A Land without the Reformation

25 10 2009

So I’m back to the blog (again!), and this time I intend to follow through on my commitment to keep posting here. We’ve now arrived in Tacna and are setting up home, so hopefully there will be more time for thinking and writing here at Double Usefulness. Just to be safe I have a number of posts already lined up which ought to give me a head start! And what finer day to revive my blog than today – Reformation Day! Although the official date for celebrating this great movement of God is generally 31st October, most Protestant churches make the last Sunday in October their day for giving thanks to Him for His work and it’s lasting impact on our lives today.

In a sense posting about the Reformation from Peru is something of a strange experience. This is in some senses a land without the Reformation. True, evangelical faith is alive and well in this country, but the concept of the Reformation and its impact is an academic fact of history, rather than something which directly broke on the shores of Peru or shaped its history.

This came home to me most forcefully during our period in Language School. My tutor, Pedro, was also the Pastor of the church which we attended, and so we had much to talk about each day. Many of our conversations centred around the collision between our respective cultures and Christianity. While he was able to share with me some of the challenges of Christian work in Peru, I was also able to lament the tragic decline in moral standards in Western Europe generally, and the United Kingdom specifically. It soon became clear to me that the needs in Peru are more than equally matched in our home culture.

During one conversation we talked about the impact of the Gospel on society. I spokeof its positive influence in Northern Ireland as well as other parts of the UK, and how it had improved the educational, moral and social framework of our society in history. Pedro’s response, however, was loaded with impact. ‘Here’, he said, ‘we live in a land without the Reformation’.

The cultural implications of this statement rushed at me as Pedro explained what he meant. For Peru ‘Christianity’ came as an imported religion, brought by the conquistadores, and representing a military reality which had to be submitted to, with something approaching fatalism. While the work of God in the Reformation swept across Western Europe, the Spaniards swept through this land bringing an enforced form of belief which didn’t relate in any significant way to the realities of the lives which it affected. Here there was no call to rational, thought out, personal belief, but a simple subservience to a new culture and conqueror. The implications for this in Peruvian society, and in how it relates to the Gospel spread so faithfully by evangelical missionaries is enormous. Perhaps I may post on these issues at a later stage.

My preoccupation in this post, however, is with our home country. As I follow the media in the UK, it is clear that secularism is on the march and that Christianity is becoming increasingly marginalised and opposed. Tragically, the gifts of widespread education, literacy and social reform (affected in no small part by the Reformation) are turning on their progenitor and seeking the downfall of the very concepts which gave them birth. This is a tragedy beyond words, and bodes badly for the future of the United Kingdom in social, moral and spiritual terms.

But if the rational humanist agenda is guilty in a sense of patricide, seeking the destruction of structures and beliefs which have allowed thought, publication and understanding, then perhaps as Reformed Christians we are guilty of woeful neglect. How many today truly celebrate God’s hand at work in the Reformation? How many churches have gladly brought praise to God in their services today? No doubt many, but I wonder as individuals are we fully or even partially aware of the wonderful history and heritage we have as Reformed Protestants? No doubt the empty-headed, spiritually evacuated ‘Protestantism’ of Northern Ireland with its disingenous bigot-laden hatred has done much to ward off the thoughts, prayers and gratitude of my generation for their heritage. But it need not be this way. We have much to be thankful for, much to go to God about, much to rejoice in and celebrate.

But in essence we have much to pray for as well. Will our children or their children eventually say as they look across the barren landscape of a fully pagan/atheistic/Islamic (?) Britain ‘We are a land without the Reformation’? God forbid. How we need His Spirit to move in our churches and among individuals to praise Him for all that is past and to implore Him for more to come.