The Reformers Swerving overcorrection

(Read column on the reformations overcorrection)


Bill Barnwell said...

Before I comment on the question, let me clarify something here: Is it not true that the early church fathers themselves disagreed exactly what was to be considered part of what we call "The Aporypha?" Indeed, historically and even today the Eastern Orthodox Church includes a few books that the Catholic church does not in their deuterocanonical list. And while there was a general reading and acceptance of these books, there was not, I believe, universal agreement, even amongst historic Catholics, and the matter was not even definitively settled until the mid-1500's with the Council of Trent. Or do I have my facts wrong?

But as to the central question raised here, there are certain areas where we have "gone too far." Just one quick example would be in the popular approach to communion in most low-church traditions. While I definitely don't agree with trans and even consubstantiation, I would like to think of the Lord's Supper as more than just a funeral for Jesus, full of somber and solemn faces, which is how it is often presented in such movements. I suppose that critique is not limited to Protestants, but I agree with one speaker who described contemporary communion services in some Protestant churches as "dead rituals for a dead savior." Ouch.

chad said...


1. Dismissing communion as having no actual spiritual effect at all.

2. Stripping authority away from the church and giving it to the individual making each person "their own personal pope."

3. Dividing and starting a new denomination every time even a small disagreement comes up--at latest count more than 1000.

There were real abuses in the RC church.

There are real abuses in the Protestant churches.

I am not sure ours are any better for the Kingdom of God


Aaron said...

Bill: I could be way off, but I'm pretty sure the early church didn't accept a lot of those books ...? I
'm pretty sure you are close if not totally correct.


1) I agree, and I'm pretty sure this isn't what luther was looking for.

2)ABSOLUTELY. I think the individualist kick that we are in is probably the most destructive. It also leads to church shopping everytime someone gets ticked off.

I'll be honest I'm glad the books from the apoc. aren't in my Bible ... I just don't beleive they were inspired, and I think I have a decent amount of tradition to back me up on that.

That being said I wonder what Luther would have done if he could see what has happened today?

Sidenote .. did Wesley help this much by consecratin his own bishops and the such?

Chad said...

Aaron you are a true Reformer (or restorationist) to look back to the early church to find "the canon."

I think you are right-- the books that had the greatest difficulty into the canon would include:
2 Peter
3 John

BUT also they added quite a few books that did not last --including Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas.

We hate to admit it but the church decided what woudl be in the Bible that Luther wanted to rule over the church. We conservative Christians don't like being told the real story of how we got the Bible. We like to think it came down from heaven whole in 33AD

Back to the question, I THOUGHT OF ANOTHER ONE:

The Reformers went overboard with:
4. Eliminating all mystery from worship so that worship is cognative and focused on the mind rather than the heart

Bill Barnwell said...

Even with Barnabas and Sheperd of Hermas we have to be careful with statements like "The early church accepted these books." Some did, some didn't. Same with the Apocalypse of Peter and other works. I think the bigger problem here in terms of Biblical studies from a Protestant standpoint is this idea of "400 years of silence" from Malachi to Matthew, as if nothing was going on in those years. I agree that the Apocrypha is not of equal weight with the OT, but the historical apocryphal books such as I and II Macc. do add a great deal in understanding some of the history in the intertestamental period. I think all Christians should be at least familiar with the history of this time. Without it, the social, political, and religious background of the New Testament appears very disjointed from the Old Testament. So in that respect, Protestant thought is lacking.

Kurt A Beard said...

The real danger is occurring with when varying factions repeat and compound Luther's canonical thinking. Two main groups are following Luther's thinking down the path of scripture abridging; the liberals and the evangelicals (both are generalizations). Some liberal factions deny the authority and inspiration of the epistle's. Many evangelicals deny the Old Testament a place within the useful canon at times dismissing it outright. They would place the Old Testament outside with Luther's Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation.

So, we are going to far on the same path that some of the reforms went and it's a slippery slope that will end when we have nothing left. I suspect in the case of evangelicals and liberals the issue is more of avoidance of conviction than a theological basis.

p.s. Happy Reformation Day

David Drury said...

What a thought provoking and wonderful column! I hope a wonderful conversation worthy of it will ensue here.

My answer to your question may not be true in totality but I feel it to be true in essence:

Most things that the Reformers overcorrected too vigorously against Roman Catholocism were brought back to better balance in the movement that John Wesley started.

In this case I'm proud to be a middle-of-the-road Methodist.

Kevin K. Wright said...

A few points of clarification:

No major group out of the Continental reformation actually deined that communion lacked any spiritual efficacy. Luther, Calvin, and even Zwingli to an extent all affirmed some time of real presence of Christ and spiritual efficacy in the Eucharist, albeit in different ways. As for the Anabaptists, I would not classify them as coming out of the Protestant Reformation (Radical instead) and furthermnore their polygenesis characteristics makes it hard to make a sweeping generalization of the entire group, although a few groups probably did come closer to calling the Eucharist an ordinance rather than a sacrament.

And as for Drury mentioning that Calvin did not write on the book of Revelation, it was in large part due to the fact that he saw it as such a mysterious and complex book and dared not comment on it lest he be unfaithful to the text. If only Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins shared that same opinion.

