Originally published on the Forge Scotland blog.
Exactly a year ago, I spent a little time reflecting on some modern-day conditions within the church that were similar to those that Martin Luther sought to address with his 95 theses1. This year, to commemorate Reformation Day, I thought it would be interesting to honour John Knox, father of the the Scottish church and presbyterianism, whose birth was 500 years ago this year.
As I did a little research2, what struck me most about Knox (although it is a trait that was found in all the Reformers) was his willingness to engage the politics of the state with the pulpit. In fact, whatever your views on the level of separation between church and state, you will find a history of real engagement and influence from within the church.
Fast-forward to our post-modern, post-Christendom church, and we have become increasingly timid about any sort of preaching that engages with what might be regarded as “political” issues. And from the other side, there are ever more attempts from the state to control the church, even amongst the separation. In the last month, over the Pond in Texas, the City of Houston subpoenaed a number of churches to provide their sermons so that they could be “vetted”3.
It would be easy to quote John Knox here. He advised “You cannot antagonise and influence at the same time,” and these are wise words in difficult times. But, as with all quotes out-with their original context, it would be good to read it through the lens of the mans life. Knox was not a man to sit quietly by and let the world take it’s course. He had massive influence in government, and consulted with royalty. But he never held back from preaching truth from his pulpit, even to great personal danger. If the choice in front of him was to either antagonise or stay silent, I’m pretty sure he would’ve spoken out.
The overarching influence of the church on the state may (rightly or wrongly) be waning, but that doesn’t mean that we should weaken our message, or shy from speaking the truth. We are still a voice in the wilderness, preparing a way for the Lord”
Side note: There is a crowdfunding campaign going on right now to produce a film about the life of John Knox. See here for details.