Reading: A Reformation Legacy Once Denied Blacks
When many of us were in our youth, there was a popular national literacy movement called Reading is Fundamental (RIF). It was a drive to promote reading and literacy among the children of our nation that they may be able to take full advantage of the educational opportunities afforded to them. Many of us were beneficiaries of RIF, and are thankful for it.
However, long before the literacy movement of the 60s and 70s there was a literacy movement in the 1500s. It was called the Reformation. We tend to only think of the Reformation as a theological movement. It was that, but it was also much more. The Reformation was also a literacy movement. As one scholar has said, “The Reformation was a triumph in literacy…” Karl Holl, a German theologian and historian wrote concerning the literacy emphasis of the Reformation, “Everyone was to be put into a situation where at the very least he could read the Bible, and without help take instruction from it.” In other words, reading was fundamental to the Reformation.
One of the more important ongoing legacies of the Reformation is reading. Consequently, of all people Protestant Christians should be readers. This is particularly true for black Christians. With our history marred by the denial of educational opportunities, black Christians should embrace, as well as any, the legacy of reading left to us by the Reformation. The Reformation encourages us to be avid readers. Here are a few important reasons to consider:
- The Bible is a Book to be Read. The fact that the principle revelation of God to his people is the written word should not be lost to us. The will of God is first and foremost a written revelation and if we are going to faithfully seek and understand his will we are going to have to be readers of God’s word. Luther’s translation of the Bible into the language of the people was key in making sure the Reformation would continue past his generation.
- Reading Connects us to the Past. It heightens our communion of the saints. If our faith is a mile wide and an inch deep, it is largely due to our inadequate understanding of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Yet, if we would become readers of the Christian classics and embrace the reflections of those who walked with God in times past, it would enhance our present sojourn because we would be more aware that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.
- Reading Positions us for the Future. One of the classic Latin phrases coming out the reformation was ecclesia reformata semper reformanda meaning the church reformed and always reforming. It means we are always seeking to pass along to the next generation a faith better confessed and lived out according to the Word of God. Reading helps to ensure that the faith we received is the faith we pass along. Reading helps us to better contextualize that faith without sacrificing the content of that faith. Reading helps to insure that we don’t presume to communicate a better Christ; rather we seek to communicate Christ better.
As we once again remember the impact the Reformation had upon the church and the world, let us also reflect upon the literacy legacy. And let us take up the Bible and a good book and read in honor of those who sacrificed so much for us to be able to do so.