Larry said...

The emphasis on Scripture to the point of veneration seems to be traceable to the Reformation.

Although I'm not sure if we can blame the Reformers for this--or if it was a continuation of their work for which they shouldn't be held responsible.

The heirs of Reformed theology, heavily indoctrinated by the historical-critical method and a liberal (ha!) dose of fundamentalism, seem to have lost the ability to listen to Scripture and hear from God through it outside it's original context.

I think the emergent types are correcting this--and will undoubtedly go too far the other way.

But it's refreshing to see people doing biblical theology with tools other than lexicography and archaeology--things like tradition, experience, and reason, for example ;-)

Triune Supt. said...

1) Getting rid of Bishops
2) Going back to one general supt.

Wait. Which reformers are we talking about?

Anonymous said...

in an effort to reduce the emphasis or dependence on imagery, i believe that protestants have gone too far by completely removing most visual art from the church. what is left is a few banners, maybe a painting of Jesus.

I have seen artists who believe they have no place for their art in the Church because of the (over)zealousness of those who deny any form of imagery.

not sure what more to say... guess i'll let that be that.

Aaron said...

I just got out of a class by Dr. Bill Ury, and I think I'd like to add the view of the trinity.

They put the emphasis on the substance of God and then on to the "triune-ness" instead of the reltionships of the 3 persons of the trinity.

Granted this is more "western vs. Eastern" than reformationist, but I think it's a valid thought.

Kevin K. Wright said...

I'd like to ask which Protestant Reformer in particular devalued the Old Testament? Are we talking about the Anabaptists and some of their Marcionite tendences? If not then who else? Luther was an Old Testament scholar and anyone who has read Calvin knows that he by no means devalued the Old Testament, but rather put it on the same level as the NT. I'm not sure about Zwingli but perhaps someone can help me with him.

Kevin K. Wright said...

eI think one of the Protestants Reformers' major overcorrection was their insistence on a completely invisible Church. In other words, the Church is no longer a visible body of believers defined by common practices, but rather a collection of individuals conjoined by doctrine or discipline. Orthopraxy takes a back seat to Orthodoxy instead of standing on the same level.

Second, I think the Protestant Reformers perhaps over ameliorated the idea of tradition. For the Reformers, tradition is not a static line of teaching flowing throughout the life of the Church, but rather something that is lived into by each subsequent generation. Augustine's teachings are only authoritative if they agree with our present experience as a body of believers. While I agree that this can be thought of as a good thing, standing on the shoulders of giants never hurt any body.

It is often not the Reformers themselves who I blame, but rather their disciples and students who abused the teachings of their masters and went their own route. Perhaps this is a lesson we can apply to our own lives.

James Petticrew said...

Can I offer an alternative? I think in several ways I stand with the radical reformation in saying that the movements Luther and Calvin spawned didn't go far enough in certain areas, the close ties between state and church, the dominance of the clergy come particularly to my mind.

Argot said...

I had to go back just to make sure, but Luther didn't throw out a number of books on his own accord. Athanasius, who possibly single-handedly saved us from the Arian controversy at the Council of Nicea in 325, authorized all 27 of the NT books in his Easter letter in 367. These 27 were approved at the Council of Carthage in 397. Although yes, there was some continuing debate.

But your question brings bigger significance to me in the fact that Salvationists may struggle in the 20th century over the issue of "the sacraments". While the authority of the General continues to "just say no." There is a growing movement that wants to "ecclesiasize" our movement and re-connect us to the rest of the Orthodox Church-believing that perhaps we threw out the baby with the bath water.

So...in our process of reform, do we continue to emphasize our distinctiveness, carried down through the vision and revivalism of William Booth and or do we emphasize our unity and harmony with the rest of the Body of Christ and our roots to Wesley and Methodism?

Just thinking out loud.

Vaughn W. Thurston-Cox said...

All this talk about canon is interesting. Personally, I have heard many reasons why the Didache should be included. BUT, isn't this simply academic? I could accept 1,000 years of church wisdom, but my conference leadership really doesn't care.

::athada:: said...

To answer your question: yes, probably, as evidenced by our present day religion-of-one.

Haha... conservative evangelical Protestants actually came from a LIBERAL offshoot! Oh how the tale turns...

Wes McCallum said...

Has the reformation gone too far? Perhaps so.

SOLA GRATIA. Christian entertainment, worship, concerts (even movies) have surpassed communion and the scriptures as a new “means of grace”.

SOLA FIDE. Therapy and 12 step support groups have surpassed faith, repentance, and conversion, as a new “means of faith”.

SOLA SCRIPTURA. Private “personal devotions” has surpassed the corporate reading scriptures as a new “means of revelation”. How do I personally interpret the bible for my life’s situation? Topical “self help” messages have replaced expository preaching as the new “means of doctrine”. We are less concerned about heaven or holiness than restoring romance to marriage or dealing with difficult people.

SOLUS CHRISTUS. Self awareness has surpassed the focus on Christ and his body as a new “means of fellowship”. Its all about Jesus and me!

