The Reformation of the Church (and therefore of society in general) began with Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-five Theses to a church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. At this point in the deformation and life of the ‘Deformed’ Church the Scriptures had been relegated to a position far beneath the agenda-driven opinions of fallen men. The wheels of the Church’s wagon of redemption had become mired in the manure that had issued from the mouths of the horses that were supposed to be leading it! But after Luther put his shoulder to the wheel and John Calvin had supplied a fresh team, the ‘Good News wagon’ of God began once again to roll forward, spreading the written revelation of God and redemption throughout the nations along with its proclamation.
By 1647 there had been many good theologically ‘Reformed’ documents drawn up by gatherings of Godly men for the purpose of clearly encapsulating what the newly ‘Reformed’ Church believed the Scriptures to be teaching. To be sure these tended to be written in order to counter false theological teachings that had entered the Church through men imbibing false or clearly unscriptural musings of fallen men. Thus, from the Reformation period onward, men had in their hands once again that which the ‘Deformed’ Church had forbidden them. They had the very touchstone of reality in their hands, the written revelation of God – in their own language!
Not only did the Reformation put the Scriptures into the hands of the common people, but it also brought with it the Scripture’s own method of interpretation. No longer was a corrupt church full of corrupt leaders the authority for interpreting Scripture, but rather the Scriptures themselves became that authority: Scripture was to be used to interpret Scripture.
John Knox (1505-1572), a student of John Calvin, can be seen promoting the Reformational hermeneutic in an encounter with the Roman Catholic Mary Queen of Scots,
‘You interpret the Scriptures in one way,’ said the queen evasively, ‘and they in another: whom shall I believe, and who shall be judge?’ ‘You shall believe God, who plainly speaketh in His Word,’ replied the Reformer, ‘and farther than the Word teacheth you, you shall believe neither the one nor the other. The Word of God is plain in itself; if there is any obscurity in one place, the Holy Ghost, who is never contrary to Himself, explains it more clearly in other places, so that there can remain no doubt, but as to such as are obstinately ignorant.’
The Reformation restored the authority of Scripture and, with the previous invention of the printing press, it put the written Word of God into the hands of the ordinary people in their own language. The significance for the Biblical rule of Biblical interpretation should not be missed. It is summed up in the following excerpt from the Westminster Confession of Faith:
'The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture, (which is not manifold, but one,) it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.
'The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.'
No longer was the pope or the papacy the interpreter of Scripture – for that is to set the authority of men above the authority of God speaking in Scripture – but Scripture was to be its own interpreter. It stands to reason, therefore, that in order for the reader to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture the reader must believe that the whole of Scripture is the very Word of God written. Though the house was swept clean at the time of the Reformation all too soon the demons of error began to return in the form of Higher Criticism or Religious Liberalism. Says RC Sproul,
'If there was a buzzword in nineteenth-century theoretical thought, it was the word evolution. The idea of evolution was applied not simply to biology, but also to other fields of inquiry. Political theory saw the application of Herbert Spencer’s ‘social Darwinianism,’ for example. It is important to realize that evolution encompasses chiefly a theory of history whereby not only biological entities undergo a progressive development from the simple to the complex, but also other entities undergo a similar sort of progressive change.
'Married to evolutionary philosophy, the Religious Historical School of the nineteenth century considered it axiomatic that all religions go through evolutionary stages of development. They move from the simple to the complex. In this scheme all religions begin with primitive forms of animism and move to a more complex level of sophisticated monotheism.'
Regarding the history of man, one can easily see the conflict between Reformational teaching and that of Social Darwinianism: the former is founded upon the written revelation of God while the latter is a product of Darwin’s theory.
It is imperative that we are aware of our own presuppositions when considering the Bible and its contents. The treasure chest of Scripture remains securely locked to all who use a ‘Darwinian’ hermeneutic to attempt to interpret Scripture. The Reformation provided the key that unlocks the written revelation of God to man: Scripture interpreting Scripture.