Of significant anniversaries
This is a time of anniversaries. In the year 1560 the Scottish Parliament passed the legislation which led to the establishment of a Reformed Church. For that reason 1560 is usually taken to be the date of the Reformation in
There is another anniversary to mark this year, and one which might be said to be of even greater significance, and not without lessons to teach us today. Deadlines for Parish magazines being what they are, I happen, coincidentally, to be writing this on 24th August. This is a hugely important date in history. It was on 24th August in the year 410AD that the great city of
The fall of
It is often said that the great
Following that collapse many pagans blamed Christians for not taking responsibility in public life by not worshipping the gods of
“Except for the fact that they did not serve God, but erred in worshipping the vanities that were the established religion of the time... they can be justly held up as models of all the other virtues - frugality, self-denial, chastity, sobriety, courageous in the face of death for their country’s sake, keeping their sworn word...” He then cogently argues that it was the loss of this moral cohesion which was the undoing of
Augustine’s approach was very simple - the moral history of a people is far more important than its military history, for it was the virtues of the Romans which made them great in the first place.
In fact, Augustine reflected insights which can be gleaned from the Bible. The book of Amos, perhaps the earliest and first of the ‘writing’ prophets, describes how the Word of God was brought to the people of God who had completely lost their way, spiritually and morally. As a people they were preoccupied with wealth and luxury and comfort, prepared to exploit the weak to consolidate their own greed. They were very religious, but their religion was a sham and their society was losing cohesion.
Do horses run on the rocky crags?
Does one plow there with oxen?
But you have turned justice into poison
and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness-
People marvelled and praised their king for securing victory against all the odds. Reverse national fortunes and the world sits up and takes notice. But Amos goes on to note that breaking moral laws draws no such attention, no-one thinks anything significant has happened at all:
“But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness.”
The tragic truth was that however successful Jeroboam had been on the battlefield, once he allowed justice to depart from the land his kingdom was doomed. It would collapse from within and be defeated from without.
As we celebrate the Reformation, and are reminded of the centrality of God’s Word, so we can also be warned of the calamitous consequences of drifting from God and His word.
A denomination can drift from God and His word, lose cohesion and simply collapse. History is replete with examples of such meteoric rise and demise. Fellowships which were once vibrant can cease to be, leaving behind nothing more than a deserted building and fading memories. Individuals, once keen to worship, hungry for God and insatiable in their appetite for His Word can, through time, grow cold and their lives merge into the world around them.
Each generation in the church and in fellowships must learn the centrality of God’s word for Christian living. This time of anniversaries is a good time to take stock, and heed the warnings from Scripture and from history.