Letting Some of the Air Out of The Reformation Day Balloon

the-life-and-times-of-martin-lut149.jpgUPDATE: Josh S has a good post on different views of Reformation history.

UPDATE: Someone please turn down that “whining” sound. Is it me? Or the guy fisking me? I’m really on your side, O panic stricken fans of the Reformation.

UPDATE: ***sigh*** Pastor Gary reviews the post. So….is any sincerely motivated division of Christianity worth celebrating? We can party all year long! Let me be clear: Division may be necessary, but reform without division would be better. We can clelebrate what was good in the Reformation and we can deplore what was bad in Catholicism at the time. Then we can deplore the bad things that resulted in Protestantism/evangelicalism and recognize the good things that were and are present in Catholicism. It’s not a team sport. It’s the body of Christ. Read John 17 for Christ’s sake (literally.)

It’s fairly obvious that, at least among some Christians, “Reformation Day” is a new holiday to be celebrated with all the enthusiasm we once reserved for actual holidays. (Lutherans: Party on. You’ve earned it.) I’m waiting for the photos of the “Dress Like a Reformer” party at a reformed church near you.

I’ll admit to having donned the Luther costume and done the Reformation Day lecture for the students at our school on a number of occasions, and I don’t regret having done so. Most of what I said was true. Well….some of it.

In the past year, I’ve read a lot about the reformation and even more about Luther. I’m currently finishing off McGrath’s Christianity’s Dangerous Idea– a popular history of Protestantism that’s right up to speed- and I’m almost done with Richard Marius’s Luther: The Christian Between God and Death, one of the most profitable biographies of Luther I’ve ever read and I read at least one every couple of years.

My reading on Luther and the Reformation has changed my mind about a lot of things. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but here’s the short list.

-I no longer believe the Reformation, as it’s commonly described by Protestants, is the distinct event we’ve made it out to be.
-I no longer believe Luther ever intended to slay the Catholic Church and establish the wonder of contemporary Protestantism.
-I am becoming increasingly sure that many things in the typical Reformation story are probably mythological, or most nearly so.
-I’m especially convinced that a lot of the typical “Luther story” is probably historically inaccurate. Not necessarily untrue, but plenty of mythology in the mix.
-I am very sure that the humanist and Catholic contribution to the reform of Christianity has been considerably obscured in the creation of a Protestant mythology.
-I do not believe true Christianity was restored or rediscovered in the Reformation.
-I’m convinced that it didn’t take long for Protestantism to accumulate enough problems of its own to justify another reformation or two.
-I believe that a lot of Protestants say sola scriptura when they mean solo scriptura or nuda scriptura or something I don’t believe at all.
-I now believe that tradition is a very good word.
-I believe the Reformation was very secular, political and, eventually, quite violent. To act as if it was mostly a spiritual revival movement is naive.
-I believe we ought to grieve the division of Christianity and the continuing division of Protestantism.
-I no longer believe the theology of the Reformers was the pinnacle of evangelicalism or is the standard by which Biblical truth itself is judged.
-I can see huge omissions from the work of the reformers, such as a theology of cross-cultural missions and much more.
-I believe it is embarrassing to turn the Reformers into icons. Calvin on a t-shirt should win an award for irony.
-I am a Protestant and I always will be, but I no longer take the kind of juvenile pride in Protestantism I did in the past. Much is good, and much has not been good. We have no right to stand superior to any other Christians.
-I want to understand how Catholic and EO Christians understand Protestantism, and I want to do so with a sense of humility.
-I don’t believe in ecumenism at any cost, but I can no longer imagine being a Christian without a commitment to ecumenism on some level.
-There are many sins associated with Protestantism that I need to admit and repent of.

Part of my Reformation Day will be spent contemplating what it means to say “One Lord; One Faith; One Baptism; One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church.” Having a party celebrating the division of Christianity doesn’t really strike me as a something I want to do

76 thoughts on “Letting Some of the Air Out of The Reformation Day Balloon

  1. Ted said:
    “Nevertheless, as we see today the missions movement in the Catholic church is weak, but it is still very strong in Evangelicalism precisely because it isn’t weighed down by a large hierarchical system”

    I’m sorry Ted, but from what evidence do you draw that evangelism and global mission of the Catholic Church is “weak”? I could be very sarcastic, but I’ll refrain and just site a stat:

    “…Africa has witnessed the most explosive growth. In the 20th century, Africa went from a Catholic population of 1.9 million in 1900 to 130 million in 2000, a staggering growth rate of 6,708 percent. Half of all adult baptisms in the world, the surest sign of missionary expansion, are in Africa.”

    -National Catholic Reporter, March 10, 2006.

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  2. Michael Spencer,

    Actually, you are correct. Although the Evangelical missions movement was something that was later, I find it hard to believe it can exist without the Reformation.

    If one argues that the Catholic Church and Orthodox tradition’s missions movement (the early Christian church in India, China, and South America) would have filled that gap, I don’t think it is a good argument.

