Hello from St. Andrews, Scotland.
This ancient Scottish city is best known as the birthplace of golf. The game had its origins here in the 15th century, and St. Andrews Royal and Ancient Golf Club remains the definitive rules-making body of golf to this day.
Over the centuries, these ancient greens have witnessed many intense sporting dramas.
But St. Andrews has also been at the center of a different kind of conflict – one that has been far from sporting. I am talking about the often bloody struggle between the major factions of Christianity.
St. Andrews was one of the hubs of the Protestant Reformation. Here John Knox would preach, often haranguing the young Mary, Queen of Scots, for not rejecting Catholicism and allegiance to the Pope, in favor of the new reformed Christianity as expounded by John Calvin.
The struggle between Catholics and Protestants was intense, as one side and then the other gained temporary advantage – and the losers often paying with their lives. The Martyr’s memorial that overlooks the famous golf course is a grim reminder that Christians have often failed to reflect the life of their Savior in their passionate defense of their beliefs.
Today, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy for us to condemn the bloodshed and cruelty spawned by the conflicting ideas surrounding the Reformation. Throughout Europe, religious wars raged in the name of Christ for well over a hundred years, with atrocity heaped upon atrocity.
No wonder some are turned off by the very idea of Christianity. How can people claim to walk in Christian love and yet kill other believers just because they have a different doctrinal viewpoint?
One thing we know is that God is more merciful than any of us could ever be. The Bible tells us that his throne of judgment is a throne of grace for those who need forgiveness. Those who tortured and executed fellow believers over doctrine during the Reformation do need forgiveness.
Those who do similar things today, though perhaps more subtly and less violently, need forgiveness also. The truth is, we all – every one of us – needs forgiveness.
The good news is that we have already been forgiven. That’s the Christian message. Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins. Not for the possibility of the forgiveness of sins. His atoning work is effective for all humanity, and that work is already finished. What God is asking us to do is NOT to earn his forgiveness, but simply to accept the forgiveness he’s already given us.
Salvation depends from start to finish on him, not on us. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9,
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Sometimes I like to think that if I had lived at the time of Knox or Luther or Calvin, I would have made a difference. Maybe I could have stopped the madness. Maybe I could have stood up for tolerance and been listened to. Of course, it’s pretty unlikely, isn’t it? If I had tried to do that, I probably would have been one of the first to go to the purifying flames. More likely, I would have been quiet and not said a word in order to avoid the inquisitors.
Or, as horrible as it is to think, maybe I too would have been caught up in the ugly fever of trying to purify the land of supposed heretics.
In the end, it’s only God who makes a difference. He’s the great Judge of all, who for the sake of Jesus has taken away our sins and declared us righteous and forgiven. But he didn’t leave it there – he also sent the Holy Spirit to stand with us, encourage us, and transform us into the image of Christ – so that we might, at long last, come to truly love one another.
I’m Joseph Tkach in St. Andrews, Scotland, speaking of LIFE.