Did you know that the year 2017 has at least 6 major anniversaries? Two are Christian and the other four involve the Jews and Israel. What are they and what do they mean? Here we go …
500 Years Ago - The Protestant Reformation 31 October 1517
Yes, the Reformation will be half a millennium old as of 31 October 2017. The Reformation was when a group of reformers broke from the Pope, the Vatican, and Roman Catholicism. It cut across centuries of tradition and papal control in order to return the church to a more Biblical foundation.
The date October 31st was chosen as ‘Reformation Day’ because it was when Martin Luther (1483-1546) nailed his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. It was a big gamble - his life was at stake - but Luther survived and succeeded.
Luther was not the only reformer. John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Knox also played a major role in the break from Rome. The reformers objected to the following Catholic doctrines:
1. Sale of indulgences: A payment of money made to the church in order to liberate a loved one stuck in purgatory, an unbiblical halfway house between heaven and hell.
2. Veneration of Mary and the saints: These all became objects of prayer, rather than in the Personhood and Name of Jesus;
3. Vicar of Christ: The pope became Christ’s literal representative on earth, something that was not sanctioned in Scripture;
4. Salvation: This could only be found in the church of Rome, not the gospel, and no where else;
5. Transubstantiation: The doctrine that the ‘bread’ and ‘cup’ in holy communion are literally the body and blood of Christ.
The Gutenberg printing press helped to distribute God’s Word and other Christian literature in the language of the people, waking them up to Rome’s failings and excesses. As a result of their efforts, Northern Europe became Protestant, the southern part remained Catholic, and the centre of the continent was the buffer zone and battle ground between the two groups. The Thirty Year’s War of 1618-1648 was the devastating result of this church schism.
Some of the key highlights of the Protestant Reformation was sola scriptura and sola fide, meaning that Scripture was recognised as the highest authority for Christian faith and practice. ‘Only faith’ is how we obtain salvation in Christ, not by religious works or the intervention of saintly people. ‘Preaching the Word’ became the centrepiece of the Protestant service. The Reformation led the way to later movements like the rise of evangelicalism and Pentecostalism.
120 Years Ago - The First Zionist Congress 29-31 August 1897
It'd is hard to exaggerate the importance of this convocation in the birth of modern Israel. It was convened by a man named Theodor Herzl, once a thoroughly assimilated European Jew. Herzl was shocked out of his complacency when he experienced first-hand bald-faced virulent anti-Semitism in republican France during the 1895 trial of Alfred Dreyfus. He realised that the Jewish people have a serious problem: they are always a minority wherever they live and subject to arbitrary and regular persecution by the Gentile majority. To Herzl, they only solution to the ‘Jewish Question’ was a Jewish state in Palestine., where they can be a majority, rule their own affairs, and defend themselves like any other nation. Herzl wrote a book in 1896 called The Jewish State, which summarised his philosophy, which became known to the world as Zionism.
There was much Jewish opposition to Zionism, so the congress had to move from Munich to the Municipal Casino in Basel, Switzerland. In a mere 3 days, the congress formed what eventually would be known as the World Zionist Organisation, adopted a national anthem called Hatikvah (‘The Hope,’ which today is Israel’s National Anthem), and wrote the Basel Declaration. The latter stated that the goal of Zionism was to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine and facilitate it through the support of farmers and tradesman.
Stunningly, Herzl wrote in his diary that at Basel, he founded the Jewish state. Within 5 to 50 years, the whole world would see it.
Next time, we will learn about the other 4 anniversaries. To be continued ….