    The Catholic church had the same inclination as the early Reformers to grow the Church based on the state government. This is part of the reason why I think the Catholic church has declined in Europe. It was too closely tied to the state and it is also why the Protestant Church (like in Denmark) is declining is because of it’s too close a tie to the State. Nevertheless, as we see today the missions movement in the Catholic church is weak, but it is still very strong in Evangelicalism precisely because it isn’t weighed down by a large hierarchical system, but still seeks to be faithful to the core essentials of all Christians by an expanded form of the “Rule of Faith.”

    It is this flexibility and adaptability (provided because of the Reformation and hard to establish in older hierarchical Church systems) that has allowed such a great and sustained Missions Movement for such a a long time.

    -Ted.

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  3. Pingback: The Schooley Files
  4. Ted: One of the greatest failings of the Reformation is that it was not a Missions movement. (I’ll be blogging on this very soon.) The Reformers supported a reformation carried out by government not missionaries, they denied that the Great Commission was for all Christians and they saw no reason to organize and support missions as evangelicals understood it post-William Carey. And despite noble efforts to prove otherwise, the modern missions movement was not the outgrowth of the Reformation, but ran counter to much of it. Without the Pietists, Zinzendorf, Wesleys, etc. where would the missions movement be? Right where Luther and Calvin would have left it: the domain of the state.

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  5. I have never really celebrated “Reformation Day” as I’m not of the full Reformed position. However, I think it is a day to at least look upon what Luther tried to do.

    Now I’m not a Luther expert, but wouldn’t it be prudent to say that Luther’s position on the Catholic Church evolved over time? Therefore, what you say about Luther and that position depends on what period of his life you are talking about.

    That being said, I think there is value in seeing that Luther sought to Reform the Church. Luther’s view of the Church changed over time, but the idea of Reform is something we should appreciate. The Reformation was not the Resurrection or Christ’s birth. It is not a moment that was perfect, but there are ideals there that are important to Christians and Protestants. The church should always be Reforming. Praying, Seeking God, Seeking Scripture, examining our hearts, examining our positions, and seeking His Will and doing His will continually. It seems you are Reforming personally and I think Protestant and Evangelicals are Reforming as well over time.

    I appreciate what your saying IMonk, but on the whole I think you miss some of the importance of the Reformation both for the Church (the missions movement) and history.

    -Ted.

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  6. What is the importance of this topic? Is it to ruffle the proud feathers of the Prostants? To showcase the Cathloics are not so bad after all? I to have pondered this fact of such a division that has separated so many for so long. I have been a person that has traveled through many places of the Evangelical tree of divison. What I have found is that we all want to serve God’s Kingdom. Though there are many that are in it for themseleves, but by in large, we all want to the see the things of God come to pass. I am not a huge fan of the Cathloic faith due to its works to earn grace, but I know many that are saved and sanctified through the Cathloic Church. Are we not all dancing around the simple notion that God calls whom He calls? If so in the end, when we are passing through the ‘pearly gates’ we will be standing next to the Saints of God, not Prostant, not Cathloic, not Methodists, not Pentecostals, or others. We ouhgt to begin to see others as God sees them, that is His children. If any think that one sect has is together in their theology, well we ought to get down our knees and repent. Reformers were yesterday, today and will be until Christ comes back.

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  7. What is celebrated on Reformation Day is a return to the clarity and simplicity of the Gospel at a time (like now) when it was often greatly obscured. Luther labored mightily to reform from within the church, even pleading in letters(very respectfully written) with the Pope. In the end Luther and the churches who followed the doctrine he taught were excommunicated. Rome then in effect burned the bridge behind us in the Council of Trent, virtually making the breach irreparable by their decrees. (If Rome would allow us to teach the Gospel, and hold that the Papal office is of human origins, created for the administration of God’s people, not a divinely mandated office, many of us would go back to the Roman Catholic Church. I’m not holding my breath though. We’ve been waiting 450 years.)
    I often wonder about true reform in the light of Jesus’ discourse on the wineskins and the new wine. Many wish to reform through schism, the “come out from among them and be ye separate” model. In my mind this route is questionable at best. However, is it possible to truly reform a church that has lost its way, without getting yourself excommunicated or “dis-fellowshipped?” One modern example that comes close is the Worldwide Church of God after G.T. Armstrong died. Those he left in charge discovered through their research that they held to false doctrine and were outside Christian orthodoxy. They then led their church back into Christianity by teaching and preaching and a good helping of repentance. ( A split did develop with those who wanted to hold with the old teachings of their founder, so it did result in a split, but not between two groups of Christians.) However, I’m told that this instance may be unique in all of Christian History, and it does not involve the reforming of a Christian church, but a cult.

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  8. Michael

    Thanks for introducing me to Sola versus Solo Scriptura. I would hope that I truly believe in Sola Scriptura. I believe Scripture to be/have been correctly interpreted when my understanding of it corresponds to the original author’s intended meaning. That process can at times be exceedingly difficult, in that it entails the understanding of God, humankind, language and history plus much more.
    In this context, I stumbled on the scholarship of Sir Edwyn Hoskyns (1931) on the terms “ekklesia”, and “Aletheia” (http://www.bible-researcher.com/semasiology.html). Though his work may be somewhat outdated, it nevertheless has been very insightful to me.

