Category Archives: Christian values

The Reformations of 1517 and a Prayer

It was 500 years ago that a monk, pastor and theologian names Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses for debate on the Wittenburg Door ay his university. His intent was purifying and reforming the abuses connected with indulgences. The unforeseen consequences? The division of Western Christianity into Protestant vs. Roman Catholic – and the Protestant themselves continuing their divisions.

There were actually five reformations during the next 50 years after Brother Martin’s posting. The first was the Lutheran one that spread throughout parts of Germany and Scandinavia and influenced Christian traditions everywhere. Luther’s great cry that salvation was sola fide (faith alone) united all Protestants, even as his views on the sacraments and church structure were not always popular.

The second reformation originated in Zurich, under the leadership of priest and humanist scholar Zwingli. He agreed with Luther on grace, but his zeal led to different views on communion, church order and certain theological emphases.

The second Reformed stream in Switzerland was in Geneva, led by John Calvin, the most influential theologian in Protestant history. Calvin was a scholar and his Geneva became the missionary training center for Reformed leaders throughout Europe and the New World.

The third stream was the Anglican tradition. Beginning with King Henry VIII in 1532-34 and stabilized by Elizabeth I in 1559, the Church of England represented a via media between Protestant and Roman Catholic structures and theologies. The Anglican church itself would be torn by conflict for over a century and a half between High Church traditionalists and Puritan reformers and (later) Methodist enthusiasts.

The Anabaptist communities represent the most radical reformers of all. Unlike their Magisterial counterparts (who advocated one religion for each nation), Anabaptist believed that church membership was voluntary and the ecclesial and secular powers must remain separate. They also affirmed that baptism was reserved for those who has a personal experience of conversion; therefore, no infant baptism. They were also pacifists, declaring the incompatibility of true Christianity and the exercise of military power. They were unpopular among all the other traditions, with over 100,000 martyrs in the 16th century.

The final reforming impulse is found in the Roman Catholic church. At the on-again, off-again Council of Trent (1545-1564), the worst moral and political abuses were addressed and traditional doctrines and disciplines reaffirmed. The new Jesuit order led the charge for reform under the inspired leadership of Ignatius of Loyola.

As we reflect on this moment, both lament and celebration are in order. Sober thinking leaders of all traditions acknowledge some of the zealous excesses of all traditions and even Roman Catholic leader affirm that is would have been wise to listen to Luther and not merely resist his ideas. The good news is that out of both the affirmations of faith and the ashes of conflict, many of the key ideas underpinning Western Civilization are strengthened, from the importance of the individual, freedom of conscience (after the exhaustion of more than a century of war), the rule of la (Lex Rex) and the goodness of all work, bother clerical and lay occupations.

The Day(s) After Easter

Easter is the most important day in the Christian calendar. The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the subsequent missionary efforts of his followers continue to impact the world. A small band of Jewish believers becomes a global, multicultural faith touching billions. Frightened disciples become fearless martyrs and proclaim forgiveness, reconciliation and hope. The agony of Good Friday is now seen as atonement for sin. The despair of death has been overcome by a preview of the future as believers see in the Risen Lord their eternal destiny.

Christianity is more than a personal faith or religious tradition. The Judeo-Christian worldview reflected in the Bible is the foundation for liberty, prosperity and stability. Even people of other faiths or no faith at all are the beneficiaries of the values and vision inspired by the call of Abraham, the legislation of Moses, the leadership of David, the courage of the prophets, the example of Jesus and the insights of the Apostles.

It is vital to assert that people of all worldviews bring much good to the world. Christianity does not have an exclusive claim on universal values such as love, compassion and justice. In fact, a biblical understanding of humankind affirms that all women and men are made in God’s image. Though we are effaced by sin, God’s image is not erased. In the providence of the Almighty, every person can bring good to the world.

The Judeo-Christian ethos has, however, led the planet in fostering particular values that all thoughtful people embrace. Here are just a few of the ideals that are part of the heart of our civilization:
* The dignity of all people, regardless of gender, race or status. This was new in an Empire that devalued the lowly and practiced infanticide.
* Compassion for the broken, poor and vulnerable. Medical care, hospitality, food for the hungry and advocacy for daily bread are the legacies of belief in a loving Creator and Redeemer.
* Free markets, natural prices, private property, community welfare and the entrepreneurial spirit are the overflow of biblical principles.
* Universal human rights rooted in the dignity of all people, the rule of law and transcendent moral principles.

Many more ideals can be enumerated. Consider the social progress of the last millennium, including emancipation movements, suffrage campaigns and private and public welfare provisions. Prison reforms, fair labor laws and equal opportunity under the law are consequences of reverence for God and respect for all people. Leaders across cultures and epochs share the convictions that produced the courage to change the world, from William Wilberforce to Martin Luther King, from St. Francis to Mother Teresa.

Art and music that refresh our lives flow from faith. Bach’s majestic orchestrations and Marc Chagall’s unparalleled images inspire creativity and nobility. Mozart’s masses and the literary genius of C.S. Lewis refract Divine luminosity. Makato Fujimura’s illuminated Gospels and inspired paintings grace 21st century venues around the world. The heartfelt and insightful lyrics of singer Sara Groves inspire millions to believe and continue their journey toward love and truth.

Easter is the day of hope. The days after Easter continue to make our lives rich with meaning. It is interesting that agnostics and atheists thrive in lands deeply affected by biblical values. Liberty of conscience, our most precious natural right, is the direct consequence of Judeo-Christian precepts that call for voluntary belief and mutual love and respect. We have a noble history and great hope if we will renew our fidelity to enduring ideals.