Office Hours: What Happened To The Reformation? (Part 1)

Office Hours 2016 full sizeIt is October 2017. 500 years ago this month Martin Luther wrote 95 theses against the abuse of indulgences in the Western church. We have traced the Reformation to this date for a long time but as you and I have discussed before, in earlier episodes of Office Hours, the Reformation began before 1517 and it certainly did not end there. Decades later, Luther would say that, in 1517, he was still a “right roaring papist.” He would not come to understand salvation through faith alone (sola fide) until 1519 and he did not articulate the principle of sola scriptura until a month before the Diet of Worms in April, 1521.

Still, it is important that we remember and celebrate the Reformation not out of tribal loyalties, because these are “our people,” but because the Reformation brought us back to the sufficiency of God’s Word for worship and the Christian life, back to the gospel, and back to the sufficiency of Christ’s person and work for our justification and salvation.

One of the reasons it is important to remember and celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is that, in many quarters, even by people who think of themselves as Protestants, the history of the Reformation, the lessons of the Reformation, and the basic of principles of the Reformation have been forgotten, neglected, or able opposed—sometimes in the name of the Reformation. At the end of August of this year, The Pew Research Center published the results of a study which they headlined, “U. S. Protestants are not defined b the Reformation-Era Controversies 500 years later.” According to the study, only about one-half of Protestants surveyed said that faith alone is enough to get into heaven.  Of course, we cannot blame them for being confused. Repeatedly major evangelical leaders have said the very same thing. Even as they “celebrate” the Reformation they undermine it by suggesting that Jesus made it possible for sinners to be saved but that he has not actually saved them.

The study goes on to say that only about 30% of American Protestants believe in both salvation by grace alone, through faith alone and the sufficiency of Scripture for the Christian faith and the Christian life. Remarkably, the study discovered that 30% of American Protestants believe in purgatory, which is, of course, the doctrinal playground on which Rome invented the doctrine of indulgences, i.e., the teaching that one can do something (e.g., walk through an arch) or pay money to the Roman church instead of performing acts of penances in the life or enduring purgatory for failing to fulfill one’s acts of penance in this life). All this raises the question: how did we come to a place where the very basics of the Reformation are unknown or rejected even by those who see themselves as Protestants? This is the question that we’ll be exploring in this short series of episodes. In this episode we consider the effect of the Counter Reformation upon the Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Here is the episode.

Here are all the episodes in Season 8: Refo500

Here are all the Office Hours episodes.

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  1. I remember reading a column at some point in time (although I don’t remember who wrote the column or what web page it was on) wherein the author made a comment that the Reformation could be traced back to some Franciscan friars several hundred years before Luther. Would you have some information on that? I am trying to discover the various attempts to reform the Church before Luther, Wycliffe, Huss, et al. I have read your article, “Where Was Your Church Before Luther” (which I found very helpful), but I am looking for more information.
    Thank you,
    In Christ,
    Bob Tuttle

    • Bob,

      It is a Romanist apologetic point to argue that the Reformation is product of the allegedly degenerate Franciscan nominalist philosophy and theology. It goes like this: Luther studied under nominalist profs as an undergrad. He imbibed this philosophy, which doubts actual relations between names and the things they name, and Luther used that philosophy to build the Protestant doctrine of justification.

      This claim is rubbish. I deal with it at length in my medieval-Reformation course. You might want to listen to season 8 of Office Hours, where we address this some. The truth is more complex. The short version is that, for much of the middle ages most of the West assumed a certain realism which, when questioned by the nominalists did help to provide the opportunity for the Protestants to reconsider those assumptions. The Reformation was not a nominalist event, however. The Protestants weren’t and aren’t nominalists.

      There is a series of essays on nominalism.

      I did an interview with Adam Kane in which we touched on this and that should be coming out shortly.

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