A Fresh Look At The Reformation
Amidst all the hollow fraternization of the ecumenical movement there may be seen one great gulf persisting. This runs along the fault-line of the 16th century Protestant Reformation.
On one side of the line stands a host of romanticizing mediaevalists, crying out bitterly over the Reformation’s rending of the seamless robe of Christ: namely, the Age of Faith and its great Catholic civilization. Luther and Calvin, they claim vociferously, split nature and grace so drastically that they inevitably paved the way for divisive nationalism, rationalism and secularism. These in turn have brought on us all the evils of modern society, which can be removed only by a return to our mediaeval heritage.
On the other side stand those who see the Reformation as “the re-establishment of the primitive principles of Christianity” (J. H. Merle D’ Aubigne ) or as “the greatest event or series of events that has occurred since the close of the canon of Scripture.” (William Cunningham)
Insofar as these two positions represent two opposite confessional commitments they can never be reconciled. Either the Reformation was a vast mistake or it was a genuine revival of Biblical truth and godliness.
Despite the bewildering complexity of the movement – involving political, social and economic as well as spiritual and moral forces: differences between the Reformers themselves; inexcusable un-Christian conduct of some of its subjects – decision as to which side we are on is not difficult. The matters for which the Reformers contended and suffered are as clear as the noonday sun. They were then and are now the same burning questions of life and death that have always agitated the two parties: Is the Bible the sole source of authority in faith and morals, or is tradition a joint source! Is man justified by grace through faith on by grace plus his own works? Is the Church a hierarchical institution or a body of faithful believers? Is the head of the Church Christ or the pope? Is heresy to be exterminated by the death of heretics or by spiritual sanctions? Do Christians at death pass instantly into the presence of’ Christ or must they spend a season in purgatory before being fit to be with Him?
We must not allow our judgment to he swayed either by the malicious changes of enemies or by the internal differences of the Reformers themselves or by the subsequent abuse of Reformation liberties. Men do not choose exile from wife, children and homeland to keep their newly-found faith in Christ (as the marquis Galeacias did), or to be beheaded rather than take part in a Corpus Christi procession (as the Elector George of Brandenburg was prepared to be), or to be burnt at the stake for refusing the “blasphemous fable and dangerous deceit” of the Romish Mass (as Bradford, Taylor, Hooper, Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer were) from self-seeking motives. No! God’s Word and Church, and their own precious souls, were at stake. The ultimate driving force behind these martyrs, “of whom the world was not worthy,” was far greater than personal survival or comfort. As Luther himself poignantly wrote:
“And though they take our life,
Goods, honour, children, wife,
Yet is their profit small:
These things shall vanish all;
The city of God remaineth.”
In this respect they all stood in the direct line of succession with that “great cloud of witnesses” of Hebrews 11 and with the New Testament apostles and martyrs. These are the considerations that should determine our stance regarding the Reformation. In the light of them we have no doubt in stating unequivocally that it was both a true and a great work of God. O that we had the Reformers’ self-denying faith, commitment and integrity!
Peace and Truth Magazine 2005:1
With permission www.sgu.org.uk
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