[House of Lords, 17 October 2017]
The Reformation, Freedom and a Reformation of the Reformation
John C. Rankin
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. And thank you, Lord Laird, for your gracious invitation to address your peers and this assembly.
Here are four salient topics concerning theology and the Reformation.
- The nature of creation, sin and redemption.
- The nature of freedom for the good versus freedom from
- The nature of the Reformation.
- The possibility of a Reformation of the Reformation.
The motto of the Reformation is ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda: “the church reformed, and always reforming.” The whole church.
It is rooted in history and meant to be an ongoing phenomenon, where sola scriptura, “Scripture alone,” is always sought. What is “Scripture alone?” This means that the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is trusted as the written Word of God, and all tradition, reason and experience is rooted accordingly.
- Creation, Sin and Redemption
In Genesis 1-2, all is good as given in creation by Yahweh Elohim. In Genesis 3, the broken trust of sin enters, and goodness is fractured. Also in Genesis 3, there is the promise of redemption, which literally means to buy back out of slavery. Another way of putting it is: freedom, slavery and deliverance.
- Freedom For versus Freedom From
In my book, Genesis and the Power of True Assumptions (Second Edition), I outline eleven positive assumptions in Genesis 1-2, which interpret all that follows. Freedom is central, and in Genesis 2 we have the only positive definition of human freedom in history. It is freedom for the good.
In vv. 16-17, we read:
“And Yahweh Elohim commanded the man, “ ‘In feasting you shall continually feast from any tree in the garden; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you must not eat, for in the day you eat of it, in dying you shall continually die.’ ”
In v. 16, the Hebrew language for the feast is akol tokel, two tenses of the verb “to eat,” meaning a feast that is completely full in the moment, and one which never ends. This is the biblical metaphor of freedom, an unlimited menu of good choices, completely proactive in nature. It is the freedom for the good, the creative and the beautiful.
Or to put it this way, the most important verb for human nature in the Bible, is akal, “to eat.” The very first words spoken to the very first man. To be free, we need to know how to feast. It is that simple. Any takers?
But all freedom has boundaries to protect it. The opposite of akol tokel, in v. 16, “in feasting you shall continually feast,” is in v. 17, moth tamuth, “in dying you shall continually die.”
- The choice is simple – an unending feast or an unending death.
The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” refers to the limitless knowledge only Yahweh Elohim can possess, and for man and woman to eat it is to be consumed by it, to forfeit freedom.
Yahweh Elohim, who is sovereign and free, does not impose freedom on man and woman. That would be an oxymoron. Yahweh Elohim is no slave-master; he is the eternal opposite of the finite demons, pagan deities and their subject kings. Thus, unless we are first free to say no to freedom, we are not free to say yes.
- This is the original level playing field, the covenant with Adam. Namely, we are given the freedom to choose between good, freedom and life on the one hand; or evil, slavery and death on the other. The level playing field of freedom is so powerful and self-confident, that it invites slave-masters to make their best arguments.
And it is secure as Yahweh Elohim gives a true definition of terms, and thus, the power to make an informed choice between opposites. Life is life and death is death. In contrast, when the original slave-master, the ancient serpent, tempts Eve in Genesis 3, he reverses reality and defines life as death and death as life. A false definition of terms, a misinformed choice.
- Thus, the level playing is rooted in an honest definition of terms that yields informed choice. Then there follows the freedom to pose questions of God, leaders and one another, all in a learning process. This is the freedom for.
With the advent of broken trust, a pursuit of freedom from broken trust takes over – seeking the good but without the necessary foundation – devolving instead into a reaction that begets endless reactions. The original freedom for the good is needed to liberate a mere freedom from evil.
- The Reformation
Into this chasm steps Martin Luther in 1517. He seeks to debate a definition of terms within the church, seeking freedom from itemized violations. It is first personal, but then quickly becomes political, as the religious wars ensue across Europe. Yet, in the midst of the carnage, the English, Scottish, Dutch and Swiss Reformations, along with the Puritans in the Colonies, end up advancing religious, political and economic liberty to the greatest extent since Genesis 2. But still short of the original freedom for.
- The Reformation of the Reformation
This covenant with Adam, of a sheer freedom for the good, is veiled in church history. To what extent can the original level playing field be redeemed?
This I attempt, at least partially, in two of my books, The Six Pillars of Biblical Power and The Six Pillars of Honest Politics. I define four pillars in Genesis 1-2, and two by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. If learned and lived, the church can qualitatively reform the Reformation.
- The power to give.
- The power to live in the light.
- The power of informed choice.
- The power to love hard questions.
- The power to love enemies.
- The power to forgive.
What does the level playing field for all ideas to be heard equally, and these six pillars, look like in an untrusting world? The freedom for the good is Light, in the face of which darkness eviscerates. I have done this for more than three decades, and I can tell stories, with good results, of the many times I have proactively sponsored a level playing field for enemies or skeptics of the Gospel. All but petty and grand tyrants welcome such a level playing field.
Let me conclude by proposing a freedom for in the face of a debate where a freedom from governs.
In face of Islamic immigration to the West, how deeply locked are we in a fearful freedom from? Namely, we labor on whom to exclude, not on whom to include. Here is a proposed Liberty Law for the House of Lords to consider, and to the extent we understand the original freedom for, it naturally separates those of good will from those of ill will.
All citizens, immigrants, visitors and other persons living in the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth, must affirm the following:
“I affirm that all persons living within the jurisdictions of the United Kingdom have full religious, political and economic liberty under the rule of law.
“I thus affirm that all such persons are free to change their religious, political and/or economic affiliations as they see fit, free from any forms of coercion.”
This proposal needs a thorough cross-examination, and I look forward to it.
Thank you so much.