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  9. James states;
    Jas 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
    Having a statement of faith that is mostly correct, covered with fuzzy layers of traditional mould, does not make a so called church a church, nor an unbeliever a believer.
    Jesus said;
    Joh 8:39-44;
    They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

    That was the condition of the Catholic institution before and during the reformation. The skeleton of their faith was essentially correct as was that of the Jews, however, as a total they were far from that truth.
    rey states;
    “There’s no point in not being a rip-roaring drunken Catholic who makes confession once a year if you aren’t going to go by Scripture alone in the absolutist sense.”
    That has been my experience with the average Catholic and Orthodox (and I know hundreds of them, including many relatives). From what I have seen and experienced, I have no reason to believe that the majority of them, including the institutions and its leaders are of the Faith.
    And yet, some will be saved by grace through faith just as you and I.

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  10. If you look at some of the blog term dictionaries they will cite fisking as a point by point refutation of another’s blog. But i have only ever seen it used (except here) in a somewhat pejorative sense and in the sense of the fisker thoroughly besting the fiskee which is what happened to the original guy named Fisk. So to be fisked implies somebody really trying to take you down item by item. That has been my experience in the political blogosphere.

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  11. Scott: I certainly don’t mean to imply that he hasn’t thoughtfully and respectfully interacted with my post. I disagree with a good bit of his take, but I don’t routinely undertake detailed debate with those who disagree with me. I assume we both have our views and that we differ.

    Perhaps I use the word “fisk” wrongly. I thought “fisk” meant “point by point reply.” I didn’t know there was a connotation of hostility or disrespect. My fault for wrongly using the word.

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  12. I don’t know what it means to be “fisked,” but it just seems to me that Pastor Gary has thoughtfully interacted with your post on his own blog. What’s wrong with that?

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  13. It is just as wrong to accept the church along denominational lines as it is to reject it along denominational lines.

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  14. I am somewhat puzzled by what is being presented. First of all, “WHAT IS THE CHURCH”? Is it the bureaucratic institution, or is it the composite of all believers? If it was the former, Yes, it was divided by the Reformation if one believes both the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant bureaucratic machines to be the church. On the other hand, if one rejects one or the other as being the “true” church, then the church was not divided. Third, if one believes that the “church” is composed of all true believers, there has been no division.
    As I had stated previously, I BELIEVE THE CHURCH IS THE COMPOSITE OF ALL TRUE BELIEVERS IRRESPECTIVE OF DENOMINATION. IT IS NOT THE CHURCH THAT DEFINES THE BELIEVERS, BUT THE BELIEVERS THE CHURCH.

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  15. I think anyone that reads the letters of Paul has to grieve the Reformation. We can argue whether it was necessary, but we should not argue if it was tragic or not.

    I travel down the street and I see signs proudly placed in front of churches for all the world to see. They proclaim, “I am of Wesely,” “I am of Calvin,” “I am of Luther,” “I am of Peter.”

    The first letter to the Corinthians in the very first chapter notes this as a grievous error. Paul would weep if he read those church signs.

    Why don’t we?

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  16. I believe that a lot of Protestants say sola scriptura when they mean solo scriptura or nuda scriptura or something I don’t believe at all.

    If you’re going to keep any form of church tradition, you might as well be Catholic. There’s no point in not being a rip-roaring drunken Catholic who makes confession once a year if you aren’t going to go by Scripture alone in the absolutist sense. Solo Scriptura is the way to go. This middle ground between Catholicism and Christianity that is called Protestantism is just Catholicism by faith alone–its not Christianity. “Take out the hair shirts and rosaries…but keep the baby baptisms and inherited guilt” is essentially what Martin Luther and Calvin did and then “add in the Predestination and a convoluted system of election.” The Reformed tradition is as unreformed as Rome because exactly like Rome it adds to and subtracts from Scripture based on philosophy and indeed leftover Romish traditions.

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  17. “We can celebrate what was good in the Reformation and we can deplore what was bad in Catholicism at the time. Then we can deplore the bad things that resulted in Protestantism/evangelicalism and recognize the good things that were and are present in Catholicism. Does it ever occur to some people that it’s not a team sport? It’s the body of Christ.”

    I don’t know why any Christian couldn’t sign on to the quote from Michael’s update above. Sadly I think the spirit of the times turns idealogical disagreements into “blood sport” (to use the phrase from a popular book about idealogical warfare in politics). All disagreements with my position/party are perceived as a threat that must be defeated quickly and soundly to my satisfaction and that of my followers and compatriots.

    Ironically, that is the very sort of approach that got people killed during the Reformation and Counter Reformation.

    Honestly I think some people just love the combat more than they love the Church.

    Read John 17 for Christ’s sake indeed.

