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25 August 2017

Sola fides iustificat – Only trust makes things right

Sola fides iustificat – Only trust makes things right

In each of the last three years, in the early hours of a Friday morning, I have found myself watching the TV as the result of an election becomes apparent. As an Alliance, we work hard to be impartial between political parties, and likewise in the EU referendum we did not back one side.

But following the vote, my mind turns to what the response of evangelical Christians might be to this collective decision that the country has taken. While we recognise that some may be elated and others disappointed, our position is to look to the future and ask how we should respond in a changing, or unchanged, context.

Often a cornerstone of our response to any significant news is to remember that we trust in a God who created the universe and holds the world in His hands. While we may be troubled by change, He is not fazed. When it may seem like the world is moving too fast, we can hold fast to the knowledge that God is sovereign. This is both absolutely true and also runs the risk of sounding trite and like a cop-out.

After a surprise general election campaign, and for most a surprising outcome, the Conservative party formed a government but without the majority they had before the vote was called, and further away from the commanding lead they had hoped for. Governing therefore required a deal with the DUP, and this was only agreed after the Queen’s Speech in which many of the party’s manifesto pledges were abandoned for a slimmed down programme focused on the laws needed to leave the EU.

In this year, 500 years on from Luther’s publication of his 95 Theses sparking the Reformation across Europe, the centrality of God’s sovereignty is rightly being remembered. We trust in God and not in our own actions.

Amid the uncertainty in politics, in the wake of terrorist attacks, this is a welcome reassurance. But there is a danger that we step away from a world with difficulties and complexities and say that it’s for God to sort out and not us. We forget another key lesson of the Reformation, that all believers are members of a royal priesthood. We are all created in God’s image and commissioned to do God’s work in the world he made.

This means that we step up to engage in society rather than walking away. God is in charge, but he chooses to use us to do His work in this world. It requires that in each generation, in each new political context we ask fresh questions of what our beliefs mean, and how they answer the questions people across society are asking.

After Luther came Calvin who was committed to not only reforming the Church and preaching the gospel in Geneva, but also improving the city, from founding the university to developing a sewage system. The spirituality of Christian belief should never be disconnected from the society we live in. Belief is personal, but it is never private. It is for the good of all of society.

In times of political uncertainty and change we remember that God is sovereign, and we step up to play our part. But we also have our eyes wide open that opposition is never likely to be far away. There is always a task to ensure that we are clear in what we are saying, and considerate in how we communicate it, but opposition is not just down to misunderstanding, or poor communication. There are fundamentally differing worldviews in society and Christianity is no longer the dominant narrative and for Christians seeking to hold to the truth of the Bible and articulate values based on this in public life, opposition is to be expected.

As Christians step up to engage in public life, especially in politics, there is an even greater need to trust and be confident in what the Bible teaches, and in what they believe. We need to not be thrown when opposition arrives. Our trust in what we believe, in turn promotes a more trusting, more truthful society as a whole.

Following the Grenfell Tower fire Graham Tomlin, Bishop of Kensington, wrote that we need a restoration of trust. He concluded by saying: “One of Martin Luther’s catchphrases was sola fides iustificat, which can be translated as ‘only trust makes things right’. Societies thrive with trust: they are destroyed by mistrust.”

We need to trust in God who is sovereign above all things. We need to be people of trust as we step up and lead in a society that needs people with integrity to speak truth. And we place our trust in God and not in the approval of society when our beliefs and actions are challenged. 

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