Archive for the ‘post-Reformation theology’ Category

Conrad Grebel 1498-1526

By “getting over” the Reformation I do not mean a return to Rome.  A good post-Reformation theology should already factor in the rejection of the flawed Roman rites and polity which precipitated the 16th century crisis.

Even a loyal Catholic will probably not deny that on the eve of the Reformation the divine judgment upon the Roman Church as a whole was likely to have been ‘guilty.’  But how many Protestants will admit that, after the day had dawned, the Church was nevertheless on the whole worsened by the systems and policies of the reformers?

The main wings of the Protestant movement not only failed in the prime objective of a reform of Rome but also failed to maintain general unity, and finally, failed even to lead a real reform – the last an accusation made by the spiritual and Anabaptist reformers whom they persecuted so bitterly after 1524.

Here is harsh criticism for Luther and Zwingli in a letter of 1524 by Conrad Grebel, co-founder of the Swiss Brethren and called by some the ‘Father of the Anabaptists’

“In respecting persons and in manifold seduction there is grosser and more pernicious error now than ever has been since the beginning of the world.  In the same error we too lingered as long as we heard and read only the evangelical preachers who are to blame for all this, in punishment for our sins.  But after we took scripture in hand too, and consulted it on many points, we have been instructed somewhat and have discovered the great and harmful error of the shepherds…

“… every man wants to be saved by superficial faith, without fruits of faith, without baptism of trial and probation, without love and hope, without right Christian practices, and want to persist in all the old manner of personal vices, and in the common ritualistic and anti-Christian customs of baptism and of the Lord’s Supper, in disrespect for the divine Word and in respect of the word both of the pope and of the anti-papal preachers.”

Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, ed. G. H. Williams & A. M. Mergal, 1957, p.74

If God truly shows no partiality and judges the church as a whole – the period of Reformation must be seen in its result on the whole – not in a renewed church but in a serious disruption of the unity of Western Christianity – characterized by intolerance, intellectual and spiritual isolation, and internecine rancor which has weakened the appeal of Christ to the world.

I’m guessing the decreased percentage of church-goers in town over the past 100 years could be a reaction against the constant refunding of Christian doctrine in the words of Aquinas, Loyola, Luther, and Calvin.  Or do we think the world will never tire of looking at Christianity through the eyes of ‘classic’ thinkers of the Medieval and Reformation eras?

What’s next then?  The blog has already named one post-Reformation ‘Father’ – the 17th-century founder of the Religious Society of Friends, George Fox.  I was going to stay away from the sixteenth century on principle but I think these radical Christians who ‘got over’ the magisterial Reformation almost as soon as it started certainly merit a look – some were the first to die for their faith at the hands of their fellow-Protestants.

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The Church in God is not in imitation, gathered from the letter, nor is it a high-flown people in their imaginations, but they who are born again of the immortal seed, by the Word of God, which lives and endures forever… which word is God, which word became flesh, and dwelt among us

… And this is the word by which the saints are born again… but all you now who put the letter for the word, and have got it in your minds, and gather assemblies by it, this you cannot witness, and it is ignorance for you to say, the letter is the word; when the letter saith, God is the word.  –Works of George Fox, Vol. IV, 1831 (p.18)

Lately I have been re-reading Fox’s journal and getting into his epistles and other tracts written 1648-1690.  I’m ready to call this able founder of the Religious Society of Friends one of Christianity’s earliest post-Reformation theologians – if not the first, at any rate an important forerunner of the next theology.

Fox bore his testimony to an age quite different from that of Luther and Calvin.  His England was more than 100 years removed from early Wittenberg and Geneva and over 40 years beyond the Synod of Dort.  Note how he satisfies my three post-Reformation criteria:

(1) He was post-Protestant: Fox was highly critical of key points of classical Protestant theology as these were manifested in the order and preaching of English Protestantism;

(2) He was post-Catholic:  his resistance to Protestant formulae was not reactionary in the establishment sense; he was perhaps even more unsympathetic with the heirarchy and traditions of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches; 

(3) He was faithfully constructive:  George Fox was an impeccable Christian and a successful innovator in theology, worship, prayer, and church organization.  His foundational spiritual principle was the fruit of a real experience, and bore its own spiritual fruit in all he did and all he suffered on its behalf.

I find Fox to be a little uneven in his polemics, but I hear truth in the burden of his message about the seed and light, etc., that enlightens every man.  I can excuse his polemics in view of the rough treatment he got from his fellow Christians.  But I can’t help noticing that the part of his message which resonates most with me relies heavily on those places in John’s Gospel which find no echo in the other three Gospels.  OK then.  Fox is writing in pre-critical times, but what is my excuse? Where am I getting this feeling that John knows what he’s talking about, whereas a current academic majority which holds his writings in low esteem does not?

I was sent ‘to turn people from darkness to the light,’ which Christ, the second Adam, did enlighten them withal; that so they may see Christ, their way to God, with the spirit of God, which he doth pour upon all flesh.  –Works, Vol. VII (p.2)

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