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  18. Too often we forget that the church as it existed in Luther’s day was essentially pagan. Sure, they recited or sang the Catholic mass in Latin. Sure, they learned the catechism in Latin. But, did they understand it, much less believe and live it? No! Most people of that day were just as pagan as they were Christian. In a sense, the Reformation was simply another step in the Christianizing of the European continent. True, the printing press may have been a significant contributor to the process, but without a teaching of Biblical Truth in the vernacular, simply learning to recite something one does not understand accomplishes nothing.
    In my area pagan content was still rampant in the early part of the twentieth century, not only in the Catholic and Orthodox churches, but in the Lutheran churches as well, especially those from the Slavic areas.
    In the thirties, the Greek Catholics and Orthodox would cut a hole in the ice of the river and blast away with their guns to get rid of evil spirits and the devil before they would dip from the water to get holy water. My mother testified to that phenomenon. Many of the Ukrainian dances are essentially pre Christian fertility rites. I recall a Lutheran lady speaking of her belief in evil spirit world inhabiting forests and trees etc. In other words, the gods of the pre Christian era were still as vivid in the minds of people as The God of the Bible.
    Note Salem a few centuries ago in the US!
    It was not the church that gave them salvation, but Jesus Christ, and most of the time, not through the institutional church.

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  19. Of course Bibles were changed to the lectern for a thousand years — before the invention of the printing press, books were incredibly expensive and, therefore, incredibly valuable. And churches were open during the week at that time. Should a church allow the only Bible in the parish to be easily stolen?

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  20. “I want to understand how Catholic and EO Christians understand Protestantism, and I want to do so with a sense of humility.”

    If you’re referring to contemporary times …. Most of today’s Catholics who underwent a decent amount of Catechism growing up should (I think) know that all baptized Christians are brethren in Christ.

    To quote Lumen Gentium (one of the principle Vatican II documents, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1964):

    The [Catholic] Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the Holy Eucharist and cultivate devotion toward the Virgin Mother of God. They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ’s disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. She exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the earth.

    (I removed the footnotes, by the way.)

    God bless you and peace to you and to all your readers, Michael.

    Coincidentally, I write this on the eve of All Saints’ Day, the day on the Catholic liturgical calendar when Catholics are called to remember all of the saints, both those known to history as well as those who are unknown.

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  21. Pathetic! You make the Reformation sound like a sad collision of accidents! The Papists LITERALLY chained the Bible to the Lectern for a thousand years, and Luther wrote it in the language of the common man. God had the printing press invented at the same time, and POW!!!!
    God’s Word was freely distributed and studied and read. Luther and Calvin taught and wrote, Geneva was unlike anything ever tried. Cromwell, and the Puritans, then the Pilgrims and Puritans to America!!

    Good Grief Brother!!!

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  22. On Michael’s recommendation, I’ve added Oberman’s “Luther: Man Between God and the Devil” to my Amazon shopping cart to read after I finish Bainton’s biography.

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  23. Let the blessings and curses begin.

    | -I no longer believe the Reformation,
    | as it’s commonly described by
    | Protestants, is the distinct event we’ve
    | made it out to be.

    That’s an interesting way to say it. My experience is that most “evangelicals” aren’t really “protestants”, and most people who are all geeked up about the “reformation” are really just sassy – unwilling to admit, for example, that there’s a doctrine of the church in the NT which extends past the personal experience of salvation to a commitment to a local called-out body which gives us responsibilities and rights before God.

    | -I no longer believe Luther ever
    | intended to slay the Catholic Church
    | and establish the wonder of
    | contemporary Protestantism.

    I think this is an essential truth of the Reformation – and the Augsburg confession speaks pretty broadly to the fact that if the “Romanists” were willing to live in peace with the German churches, the Germans were (completely out of character) willing to live in peace with Rome.

    | -I am becoming increasingly sure that
    | many things in the typical
    | Reformation story are probably
    | mythological, or most nearly so.

    Well, take it or leave it I say. Most history is told from a point of view and you have to accept that only Scripture is really told from the point of omniscience. Most people start with the 95 theses and not with Wycliff, Tyndale or even Francis of Assisi (which, I think is a stretcher), and that’s a pretty bad flaw.

    | -I’m especially convinced that a lot of
    | the typical “Luther story” is probably
    | historically inaccurate. Not
    | necessarily untrue, but plenty of
    | mythology in the mix.

    If that’s true – and I’d check with Jim Swan on this as he’s the house TR on Luther, so don’t bet the farm – most Luther mythology is actually biased against the guy. If you read any Luther at all, (that’s you-generic, not “you, you lousy iMonk”) you find out pretty quickly he was both passionate and fearful, brilliant and common-hearted, and most of all he was human (as in: even Luther misquoted Scripture).

    People who make Luther into more than that are probably not Luther-readers. They are often Luther-cut-and-pasters.

    | -I am very sure that the humanist and
    | Catholic contribution to the reform of
    | Christianity has been considerably
    | obscured in the creation of a
    | Protestant mythology.

    Eh. In the spirit of not fisking you today, I’ll let that one go with a simple “name three” challenge that asks “what three examples after 1563 would you give to substantiate that?”

    | -I do not believe true Christianity was
    | restored or rediscovered in the
    | Reformation.

    Well, they didn’t have you, after all, iMonk.

    Big hug!

    | -I’m convinced that it didn’t take long
    | for Protestantism to accumulate
    | enough problems of its own to justify
    | another reformation or two.

    Well, that’s sort of the point of being confessional Christians in the first place – that reform ought to be possible and accessible. But then we’re back to the question of the doctrine of the church …

    | -I believe that a lot of Protestants say
    | sola scriptura when they mean solo
    | scriptura or nuda scriptura or
    | something I don’t believe at all.

