Friday, 30 November 2012

Who are the Amish? part 1

Reformation in Europe

So far, we have mentioned some of the distinctives of the Amish and that they are descendants of the Anabaptists from the Reformation in Europe. But where did they come from and what are their beliefs? How have those beliefs determined the people they are today? And what is more, should more Christians be like them?

The history of the Amish hinges around several key figures, the first of whom is

Martin Luther
At the start of the sixteeth century, almost everyone in Europe was part of the Roman Catholic church. Christianity was the state religion in almost all European countries and the Roman Catholics were the dominant  church. The Reformation was a reaction to what were seen as excesses and errors in the Roman Catholic teachings and expression of the Christian faith. It is said to have started on October 31st 1517, when a monk, named Martin Luther, nailed a document known as the ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany.
Luther was born in 1483 and was destined to be a lawyer, by decree of his father. However, he was more interested in philosophy and theology and so gave up his studies in law in favour of theology, much to his father’s displeasure. His tutors taught him to question and apply reason to everything. He could not however be persuaded to question God; he believed that God could only be known through revelation and began to study books about the Scriptures.
In 1505, Luther was struck by lightning while out riding one day. He prayed to St Anna and vowed that if his life were spared, he would become a monk. Fifteen days later, he entered the friary of the Augustine monks at Erfurt. His father believed this to be a waste of Luther's education and talents. He devoted himself to what he believed to be his calling, yet he was often in despair, having a keen sense of his own sinfulness and unworthiness in the sight of God. He struggled to understand how anyone could be righteous in God’s sight. He was terrified of God’s wrath and justice, but knew nothing of His love and grace.
Sometime between 1512 and 1516, Luther at last come to an understanding of the Scriptures and was converted. He had been given a Bible by the Vicar-General, Staupitz, and was encouraged to study it carefully. But instead of finding peace, it only served to show him how sinful he was. One day, when he was preparing lectures on Romans and the Paslms, he came to the realisation that men are saved through faith and not through any effort of their own.
He was on the faculty of the University of Wittenberg, lecturing and preaching daily. Through the preparation of his messages on Romans and Psalms, the light dawned on Luther that men are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, apart from any human efforts or works. Reflecting on his time reading and praying, he said,
I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “The justice of God”… Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith
"I laboured diligently and anxiously as to how to understand Paul's words in Romans 1:17 where he says, ‘The righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel.' I saw the difference, that law is one thing and gospel another. I broke through, and as I had formerly hated the expression ‘the righteousness of God,' I now began to regard it as my dearest and most comforting word, so that this expression of Paul's became to me in very truth a gate to paradise."  []
In 1516, John Tetzel, a papal commissioner for indulgences travelled to Germany to sell indulgences. What are indulgences? The church of the time taught that faith alone was not sufficient for salvation; to be forgiven, one also had to do good works and works of charity. However, the benefits of such good works and charity could be bought by donating money to the church. In return, the church absolved the person of wrong doing. The phrase of the day ran ‘As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs’. Those whose loved ones had died could buy their absolution and gain them entry into heaven, thus shortening the time of punishment in purgatory.
The following year, Luther protested the sale of indulgences. He denied that indulgences were effective or that salvation could be bought. He wrote a treatise called the ‘Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences’. This document became known as the Ninety-Five Theses. In them, Luther called into question several of the corrupt practices of the church and challenged the church leaders and even the Pope himself. He maintained that forgiveness of sins could only be granted by God and that those who claimed that indulgences could absolve a person were in error.
On October 31st 1517, Luther reputedly nailed this document to the door of the church in Wittenberg. In January the following year, Luther translated his Theses from Latin into German. It was printed and distributed far and wide. Within a few weeks, it had spread throughout Germany; within two months, it had spread throughout Europe. Thus began the Reformation in Europe.

To be continued...

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