immediate and impactful, so that we can, in a way, see the ramifications of our recent past, and the very real ripples it’s had.
However, those living in Europe 500 years ago probably didn’t quite realise the impact a new religious movement would have. Could they have foreseen the seismic shifts, not just of faith, but of politics, culture and future conflict? Of a reordering of institutions and ideals which were seen as fundamentals? Would Martin Luther have understood fully the ramifications of his words and actions? And as for the average man or woman, could they have grasped the importance of what was happening outside of their towns and villages? Never mind the rest of the world.
Yet, to a certain extent, every generation has its own Reformation. And we are living in particularly important times, which change like shifting sand, seemingly from day to day. Within only the past 10 years have we seen the largest economic disaster, perhaps ever. Witnessed the Arab spring, which gave way to power vacuums and the rise of Isis in the Middle East. We have seen the realignment of China as a global superpower. We watch from the side-lines as a sudden and dangerous swing to right wing nationalism rips through Europe and North America. We have seen the social norms of our society change at a lightning fast rate, so much so that ‘the new normal’ is never new for long. We have experienced the cyber revolution, the rise of digital, and are on the cusp on a whole new era of artificial intelligence.
And now we stand on the precipice of more upheaval as we hurtle headlong into Brexit, and the various machinations of that complicated process. Britain’s place in a continental and global landscape is about to change, and every part of life will be affected.
Our own Northern Ireland will be different too, before this process has finished. Whether still part of the UK, as a united Ireland, or as a constitutional halfway house – it remains to be seen. What is sure though is that we are about to go through yet another textbook chapter of our nation’s history. We are currently experiencing twinges of national growing pains. And doubtless we will continue to do so for a long time to come.
And yet, reassuringly and alarmingly, this is the way of things.
On our shelves at home are countless history books, which chart reformations, revolutions, constitutional changes, and national evolutions. The world turns, moves and changes. Humans are not static, nor are their thoughts or creations. So, when 500 years have passed and our descendants look back to this time I wonder how they will view our world and our actions?
With that in mind, let us live our lives as within the prism of history. I want to be able to say that I’ve been on the right side of it, that like our Reformation forebears I stood up for what I felt was right, courageous and noble.
We are the new Reformers. We are in the right place in the world at the right point of history. We were, like Scripture’s Esther, made for such a time as this. What a privilege and responsibility.
The world is ours to change and shape, whether politically, socially, or environmentally. This is our time and we must be this generation’s action and voice of Christ, otherwise, we will waste the opportunity of our lifetime.
Ruth Sanderson is a freelance journalist and Board Member of Contemporary Christianity.
Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.
A Response to The New Reformers
Ruth Sanderson rightly reminds us that we are living in times in which significant cultural, economic, political and social chnages are happening and that, like the people living in Europe 500 years ago when the Reformation began, we cannot predict the future impact such changes will have. Most of us living in the Island of Ireland would agree with her that we are previleged (blessed?) to witness the “ramifications” of our recent history and we can only guess and wait anxiously what the impact of Brexit will be.
One can also agree with her that “(t)he world turns, moves and changes. Humans are not static, nor are their thoughts or creations” , and that we have to “live within the prison of history”. But I feel a bit uneasy when she ends in, what can be described as, a political “clarion” rather than sober critical exhortations:
“We are the new Reformers. We are in the right place in the world at the right point of history. We were, like Scripture’s Esther, made for such a time as this. What a previlege and responsibility.
“The world is ours to change and shape, whether politically, socially, or environmentally. This is our time and we must be this generation’s action and voice of Christ…”
One immediate question: How are we to change and shape the world politically, socially, or environmentally? Take Brexit as an example. Christians like the rest of the population in the UK are divided between “remainers” and “Brexiters”. What should one in either camp do to shape our future? As a remainer should I campaign that as soft a Brexit as possible be the outcome? Or should I campaign for a second referendum?
We may be “in the right place in the world at the right point in history.” But we should also remember that history has a nasty habit of throwing surprises. Martin Luther did not want or expect the Church to divide ino thousands of warring sects and denominatios, let alone Christains to get involved in a long bloody religious war. Historical analysis has confirmed that the rampant individualism and materialsm that are endemic in the Western culture, and are spreading at an alarming rate in the rest of the world, are a logical outcome of the Reformation emphasis on the individual conscience and the individual’s right to decide matters of faith (See Charles Taylor’s “Sources of the Self” and “A Secular Age”)
I am glad that Reformation happened. But I am also aware that Reformation resulted in ceratin cultural, economic, political, and theological changes that are not in conformity with the gospel of Christ. If we are to be the “salt” and the “light” in the world, then we need to be aware such changes and devise means to prevent such changes in the future.