Today’s “guest post” is by Sebastian Castellio, a 16th-century reformer, pastor, and theologian from France. He was good friends with John Calvin for quite some time, but if there is one big, black, dark stain on the reputation of Calvin, it is his overseeing the burning of the heretic Michael Servetus. The Reformation years were a time of great strife within Christianity and much blood was shed simply because people held different doctrinal convictions. One of the first widely respected people to vehemently fight against this was Castellio. Today, especially in light of last week’s post on denominations, I want to reproduce a small portion of a pamphlet he wrote right after hearing about Servetus’ execution. This event tore apart his and Calvin’s friendship.
Most of the Christian Church doesn’t burn or kill those other Christians with wom we disagree. But still, our modern forms of “persecution” and labeling as “heretic” remains. Blog posts, message boards, tweets, Facebook comments, and passive-aggressive interviews fill the Christian blogosphere. And yet, in a post-Christian America, I find this to be increasingly unnecessary, silly, and shameful. My favorite Castellio quote is this:
To kill a man is not to protect a doctrine, but it is to kill a man.
I think the same can be said about dumb comments, blog posts, and tweets that aim to take down others that are just as sincerely trying to follow God as we are. As you read this, imagine today’s forms of attack in place of the overtly violent ones mentioned by Castellio, and I think you’ll agree this is a important a read today as ever. (This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity. If you’d like to read the unedited excerpt, you can find it in this preview of Hans Hillerbrand’s The Protestant Reformation.)
I’m currently in a Church History class going through the Reformation period of Christianity. During the Reformation, Martin Luther’s partner in crime (literally) was Philipp Melanchthon. After Luther’s death, Melanchthon carried the torch as a leader of the movement spreading throughout the Medieval world. In the years following the start of the Reformation, there were several different strains of non-Catholic Christianity that popped up.
To withstand the Catholic majorities at the time, these non-Catholic groups started talking about what it would look like to unify under one banner. Believe it or not, even though all these movements were really young and were reacting to the same problems they saw in Catholicism, these groups had really big differences between them that were hard to overcome.
In these conversations, an aging Melanchthon used an old Greek philosophical phrase to suggest a way forward: Adiaphora. Greek for “indifferent things”, he used it to describe how he felt that some beliefs and practices could be considered adiaphora (non-essentials), and could be compromised on for the same of unity. He argued with his fellow Lutherans that some beliefs were more essential to Christianity than others and didn’t require so much division. The others around him, of course, disagreed.
This got me thinking about the trajectory this set for us today. We now feel perfectly free to think a whole host of different things and still call others Christians. And yet still, much of Christianity’s most bitter judgmentalism and cries of heresy, unfaithfulness, sin, and arrogance are directed towards other who are also trying to follow the God of Jesus best they can. This has caused rifts, schisms, splits, and divisions into a huge number of Church denominations. Is this healthy for us? What does Christian “unity” look like? Do we all need to look the same?
How then can I answer him,
choosing my words with him?
Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him;
I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.
Job says he is innocent, but he says he still needs mercy. What does this mean? Perhaps he does see not people in the simplistic way that we often do–or at least as simplistic as we see the ancient Israelites.
Just like in the Christian scheme, I’m starting to think that the ancient Israelites also thought that people were considered righteous only on account of graciously being in covenant with God. All the sacrifices, festivals, laws, etc. were more as signs that they were the people of God; they were not how people became part of that group in the first place. In other words, the sacrifices and laws were outward displays that they were fully righteous before God’s eyes; they weren’t the ways that they “earned” righteousness or forgiveness.
For years now, I have described my place in the Christian family as a “Protesting Catholic“. I love Catholicism (by the way, Orthodoxy, I’m so sorry you are so frequently left out of these discussions–I’m as guilty of doing this as any). I love the entire Church family, in fact, and I can’t think of a tradition from which I have not benefited greatly from it nuancing, sharpening, refining, or deepening my theological thinking in some way. A friend posted this interview with Stanley Hauerwas, on his new book on the “end times”. It’s a brief interview with some nice quotes and sentiments from the elder public theologian, but this set of lines particularly caught my eye:
My suggestion [that Protestantism may be coming to an end] is meant to be a reminder that Protestantism is a reform movement. When it becomes an end in itself it becomes unintelligible to itself. Protestants who don’t long for Christian unity are not Protestant. There is also the ongoing problem that Catholics have responded to the Protestant critique in a way that the Protestant critique no longer makes much sense. Accordingly, the question is: why do we continue to be kept apart?
I wholeheartedly agree with Hauerwas about the heart of Protestantism and how it should long for unity and, eventually and hopefully, end. So why is Protestantism still a thing I embrace? Why am I not fleeing to Rome, to our Mother Church? Let me offer a few words. Continue reading
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
So begins the Heidelberg Catechism, a 16th-century document written under extraordinary circumstances. Long story short, after the counter Reformation, different “princes” over different regions were allowed to declare what “denomination” their region would be. The problem for Frederick III? His region was split pretty evenly between Lutherans and Calvinists. And so, he brought together some people from different traditions, and had them write a document they all agreed upon. The Heidelberg was born.
This document is one of the main doctrinal statements of my denomination, the Reformed Church in America (RCA), and my church. I’ve read little bits and pieces of it in the past, but I recently sat down and read the whole thing. And I was pretty surprised.
This is a post in an on-going series on Women in the Church.
The past couple of days, we’ve been talking about the historical development of this whole “Women in Church Leadership” idea. in the first post, we talked about why this is so important, and in the second post, we discussed where this change in ideas concerning ordained female leadership happened. Today, let’s talk Reformation and concluding thoughts.
On this blog, I currently have two running series I’m doing: “Reflections on Repentance” and “Women & the Church“. For these series, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research on those topics.
For the Women in Ministry series, I’ve been researching what, for me, is the biggest thing that gives me pause in my own egalitarian view in support of female pastors: the complete dearth of women leaders throughout the history of the whole Christian church. With a couple thousand years now of godly men (and women) looking at the same Scriptures I am, why have the vast majority of them come to the same view limiting women’s role?
Well, that’s another post for another time, but rest assured, as I’ve been researching this, I feel I’ve satisfied my concerns in this area. But that’s not what this (mostly tongue-in-cheek) post is about.
For my research for the repentance series, I keep ending up at the Reformation and its leaders. This got me thinking, and doing some math…
As some of you may have noticed, weekends are pretty quiet here on the blog. In an ideal world, I would post every day during the week and then take weekends off (as I’m not too sure people are surfing much on the weekends. Am I wrong?). Anyway, I want to try something. Beginning yesterday, I’m trying to start a little tradition where on Saturdays I’ll post a more personal, meditative post and Sundays I’ll do the series I’m kicking off today.
I was raised in the Bible Belt as a Southern Baptist where there is absolutely no diversity in Christian denominations: there are only Baptists and Catholics — nothing else. This was, at least, my exposure growing up in Dallas, Texas. Throughout my years as a “good ol’ boy” Southern Baptist, I was regularly taught by my Sunday School teachers that Catholics aren’t actually Christians. Let me unpack this briefly.