The Reformation was an Exodus: Luther, Bucer, Calvin, Knox and their sidekicks were the Moses and Aaron and Joshua and Caleb of the 16th century, and they led a great mixed multitude out of an Egypt that had arisen in the very Church of God. The Pope had become a tyrannical pharaoh, and his bishops and prelates laid heavy burdens on God’s people. God heard their cries, and raised up judges to free His people. He lifted His mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, He brought His people out of the Roman house of bondage. Anyone who denies this should be sentenced to a decade in politics where you will simultaneously fit in with your fellow camel-swallowers and get what you deserve.
Since history is God’s story, and God delights to rehearse His main points and themes repeatedly in motifs and types, wisdom is found in reading our stories in light of the stories of Scripture. As soon as the Israelites have gone three days into the desert, sure enough, they’re ready to head back to slavery. Later, at Sinai, some of the gold plundered from the Egyptians is used for casting a golden calf. But even a generation later, you have pharaoh wannabes like the cowardly Achan, coveting the treasures of Jericho in a hole in his tent, like a slick pollyanna megachurch pastor.
All this to say: idolatry goes down deep, and apart from the miraculous grace of God working in the hearts of men, there’s a ferocious undertow current tugging, pulling us back to the darkness our fathers were rescued from.
No doubt there were a few overzealous “fundamentalist” Hebrews who, coming out from Egypt, wanted to dump all the Egyptian plunder in the sea and just be done with it. Safer that way. And surely they were giving Moses the “I-told-you-so” look after the golden calf business. But really, the overwhelming gravity is a pull back to Egypt, a pull to act like pharaoh, and down through the pages of Scripture, Israel has it deep in her bones, a sick and perverse looking back over her shoulder, like Lot’s wife, longing for the horses and chariots of pharaoh, the supposed safety of Egypt, the security of slavery and death.
It’s true that anything can be turned into an Egypt. Our hearts are just that perverse. But the traditionalists and conservatives are never tempted to overdo the conquest. They are never tempted to destroy too many idols. They always call it quits halfway through the mission, halfway through the demolition project. We pull our punches and call for peace talks while the Canaanites are still planning to marry our daughters, still hefting their Ashtoreths up to their high places.
Elijah and Elisha and the prophets are always coming with the word of the Lord, offering Exodus to the slaves in Israel where the kings have become pharaoh-shepherds, devouring and destroying the flock of God. Finally, after Jesus had come as the greatest Moses and Joshua, to plunder the house of bondage that had grown up in Israel once again, to lead His people out to the land flowing with true milk and honey, even then, there were Jews and Gentiles who wanted to go back, back to circumcision, back to sabbaths and food laws. What is that in our hearts? That sick love of slavery, the disgusting preference for death and abuse? Why do we go back to our vomit, back to the man who abuses and beats us?
This is the temptation of conservatives and traditionalists. We think it’s somehow safer in the past, safer to face the devil we know than to face the devil we don’t know. We wimper at the future, and clutch our Goddamn idols.
It’s because there’s something terribly wrong with our hearts. And we need a Moses who can rescue us from ourselves, from our good intentions and systematic theology and symbolism and typology. We need a Moses who can give a freedom to our souls, a radical, explosive, earth shattering freedom.
Apart from this freedom that only comes through the Son and His Spirit, it doesn’t much matter what you’re wearing and what your worship band is doing. Who cares what style of music they were playing as the Titanic went down? Who cares if the captain was wearing his uniform or not? If we’re going to be traditional, if we are going to honor our parents, our mothers and fathers, it will not do to blindly pick up shiny objects out of the rubble of the past. Yes, we must plunder the Egyptians, and just because the Roman Catholics do it, is no solid basis for avoiding it. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. But we need to be fully aware of our hearts, and for those of us in leadership, even more careful with the hearts of our sheep.
Joshua W.D. Smith says
Actually, the Reformation wasn’t an Exodus…at least, it wasn’t intended to be. Luther’s first years were spent not in saying “Let my people go,” but “Return to the Lord.” After all, the goal was to reform the existing church, not immediately to come out from it. It was the leaders of the church who threw the Reformers out. Actually, this Exodus view imitates the Roman charicature of the Reformation–that their goal was to be schismatic, to start their own thing. They were much more like the prophets than like Moses: calling the church back to the word of God.
Sure, the first Reformers weren’t given advance notice of the exact story they were in. But nevertheless, God intended it as an Exodus, a fact we can now see from this vantage of nearly 500 years. Holding that the Reformation was an Exodus is no more schismatic than the Exodus motifs throughout the prophets (e.g. Elijah/Elisha, John the Baptizer — were they schismatics?), culminating in Jesus. Did Jesus come to “start his own thing?” Well, yes and no. Was it an Exodus? Certainly.