Tuesday, March 14, 2006

the Protestant Reformation

I was raised in and attended a Mennonite church the first seventeen years of my life. It is Anabaptist, which is part of what is called "the radical reformation." They had no intention of reforming the Roman Catholic Church, but were determined to start from scratch (subsequently realizing that was impossible to do fully), and establish a pure New Testament church. Menno Simons was one of their early leaders.

The Protestant Reformation is attributed to Martin Luther, with Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin following. Luther wanted to reform the Roman Church. Reforms did come in the Roman Counter Reformation, but not enough to end the Protestant Reformation.

Theologically I stand in the stream that comes from Luther and Menno. Though I appreciate much of what I understand of the Roman Catholic Church and less (only because less acquainted with, but equally genuine) the Eastern Orthodox Church.

As a New Testament scholar (probably known by a number of you) very recently pointed out to me, his take is that "the Reformation was a calling of the Church back to that 1st-4th century Orthodoxy" when he believes orthodoxy was shaped. This attempt was certainly not without flaws (true of any era). And there seems to be a renaissance of criticism nowdays against the Protestant Reformation in general and Martin Luther in particular.

In Timothy George's book, Theology of the Reformers we have a helpful view of the contribution they made. His final chapter, "The Abiding Validity of Reformation Theology" is interesting in bringing the contributions of Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Simons together, to see their impact for us today.

Important contributions of the Protestant/Anabaptist Reformation for me are the priesthood of all believers (often seems largely lost among many of us even in this tradition), the love for and practical importance of Scripture in believers' lives and in the life of the Church, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus and his completed work for us by his death (and resurrection).

I believe that the work of N.T. Wright today is by no means a departure from the blessings received through the Reformation. It is instead, a fresh and closer look at the sources: the life and times of Jesus, and the life and times of Paul. This is in keeping, as has been pointed out recently, with the Protestant Reformation's push to get back to the sources. N.T. Wright carries on this tradition very well, I believe.

None of this is to discount the good we find in the other great Christian traditions. God's mark is on them. But as is true in all of the Christian traditions, the human mark is evident too, and I mean the fallible side of humanity. So that the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church both have their downsides along with their upside. And the Protestant Reformation surely has its downside as well. But I believe its upside is important, and not to be set aside just because its proponents too often want us to live in the sixteenth century. Or because its opponents want us to dwell on their deficiencies or departure from good that was/is in the Roman tradition.

Praise God for his grace. A grace which ultimately will bring us all who are in Jesus, together for "ten thousand years" as a start. But a grace which has given good to all. I will join with all of those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus, their Lord and ours. And I will do so, thankful for the tradition of the one faith, that I live in. In that one faith in which we all stand and live. Amen.


Susan said...

It is interesting to me the ebb and flow of theological discourse... some theologians coming into favor and then others. I think of it as a conversation on the macro scale, keeping God's church in balance.

Ted Gossard said...

Susan, I think what you're saying is explanation in part for Martin Luther coming along. And others, more or less known. Good thought.

JP Anderson said...

You got my tempted with the George book. Is this more an historical retelling of reformation church history or concentrate much on their theology and application, or lackthereof, today.


Ted Gossard said...

JP, great to hear from you. The George book is top rate scholarship- I think, and written clearly. It is helpful in opening one's understanding to the Reformers' theology and their time. It's the best of its kind that I'm aware of. Not a big book, but one that surely gets at the essence of each of those four it covers. To answer your question directly it certainly does concentrate on their theology and has a closing chapter on its significance for us today.

blessings on you and Rachel,