David Drury said...

And don't forget the fifth reformation "sola"


Perhaps worship has degenerated into "it's all about me" as well.


JohnLDrury said...

I think I'm with James Petticrew. The Christocentric openness of the canon in the early years was among its best insights, though it quickly closed itself off from this principle in a polemical debate with the Roman Catholics over which canon was right. The canon should be open in principle. The bible is inspired; not the table of contents of the bible. We should tak seriously the perpetual ecclesial task of thinking through the unity and boundary of the bible as one book made of many books. We should never take for granted the church's canon lines up with God's canon (though the burden of proof is certainly on those who recommend adjustments).

Matthew Kinsey said...

This particular thought has been on mind a lot over the past few months. Oddly enough, it was sparked by watching a program on EWTN about the writings of G.K. Chesterton and how David Ahlquist uses them as an apology for the Catholic Church.

The Church lost one of its greatest attributes, that of: Oneness. Sure we all have One God but we're splintered in our understanding and focus of his attributes and work. We can all now speak of how we are one in Christ and how all denominations share certain core beliefs but, to the world we are a fragmented, bickering, moralistic social hall. This in turn has lead to a fragmentation of our understanding of truth and our ability to communicate it to the world as solidified, pure, holy and unadulterated. So our Oneness and Authority are struck to the core as one holy, apostolic and catholic church. Most of the folks I'v read enough of your blogs to know that nearly all of you believe this about the church. And yet we still enforce denominationally centristic doctrines. And we do it bodly at that! We add that we have lost the Holiness drive in some corners (See any number of Wesleyan publications). We add that we do the Mass in latin because it adds the element of mystery (See any number of monastic traditions and add illiteracy when we do not understand the message). We add that Bible has been placed in its proper place as complete and authoritative (See Dr. Sproul and Sola Gloria Dei). I could go on and on and on with these examples. We are so fragmented in it seems. And yet we have so many great men and women of God out there doing great work for Him.

We are all ultimately inclined as humans to raise men and women and objects up and worship them. We glorify men, systems and objects above God to our own detriment. I am reminded of Serpent on a pole raised up by Moses upon Gods command for those struck by serpents in the Wilderness wandering to be healed. Then so many years later the King Hezekiah tearing it down, burning and calling it "A thing of Brass". An empty idol that had become a thing of worship. How many of our thoughts, comments, conversations, objects, traditions, ideas, philosphies, systems, reformations, revolutions and so on are like that 'thing of brass.'
How much further will we go in defending each one of those to the detriment of our Oneness.

Now I know this will undoubtedly unhinge the theologian in all of us to argue that we are one in spirit and that we are still the church universal that we are all one in the Spirit and so on. But, where is that evident in the physical manifestation of current amalgamation of denominations we find ourselves in now?

Matthew Kinsey

Keith.Drury said...

OK for a catch-up wrap-up of comments suggested so far

(NOTE: We took the discussion BEYOND the first question and let it gravitate from what the “Reformers” went too far on, to how PROTESTANTISM has gone to far, maybe even to how TODAY’S CHURCH has gone too far. So here are a collection of some possibilities

1. Communion—draining the power and presence of Christ.

2. Individualism—each person becoming their own pope.

3. Division—disagree and start a new denomination.

4. Cognition—worship with words-to-mind, little mystery & action

5. Old Testament—devaluing it.

6. Bible-idolatry— “cult of the original meaning”

7. Art—purging art from worship atmosphere

8. Trinity. (Substance, threeness, perhaps East-west)

9. Invisible vs. visible church (Great one Kevin!)

10. Tradition truncated-- seen through immediate

11. Present day religion-of-one.

12. SOLA GRATIA. Christian entertainment, worship, concerts (even movies) have surpassed communion and the scriptures as a new “means of grace”.

13. SOLA FIDE. Therapy and 12 step support groups have surpassed faith, repentance, and conversion, as a new “means of faith”.

14. SOLA SCRIPTURA. Private “personal devotions” has surpassed the corporate reading scriptures as a new “means of revelation”.

15. SOLUS CHRISTUS. Self awareness has surpassed the focus on Christ and his body as a new “means of fellowship”. Its all about Jesus and me!

16. SOLI DEO GLORIA... Perhaps worship has degenerated into "it's all about me" as well = “SOLI MEO GLORIA”

17. Loss of “Oneness” in the church

Late-comers: feel free to add more....

Anonymous said...

You become like that which you hate!

Bitty said...

Maybe this is a one way to ticket to the land of the obvious, but let's see..hoards of young (er) believers cradling prayer beads in their hands, establishing icons on the walls of their tiny apartments, and flocking to the Eucharist? Yes, I'd say, I'm riding the pendulum back, back to the day before chiclet-sized, personalized communion bread; back to the day when multi sensory worship was more than a flower arrangement; back to the day when I could tell whether I was in a Gap or a sacred space. Of course the Reformers took it too far. I would have. They had to. Great corrective, history. Good Wesleyan that I am, I will say this, though: the Holy Spirit resides in Boomer-infested, slickly marketed churches too, sometimes. Ow. Now THAT is humbling!