The Museum of Orange Heritage has chosen to release its 2017 exhibition Staunch & True, Celebrating the Reformation, to mark International Museums Day, writes Dr Jonathan Mattison.
The Reformation was not just a single event in time, but a series of events that built upon each other creating an unheralded drive for liberty of conscience and individual freedom. As the 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge stated, “Liberty is not collective, it is personal. All liberty is individual liberty.”
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion can only be guaranteed through Liberty. The Reformation laid the foundation stones for future liberty by unshackling the individual. The most public manifestation of this was to give people access to the Bible in their own language. This simple act transformed society and allowed advances in society, education, economy, but most importantly, the individuals relationship with God. Providing the Bible in the language of each country created a level of inclusion and individual awakening, unrivalled in modern history.
Today the Museum of Orange Heritage has chosen this seminal development as one of the frameworks that allowed for the development of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. We also highlight a champion of this endeavour – William Tyndale.
The English Bible
William Tyndale was born in Gloucestershire, England, c 1494. He became one of Britain’s most significant figures of the Reformation, translating the Bible into English. He believed that giving the individual access to the Bible, in their own language, was one of the greatest ways to set them free.
In common with many of the Reformers, Tyndale was an accomplished academic, having obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1512. During his studies for a Master’s he lamented the lack of access to the Bible; “They have ordained that no man shall look on the Scripture, until he be noselled in heathen learning eight of nine years and armed with false principles, with which he is clean shut out of the understanding of Scripture.” Nevertheless, he continued his studies and became a gifted linguist.
Tyndale’s independence of mind often brought him into conflict with others. During one particular argument, an opponent stated: “We had better be without God’s law than the Pope’s” to which Tyndale issued a stinging rebuke, “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the Plow to know more of the Scripture than thou dost!”
In 1524 he left London and enrolled in the University of Wittenberg to continue his translation work on the Bible. A full New Testament translation was produced in 1526 and smuggled into England. This act, along with Tyndale’s continued opposition to ‘praying to the saints’; and support for the Justification through Faith Alone, resulted in his condemnation by Cardinal Wolsey.
In 1530 Tyndale quarrelled with Henry VIII over the latter’s annulled marriage to Catherine of Aragon. This clash sealed his fate and he was convicted of heresy in 1536. Tyndale was strangled at the stake after which his body was burned.
Sola Fide…By Faith Alone
This is the great Reformed doctrine that Justification (having our sins forgiven) is received by Faith Alone. We can do nothing to justify ourselves in the sight of God. Our works are of no use (Romans 5:1). The true believer will outwardly show their justification by their behaviour. The book of James in the New Testament illustrates this clearly.
Sola Gratia…By Grace Alone
Grace is God’s unmerited and undeserved favour shown towards sinful people. This is the centrepiece of God’s salvation. “For by Grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God… (Ephesians 2:8).
Sola Scriptura…Scripture Alone
For many years people did not have a Bible, and when read, it was in a language they did not understand (Latin). The Reformation brought Scripture to the people. At Worms, Luther summed up the high view Protestants have for Scripture: “Unless I am convinced by testimonies of Scripture or by clear arguments that I am in error…I cannot withdraw, for I am subject to the Scripture I have quoted; my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”
Soli Deo Gloria…To the Glory of God Alone
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism). “All glory is due to God as God.” The Reformers realised that our lives should be lived solely to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Solo Christo…In Christ Alone
The Reformers called the church back to the centrality of Christ. This doctrine reaffirms Christ’s essential role in salvation. “Christ stepped in, took the punishment upon himself and bore the punishment due to sinners. With his own blood he expiated the sin which made us enemies of God, and thereby satisfied him. We look to Christ alone for divine favour and fatherly love” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion).
The Reformation was thus a key moment in liberty and inclusion; giving everyone the freedom, and also the means, to fully enter a personal relationship with God.