The first few chapters of this book deals with the cultural situation leading up to the break through by Martin Luther, which officially began the Reformation (although admittedly, others such as Zwingli, had begun to preach about faith before Luther’s inquisitive announcement on the church door). He notes the famines, plagues, and other physical anxieties which besought the Europeans. Further, he writes about the rise of scholasticism, the humanism of the day and does well to separate the myth that the humanists of today and the humanists such as Erasmus, Luther and Calvin were in any way the same. He points to the war and revolts of the age, which brought death and destruction with no discernible outcome. Finally, there were two crises which struck me as important today.
The first was the Church leadership issue. From the Avignon Papacy to the rise of councils which actually sought to curb the power of the Pope, the Western Church was attempting renewal, at least from within, of its governing institutions. It failed, as we now know. Monastic societies, and saints of the ages, railed against the abuses of power by the Church. Of course, secular authorities took advantage of it, trying to use the divisions to their gain. Arriving on the scene were the mystics and the preachers of repentance. The latter group urged a change of living to appease the wrath of God, turning instead of their common existence to the ‘penitential practices common among monks and nuns.’ (p50)
The final crisis, although not defined as such by Payton, was the fact that Europe was not hegemonic, with simmering hate towards Rome, although generally the Rome of its Imperial Past. These individual groups, such as the Germans and the English – those who were conquered by Rome, but never fully assimilated into the myth – were looking for a chance to overthrow the rule by the Roman papacy over their national churches.
Sitting in Church Renewal Class with Dr. ]], he was making the case that in times of high anxiety, Renewal and Reformation seems to be stressed. The Reformation of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli was not the first such move in Christianity, as I would assuredly count that the great Councils and synods of the 4th century was a result, in large part, of levels of anxiety. But, for today, are we not seeing some of the same crises which gripped Europe during the age preceding the Reformation? We have church leadership issues from everything including molestation to the prosperity gospel to everyone person made a biblical interpreter. Wars? Revolts? We have them in abundance. While there is no Cold War, there is the fear that we may be the target of a new terrorist attack at any moment, and not to be fooled, it is in large part directed towards Christian countries. Plagues? Every type of animalistic flu you could think of, not to mention cloning and others areas of medical health concerns. We have the rise of new monastic communities as well as the legalists. Further, we have historical critical biblical studies which many believe undermines historical, creedal, Christian theology.We have scholastics, however, such as ]] and ]], ]], ]], and others who are writing, academically, to the lay Christian audience just as much as they are writing to the minds in Athens. There is also the cry of Ad Fontes!, or, to the sources for our theology and moral guidance.
So, is it time for another Reformation?
- In Honor of Calvinists, New and Old (challies.com)
- The Political Impact of Calvin’s Institutes of The Christian Religion (socyberty.com)
- The Protestant Reformation: A Study Guide (brighthub.com)
- A Thousand Miles in the Footsteps of Martin Luther (online.wsj.com)