Sunday, 5 January 2020

Is Misinterpretation and Misapplication of the Bible by "unlearned pastors" the problem of Reformation?

Having commented and completely concurred to the core response of His Lordship, Rt. Revd. Stephen Fagbemi, the Bishop of Diocese of Owo Anglican Communion, to the argument of whether Christmas is biblical or not, I want to briefly highlight an area of his response I humbly and respectfully object: “This is the problem that the Reformation has brought to us. While it is a good thing, on one hand, it has put the Bible in the hands of many unlearned folks…”

In my opinion, it is a sweeping statement that partly places the burden of misinterpretation or misapplication of the Scriptures by "unlearned folks” and “uneducated pastors” on the shoulders of Reformation. Agreed that Reformation brought about the possibility of every Dick and Harry owning a Bible, however, educating every Dick and Harry on how to use the Bible is a different thing altogether and I don’t believe that Reformers would have waited until every Dick and Harry were educated before making the possibility of their owning a Bible a reality.

It used to be that the Bible, its reading, interpretation and application, were the exclusive duties of the ordained priests. They officially read the Bible only in the official languages and told the people what to do. However, looking back, we all agree that the church entered into a ‘dark age’ and needed Reformation. Just going through the 95 Thesis statements of Rev. Fr. Martin Luther and all the issues he raised afterwards, one can easily confirm that the invocation of saints, purgatory, indulgences, relics, Mary as the mother of God and Queen of heaven and the infallibility of the Pope etc were errors that plagued the church and nobody could challenge the established church until God raised men like Luther. We would not have been better off without the Reformation.

We celebrate William Tyndale today because of his efforts to translate the Bible into English Language. Tyndale was quoted to have said to a priest, “I defy the Pope and all his laws [lawes]. If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy who drives the plough to know more of the scriptures than you do”. His dream of translation came true, though he was later condemned and executed by the religio-political establishment of the day. Are we to go back to that time when the consequence of unlicensed possession of the Bible was death penalty? Are we not supposed to work harder on raising leaders and teaching our congregations to know how to read the Bible on their own, interpret properly and correctly apply it? When does the ignorance of a Christian leader or his misjudgment of the Scripture become the problem “Reformation has brought to us” because of the wonderful privilege of having the Bible on the tables of every family? and who are the us in the statement if we look at Reformation in its historical context?

The purpose of this write-up is just to point out that the logic of His Lordship’s statement when taken to its conclusive end raises many other questions. Seeing the shocking killing of James in Acts 12 for example, can we say “this is the problem that Jesus and the Gospel have brought upon us?” The premises cannot produce the inference made. I believe that Tyndale was right. I belief that it is good that the Bible be in the hands of everybody but they should be taught how to divide it. The ministry of translating and placing the Bible in the hands of all men is a noble task that we must all be committed to.

My humble submission is that Reformation was good, it placed the Bible in the hands of every person, but teaching people to read and observe, interpret and apply correctly is the responsibility of Christian teachers to do. Reformation as a historical event is separate from education. If we see failure anywhere, it is either because there was no teacher at all or the teacher taught wrongly or the person to be taught refused to receive training, then we will be dealing with a different problem, as in the case in question, but definitely not the problem of Reformation.