    Well, whatever. I’m sure a lot of emergents wouldn’t be caught dead saying “in loco scripturae” (“in the neighborhood of Scripture”), but that doesn’t really mean anything, either.

    | -I now believe that tradition is a very
    | good word.

    Well, there’s no English language without it, dude. Good on ya.

    | -I believe the Reformation was very
    | secular, political and, eventually,
    | quite violent. To act as if it was
    | mostly a spiritual revival movement is
    | naive.

    Spirit of the age, Michael. A major consequence of the reformation was the eventual separation of church and state. In spite of Dave Armstrong’s recommendation of the book, you should read James Davison Hunter’s Culture Wars.

    | -I believe we ought to grieve the
    | division of Christianity and the
    | continuing division of Protestantism.

    I guess it depends on what you mean by “grieve” and by “division” and by “Protestantism”.

    | -I no longer believe the theology of
    | the Reformers was the pinnacle of
    | evangelicalism or is the standard by
    | which Biblical truth itself is judged.

    Wow. Was that what it was supposed to be?

    | -I can see huge omissions from the
    | work of the reformers, such as a
    | theology of cross-cultural missions
    | and much more.

    Double-wow. I guess that’s because they didn’t fly in enough airplanes or read enough information superhighway-disseminated news. Again, spirit of the age: they were probably more worried that the Muslims were going to kill them than whether they had a strategy to engage Islamic culture. There’s also that pesky problem of church and state again.

    | -I believe it is embarrassing to turn
    | the Reformers into icons. Calvin on a
    | t-shirt should win an award for irony.

    Which, of course, you can have for only about $20 bucks. Think about that: you can buy irony today. It’s a beautiful world.

    | -I am a Protestant and I always will
    | be, but I no longer take the kind of
    | juvenile pride in Protestantism I did in
    | the past. Much is good, and much has
    | not been good. We have no right to
    | stand superior to any other Christians.

    That’s an interesting perspective on you, I think, Michael. I’ll not unpack it in order to refrain from fisking today.

    | -I want to understand how Catholic
    | and EO Christians understand
    | Protestantism, and I want to do so
    | with a sense of humility.

    I’m not really interested in what they think about Protestantism — because if somehow Protestantism thinks it is “superior”, what do we say about an organization that won’t even recognize most protestant groups as “churches”?

    | -I don’t believe in ecumenism at any
    | cost, but I can no longer imagine
    | being a Christian without a
    | commitment to ecumenism on some
    | level.

    I’d go back again to the Augsburg confession and point out that the most important thing extant from the reformation proper standing between a broader ecumenism and what we have today are the anathemas of Trent. Even Vatican I rides on the back of that document. You have to compare those anathemas to the pleas of the Augsburg Confession to really get the impact and the statement that Rome was making with the Trent canons.

    | -There are many sins associated with
    | Protestantism that I need to admit and
    | repent of.

    Again, no fisking today.

    And all of God’s people said, “Amen.”

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  24. I’m interested, first, because I only ever hear the “justification by faith” side of the reformation. Secondly, I’m interested because of my denominational background. I was Catholic till I was 10, nondenominational till I was 17, Presbyterian (PCA) till I was 22, and for the past 3 years I’ve been going to various churches here and there.

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  25. A few weeks ago I was attending mass at a conference where about a third of the participants were RC . A priest in attendance said mass each day over the lunch break. I’m not RC but enjoy the liturgy. On one day the saint for the day (whose name escapes me) was, according to the book we followed, a martyr. He was left in prison to starve until he recanted his faith or died, which ever came first. It took forty-one days for him to go to be with the Lord. Interestingly, the faith he died for was the Christian faith as practiced by the church of Rome. The people who sentenced him were English protestants during their reformation. No doubt for every Ridley and Latimer there was a martyred Roman Catholic counterpart. I think of that as I stop to “celebrate” the Reformation this year.

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  26. I second the recommendation of the Diarmaid McCulloch book. It is an excellent one volume (albeit a big volume) treatment of the subject. McCulloch is very good at providing context and seems to be grinding no axes. It hits that sweet spot of being written for educated adults not afraid of footnotes, but not written in High Academic Gibberish.

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  27. Alex:

    Diarmaid McCulloch: http://www.amazon.com/Reformation-History-Diarmaid-MacCulloch/dp/0670032964/ref=sr_1_6/103-7921172-3175017?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1193767659&sr=8-6

    To the good brother reading Bainton: A good standard piece, but it does not have the advantages of the contemporary Lutheran biographer. try Oberman: Luther Man between God and the Devil. Bainton, imo, is far too uncritical and passes on a lot that needed to be sorted out, including some glaring contradicitions in Luther’s accounts of his theological development.

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  28. Michael,

    Hopefully you are still reading the comments to this post. I’ve been reading your blog for about 3 years now but this is my first comment. I have a question actually. You mention the secular side of the Reformation. I have heard hints about this, mostly on the internet. But has there ever been a full-length book or scholarly journal article on the subject? I’d be really interested to hear a full account of what went on.

    Thanks,

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  29. Once again, I’ve read none of the previous comments. I didn’t want to get into some debate.

    I just want to say after reading this, that I deeply appreciate this post, it’s tone and it’s honesty – your tone and your honesty Michael.

