Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reform

It's not often I get to use the word penultimate, but here it is. Penultimate.

While the Half-Mil Bible History doesn't cover every aspect of Judeo-Christian history, it does hit some very central events. The next one is another schism in the Church, but it was originally intended as a reform.

In the 16th century, the indiscretions of the Church at large were multiple. The doctrine that teaches that salvation comes by Christ but only through the church had become a centerpiece of the teachings of the Church. It was in the midst of this that several men went back to the Bible.

This was a challenge however, because Bibles weren't cheap or readily available. This was the case primarily because there wasn't a high demand for them. It was understood that only bishops could properly interpret the Bible, so even theology students weren't required to have access to it.

Erasmus found this to be insufficient. He became a founder of the Reformation by bringing into question some of the teachings of the church. The official Bible for a millennium had been Jerome's Latin Vulgate translation. Erasmus questioned some of his translations and sought to improve on them. So, he gathered several Greek texts and made improvements to the Vulgate. He was able to avoid the wrath of the Church by keeping everything in Latin and taking a political middle road, but his questioning of tradition had sparked something.

Luther took Erasmus' Greek text and ran with it. His famous 95 theses confronted the Church's use of indulgences (payments) for merit from God. (Follow the link and read the first few for a general idea.) He was soundly criticized and removed from the Church. He continued his work in hiding, translating the New Testament into German, and writing the equivalent of one short book every week the rest of his life.

Calvin took the principles of the Reformation westward. He developed several concepts from the theology of Luther, and advanced the ideas of relying on Scripture alone and salvation by faith alone. Calvin maintained a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God which lead to the theological tradition known as Calvinism. His followers were central to the spread of Reformation Christianity in the following century.

Zwingli was a priest and leader in Zurich (in the confederate Switzerland). He assisted the spread of the Reformation by an emphasis on a fundamentalist approach to the Bible. If the Bible didn't say to do it, then no one was to do it. He brought on one of the first theocracies in the new movement by leading the city as a Protestant state.

Anabaptists often got the short end of the stick in this time period. While they did not surge into leadership, their ideas became central to much of later Reformation traditions. Initially they were persecuted by Catholics and Protestants alike (including Calvin and Zwingli). Their central tenants involve baptism only after conversion (not after birth) and a pacifistic worldview. Though only a few denominations claim Anabaptist heritage, their believe in Believer's Baptism is held my many Protestants today.

The Reformation was a key period in the history of the church, and it lead to many of the changes in the world today. We cannot end there, as many things have developed in the last 500 years. What great event in Church history are we now on the verge of?


(This is part of the Half-Mil Bible history, focusing on key events in Judeo-Christian history every 500 years. The first post was on the Exodus, the second post was on the establishment of the monarchy, the third post was on the return from exile, the fourth post was about Christ, the fifth post was on the Council of Nicaea, and the sixth post was on the Schism.)

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