The kids were kicking up the dust as they ran around the monkey bars and swings in front of the señora’s house whom we were visiting. Several locals walked by, making discreet comments about the little blonde-haired visitors. One young girl even took out her phone to take a not-so-discreet video of the güeros.
Annemarie stood under the shade of a mesquite tree talking to the grandmother of the family. She told Annemarie some of her life story and the abuse she has suffered at the hands of her husband. Despite the difficulties in her life she expressed her faith in God and how she always prays to Mary the “holy mother of God”.
Not quite sure what to say, Annemarie mentioned that the Bible doesn’t teach that we should pray to Mary. The elderly lady responded that the Bible version Annemarie had must be incorrect. Annemarie asked to see the lady’s Bible, so they both went inside the house. Standing in a room filled with images of the Virgin and other Catholic paraphernalia, Annemarie read some verses out loud about Jesus being the only way to the Father.
Even after hearing God’s Word she still seemed skeptical, and said she prayed the rosary religiously and had many beautiful images. These seemed to bring her enough assurance that she was under God’s favour. Annemarie read another verse about worshiping the LORD alone and not making images, and the lady thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I can’t read,” said the abuelita.
We don’t know how the LORD will work in her heart, but we pray that a seed of doubt and a desire to know God’s Word has been planted. However, we also see the great barrier of illiteracy, preventing this elderly lady from reading the Word of God for herself.
Later, as we were driving home, Annemarie told me about her conversation and I couldn’t help thinking about the Protestant Reformation. One of the great emphases of the Reformation was that the reading and interpretation of Scripture was the activity of the whole church, not a few elite and learned members. That is why the Reformers sought to place the Bible in the hands of the people so they could examine the Scriptures for themselves within the community of faith.
The errors and extra-biblical traditions of the Roman Catholic were in large part a result of the lay-people’s inability to read the Word of God for themselves. They instead relied on the authorities of the Church to instruct them in the ways of God and when the authorities strayed from God’s Word, the people followed.
Furthermore, the Roman Catholic church focused on the sacraments and rituals as the means of graces; the means by which we receive favor from God. In such a system a knowledge of the basic teachings of Scripture and of important doctrinal distinctives were non-essential. That task was left to the bishops and priests and those in the monasteries.
The Reformation turned this way of thinking upside-down and recovered the prominence of the Word of God among the people of God. One great effect of this recovery was that it propelled widespread literacy. All God’s people should read the Scriptures, from the learned scholar to the modest ploughman.
What we had heard from the elderly lady we were visiting was not far off from what the Reformers would have heard from lay-people in the Roman Catholic Church of their day. She, like many in the middle ages, was essentially illiterate and her beliefs were therefore shaped by what her church taught, not by the Word of God.
In many ways the situation hasn’t changed much from five-hundred years ago, yet the task remains the same: to bring Christ, through his Word, to the nations.