    It makes me want to write a Reformation Day post from one Catholic’s perspective. I think, among other things, I’d say things like:

    – It needed to happen, perhaps not like it did, but things were bad and some crap needed to hit the fan.

    – The “Counter Reformation” was too reactionary and didn’t go far enough in actually taking to heart some of the reforms that needed to happen.

    – I don’t hang with how some Catholic interpret the Reformation, as only the disobedience and heresy of some men and that the leadership of the Church was not at fault in any way. That’s just nonsense.

    Anyway, just wanted to say that. Peace to you my brother.

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  30. Color me smug, but much of what you write strikes this Lutheran as stuff any reasonably attentive confirmand should know.

    Agreed. I would hope that most confirmands would know the role of the Reformation as a reforming movement, not a clean break. Luther’s movement is probably somewhat unique among other reformation movements in that Luther’s group (mainly Melanchthon) laid out the conditions for reunion with the Roman church.

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  31. How true, Anna A!
    Thanks for this one, iMonk.
    And, sorry, but I can’t help but remind one commenter above that theologian J.Pelikan converted to Orthodoxy years ago. (I just read his commentary on the Book of Acts. Good stuff.)

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  32. Michael, I’ve gotten a big kick out of the discussions of Lutheranism (Is that a word?) and Martin Luther. I found myself reading down your list and going “yep… Right… That’s true… You got it” as I went down the list. Richard was right on, as well, when he mentioned that this is rather basic Lutheran knowledge to those who pay attention. But, who pays attention?

    As an ex-RC, now Lutheran, it was quite a revelation to me when I converted, though. My RC background taught me the evil ways of the reformation and I was surprised at the big fact (to me) that Luther didn’t want to leave, just make it right. This helps me as I fight to try to get Lutherans to know that we CAN join hands with Catholics and work for a better world. I am surprised how many Lutherans don’t believe that’s really possible.

    Christ didn’t want us to split, either. Just do the right thing. We all need a little reformation in our lives… God Bless…

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  33. I’m with Jared Nelson: That the Reformation had to happen is tragic. That it happened is a reason to celebrate, for if it didn’t happen I might be purchasing indulgences in the vain hope of being sprung out of purgatory, rather than relying on Jesus’ blood and righteousness imputed to me.

    I’m reading Bainton’s “Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther” right now. Another excellent Luther biography.

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  34. To me, the reformation was much like the second world war. Neither side had a monopoly of truth and righteousness. Actually, quite the opposite is true. Many of the so called heroes of the war were sadistic villains. Nevertheless, because of it, a mighty spiritual and physical murder machine was wounded.

    Likewise, the reformation did not divide the church, but the institution called the church. The True Church has continued to exist both before, during and after the reformation, both within and outside of denominations/the institutional church. As in the days of Elijah;
    1Ki 19:18
    “…I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.”

    While I do not revel in the atrocities of either side before, during and after the reformation, I thank God that because of the reformation, the all pervading shroud of darkness THAT HAD EXISTED was torn.

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  35. Very good post. Thanks! What part of Luther’s motivation do you think rested on his notion of “two kingdoms”? If the reformation was not a purely spiritual movement, certainly the church from which is sprang was not a purely spiritual institution (maybe that’s laughably obvious). I’m genuinely interested in what people think about that.

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  36. Dear Michael

    I like your blog, I like your honesty, but I must say that I am absolutely puzzled about the authority of the church in interpreting the Scripture. I read even the article at Fide-o.blogspot.com on solo scripture vs sola scriptura but I am not any wiser.

    I think that I understand that our interpretation of the Scripture should be in line with the interpretation of the church, but each denomination will claim their interpretation is the right one. So shall we consider only the writings before the split of the church and read only the church fathers or what are you proposing, if I may ask?

    Or put slightly differently who today when the church is totally fragmented will define what true biblical orthodoxy is?

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  37. Amen! As I read somewhere, having Christians celebrate Reformation Day is like a formerly married couple celebrating Divorce Day (not that that doesn’t happen in today’s mixed-up world).

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  38. Orthodox,

    Some of us do find ourselves living on the fence. It does provide some very interesting views, views that the cradle believers never see.

    It also helps us to claim as brothers those on the other side.

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  39. Orthodox:
    that is a tricky place to be only if one accepts the “fences” as being somehow God-given and corralling comprehensive truth.

    What if “the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth” is not found either in the Roman-Catholic corral or in the Orthodox corral or in any of the many Protestant corrals?

    I have no doubt that if the iMonk lived inside your fence a lot of his posts would be quite un-Orthodox, and if he lived the other side of the Tiber a lot of his posts would be quite un-Roman. Because he’d be as intimately acquainted with the quirks and foibles and weaknesses which exist within Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism as he is now acquainted with the more bizarre features of evangelical Protestantism, and being the person he is he would not be able to just keep quiet about them.

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  40. I agree with every single thing you’ve written. The division of the Church grieves me to no end, and the holier-than-thou attitude of some (if not many) evangelicals who believe that “they have the [capital-T] Truth” who reject anything that sounds remotely Catholic or Orthodox without understanding anything about it.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that all of us Christians are on the same side; we all have the same enemy in Satan, and that’s who we should be fighting, not among ourselves. I’m sure that the enemy is peased to no end by our squabbles and even hatred of each other, all of whom love Christ.

