- Published on Friday, 27 January 2012 06:35
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 1415
The Reformation was a major turning point in history and is the subject of a lot of study and books but the questions and ideas were real and still relevant today. By the 16th century, the Church had wandered away from the story in the bible. The bible was not what guided the masses (the peasants and nobility), they were guided by priests, bishops and the Pope. Worse, the clergy were focused on gathering money from their flock and were quite happy to link donations to salvation. Many current critics (e.g. rebel Bishop Spong) have accused the Churches of being in the control or power business and that was certainly true in the 16th century. But they were able to keep the masses under their thumb because information flowed very slowly – anyone from out of town who talked of the very real excesses and debauchery of the Pope and his entourage in Rome was not credible or was “managed” by the bishops. People like Martin Luther were thinkers and genuinely concerned about this – he visited Rome and saw what was happening for himself and he lived at a time when the printing press was starting to be used to distribute anything of interest. That meant that the words of one person could be read by thousands within days - communication was much easier and the Church gradually lost control. The people discovered they did not have to accept what they were told by the priests.
So what specifically did the Church teach that was not compatible with the Bible? We’ve all heard that the Pope was selling indulgences – that’s basically telling people they could get to heaven quicker if only they’d cough up some money. But there were other things as well:
- The Bible listed two sacraments (by Luther’s count) - Baptism and “The Last Supper” whereas the Catholic Church had (and still has) seven: Baptism, confession, communion (Eucharist), confirmation, marriage, Holy Orders (ordination of priests) and Last Rights (Extreme Unction). Every aspect and stage of life was managed by the Church. (Luther picture at right.)
- The Bible does not mention bishops or a hierarchy – why are priests needed? Why not just pastors or “shepherds”?
- Why did the Churches have all those “graven images”?
- Why does the Church have any authority over sins? This is God’s realm.
- Purgatory is a Catholic invention.
And more. In fact Luther had 95 theses – we would call them bullet points. You can download them here – interesting reading. These were originally in Latin but were translated into German when the Pope and Bishops refused to answer him and he was labelled a heretic. He was a thinker and stubborn rebel although he never made the rational leap to asking about the existence of a God.
Anyway, Luther started the ball rolling on rebelling against the Church but what is often overlooked is that most of his followers were rebelling against control and abuses by the Church, not against any theological points. Seen in this light, Protestantism is a stepping stone to agnosticism and atheism.
Today, the “mainline” protestant Churches are in fact steadily losing members. They have made the mistake of promoting reason! I suggest that their only solution is to follow the evangelical route which is a combination of “back to basics” and the emotional appeal of “Jesus loves you”. Of course “back to basics” equates to taking the bible literally and that in turn means that they have to accept the Bible, on faith, as the inspired word of God. That is, they have to give up on being rational. To me, the ultimate oxymoron is the term “rational evangelical”.
But to come back to the original point – Protestants were primarily objecting to the power of the Pope and Church, not to its theology. Once the hurdle of the authority of the Church was replaced with the authority of the Bible, the other changes – and many since – came naturally. The Church couldn’t burn all the heretics at the stake so they lost a lot of their faithful. By the way, none of this could have happened except that many Princes agreed with Luther – they did not like sending so much of their wealth to Rome. It wasn’t just Henry VIII, there were lots of other Princes in Europe who objected.
More on Luther told here by my favourite author - William Hopper.