    How can we preach “love” to the world and hate each other?????? Jesus prayed for unity among His followers, and I’m committed to do the same. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer contains some beautiful prayers for Christian unity — and these I pray.

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  41. Most of us who believe in Jesus are believers in spite of the denominations to which we belong and not because of them. Nevertheless, how can one who believes that Salvation is by grace through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ alone at the same time confess that anyone who says that one can be saved by grace through faith alone is anathema?

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  42. “Some of the air” you say? It’s going to take Dollar General (and other such clearance outlets) a long time to rid themselves of the Reformation Day balloons that didn’t get sold because of this post. As they say down under, “good on you!” Love your stuff, Michael!

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  43. Thanks Michael,

    Having toured some of the sights of the Reformation in Germany and Switzerland this year and hearing it retold by a lot of different local guides it became obvious to me that like many “movements” the Reformation was many things to many people.

    While Luther’s work was certainly the “spark” – the whole movement of the reformation and its long term outcomes certainly wasn’t something he could have foreseen or planned.

    His actions and those of his contemporaries was a reaction -based on the gospel – to what existed at the time in terms of church and the worlds culture.

    It would make very little sense for us to seek to recapture and duplicate the theology of the Reformers since that was created by and expressed through the prevalent culture – instead we need to read submit to the same authority of the Bible and protest at where we see ourselves, our churches and the world falling short of what we find there.

    Orthodox : I think some reflection on ones own traditions “weakness” or blind spots is healthy….but I don’t think you can read more into it than that.

    PS…worst/best souvenir available in Wittenberg – “Here I stand I can do no other” on a pair of socks.

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  44. Given different circumstances – different political circumstances, perhaps a slightly different cultural context – who knows if Luther might have become nothing more than the founder of another religious order. Perhaps not, but given that “reformation” is a constant dynamic in Catholic Church history, one that is often resolved and then promoted in the formation of new religious orders and movements…maybe. Just maybe.

    And when I say “political circumstances,” I’m speaking of the problems on all sides, but one that comes down, essentially, to the temporal power of the Pope. A hard, hard, tragic lesson.

    (And I say that as a Catholic who always will be. Back at ‘ya!)

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  45. “One blog post and I should jump to the Orthodox?”

    I was just commenting that a lot of your posts are quite un-protestant and Orthodox-ish in direction.

    And I didn’t say “join our team”. What I said was, you are looking inconsistent to me. You are on your side of the fence, but sounding more like our side. That’s a tricky place to be.

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  46. Orthodox:

    One blog post and I should jump to the Orthodox?

    Why? Am I not a Christian now?

    Don’t answer that.

    NOTE to commenters: I will not publish any comments saying that anyone should join your team. Comment on the post. DO NOT tell other people what denomination they should join.

    MS

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  47. To a large extent you are thinking like an Eastern Orthodox.

    If the division in Christianity is not a cause for a party, then it really WAS a division, and not just an administrative re-organization in the invisible church, as protestants would like to characterize it.

    And if it really was a division, it implies the Church is designed to be one in the way it once was. This would seem to indicate an Orthodox ecclesiology.

    I think you need to jump one way or the other.

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  48. I follow the blog of a fundamentalist for the same reason people watch Jerry Springer. The blogger, a former Catholic, frequently condemns “Romanists” and is convinced that there is not a single Catholic person in heaven.

    But then I wonder, would he claim that the church went 1000-1500 years with no one entering the kingdom of God, and then BAM! after the Reformation God started letting people in again?

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  49. I have to say: your work is only half done. You’ve said a lot about what you no longer believe, but there is a lot you would need to fill in to have claimed to actually say anything. To wit: you use the phrase “a lot” but don’t go into any detail. We left wondering what part of the whole “a lot” actually is.

    The devil is in the details, eh?

    Someone Lutheran commented that much of what you said comes as no surprise to us. I often think the Reformed (of whatever stripe) think more of Luther than we Lutherans, who don’t tend to read BONDAGE OF THE WILL but spend a lot of time fussing over his commentary on Galatians, John, and Genesis. The guy was no systematic theologian.

    Now the Lutheran Confessions is another matter. Rather than read Luther, why not read Luther in the Confessions? That would paint a more accurate picture of what was going on in the–at least– Lutheran Reformation.

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  50. If the Reformation had actually been a reformation as opposed to more of a schism, then perhaps it would be more rightly to be praised… but given our Lord’s prayer in the garden for His people, that we might be one as He and the Father are one… well, I don’t see this eventual step of the Reformers’–Protestantism–as really in keeping with Christ’s (almost)last prayer for His people. Of course there may be innumerable positive aspects of it, but this one failing is truly lamentable.

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  51. I’m certainly not in any way complaining about Luther’s emphasis on salvation by grace alone through faith alone. I live by the solas. I just think the reformation is much less of a movie script than we tend to hear.

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  52. Wait, you have given me an idea.

    How about a t-shirt with Calvin’s picture on the front, and on the back “Irony.”

    Or a shirt with Luther on the toilet on the front, and on the back, “Some stories are too good not to believe.”

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  53. If one thinks that Catholics believe in a works laden faith one should read about semipelagianism in the the Catholic Encyclopedia on line. Also read about the life of St. Francis de Sales and the reformation that was already going on in the catholic church. His book Introduction To The Devout Life might be a bit of a eye opener to those who think there was no personal faith going on before Luther. Sacraments arent works but life to the soul. Much like reading ones bible isnt works.
    Luther was taught Ockhamism which was later condemned by the catholic church but it had already pushed Luther even further from the church.
    A well balanced story is found by googling “The Roots of The Reformation”.
    Internet Monk is right- It isnt so simple as the good guys verses the bad guys.
    Very few think outside the box or read outside the one they grew up in.

    Can you imagine life without TULIP. Wow!

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  54. You neglect talking about the Catholic church at the time. Jaslov Pelikan (a Lutheran theologian) called the Reormation a tragic necessity. In a sense it is to be mourned, but for its necessity not its reality. I mourn the death of Christ because of what caused it (my sin) not for what it accomplished (that I celebrate). So I mourn the corruption of the Catholic Church in the 16th Century and its neglect of the poor, Indulgences and reactionary stance in regards to any demand for reform.

    Sure the Reformation was not a recovery of orthodoxy, but when the question of salvation was asked, Indulgences were not the answer. The Roman Church got it wrong, and you have to decide what to do from that moment on.

    So I will mourn the necessity of the Reformation, but I WILL CELEBRATE the men who stood up and said that evil was evil. How far to fall when a person thinks they are a rebel for standing against the rebels who rebeled against everything he stands against. Seems the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.

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  55. -I am very sure that the humanist and Catholic contribution to the reform of Christianity has been considerably obscured in the creation of a Protestant mythology.
    -I do not believe true Christianity was restored or rediscovered in the Reformation.

    These two truths are what has stopped me cold in the past few years. As a Protestant studying church history, I thought I knew what I would find there, having been assured all my life about the evils of the Catholic church and the saintliness of the Reformers. What I found instead has changed my life, and my beliefs. Reformation was needed, but I sometimes think as much was lost as was gained.

    We should all be grieving over the break, and the continuing splintering.

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  56. I believe that a lot of Protestants say sola scriptura when they mean solo scriptura or nuda scriptura or something I don’t believe at all.

    I’m not up on Latin (even though it is my Church’s “technical language”). What is the difference between “sola”, “solo”, and “nuda”? (Judging from contemporary California Spanish, isn’t “sola/solo” just gendering the adjective to match the noun?)

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  57. Nuda Scriptura. I should remember that one! Ironically, Protestant Hagiography is most often far removed from actual theological content. And the next time anybody dramatically anounces “Here I stand” (out of context), I will either displace my stomach contents, or pelt them with an egg or 2….

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  58. Michael,
    I appreciate your incisive critique/analysis of some misguided perceptions we may all entertain about the Reformation. There is just one thing I would want to add, however. In all our discussions about the Reformation, and the attendent controversies, I find it good and encouraging to be reminded that at it’s most basic level, that important historic moment was a “new morning” in a dark time; a moment when the same works laden theology which plagues us today was revealed and the purity of the Gospel was at least momentarily, revived.

    The message that preaching the forgiveness of sins, not the deeds of our flesh, not matter how seemingly pious or religious, was the imperative of the church, and indeed of all Christendom, again rang as a clarion call to the church as our witness to a perishing world. To preach faith in the finished work, name and shed blood of Christ as the sole basis of our reconciliation to a righteous God, became the central focus. No “7 step programs”, nay, not even “giving my life, making him lord of my life, accepting him” was the message. It was simply repent and believe the gospel. Luther said “It is a golden age when brother can say to brother, thy sins be forgiven thee.”

    May it be that we modern theologians not forget this simple and yet unsearchably profound message. Your sins ARE forgiven. Believe this message and you receive the greatest legacy of the reformation!!! Preach faith! Romans 10:8

    Peace to you brother! Bro. Bruce

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  59. No ma’am. Saw himself as a catholic and prayed that a church council would correct the abuses he wrote about. If he had not been expelled, he would have stayed with it. Never intended to start “another church.”

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  60. here here. (or should that be ‘hear hear’?)

    Thank you for these words, and this confession. I wish more of us would have your humility.

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  61. -I no longer believe Luther ever intended to slay the Catholic Church and establish the wonder of contemporary Protestantism.

    I’ll let the wonder of contemporary Protestantism go, but do you really not believe he intended to slay the Catholic church?

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  62. Color me smug, but much of what you write strikes this Lutheran as stuff any reasonably attentive confirmand should know. (Which isn’t to suggest that most confirmands are necessarily “reasonably attentive”.) And while we Lutherans do like our kitch (Martin and Katie bobble heads, “wash away your sins” moist towelettes, or my personal favorite “Sin Boldly” beer glasses) we know this stuff is ironic.

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  63. Wow. We’re tracking pretty well except for the “I am a Protestant and always will be” point. I don’t necessarily see becoming Catholic or Orthodox as inevitable, but I’ll remain open to the possibility if that’s where I believe the truth takes me.

    Good stuff.

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