28 November 2012

Answering Questions #20- Restorationism (6) The Reformed Tradition

I'm including a link to Part 5 because I noticed many seemed to miss it in the flurry of subsequent and unrelated posts.

Thus far in discussing Restorationism we've looked at the Stone-Campbell Churches of Christ, briefly at the Anabaptist legacy and I've mentioned the Restorationist impulses and elements found with the Reformation.
The Lutheran and Anglican wings had a very limited view of Restoration. The Reformed wing went further and yet it could be argued this impulse was severely arrested with the development of specifically Reformed creedal and confessional standards. In addition the mainstream Protestant wings of the Reformation never repudiated the Medieval Sacral order. They wanted so-called Christian societies, a Protestant Christendom.
 These are two key points of difference between many of the proto-Protestant groups (with the post-Reformation Anabaptists) and the Magisterial Reformers (Luther, Calvin and the traditions generated from their work.):
          Restorationism v. Confessionalism and,
          Spiritual Kingdom v. Christian Sacralism (Christendom)
Among the proto-Protestant groups there is a mixed record and legacy. Among the Waldensians there is a definite rejection of Christendom and the wedding of Church to power. The Lollards are mixed. There were definitely elements that either embraced proto-nationalist tendencies which had been exacerbated by the strife between the Papacy and the Plantagenet's. After the Peasant's Revolt of 1381 and Oldcastle's Uprising in the early 15th century, the Lollards retreated and seemed to have abandoned their political aspirations although there are indications that some factions within their movement never held these views.
The Hussites splintered after the death of Hus. The Utraquists and especially the Taborites took up the sword. A tiny remnant, the Unitas Fratrum and some other sects associated with Petr Chelcicky resisted nationalist impulses and rejected the temptation of power that comes with taking up the sword. These pacifist bodies persevered, barely survived the Thirty Years War and later through the filter of Pietism morphed into the Moravians.
There are many other smaller factions but basically all these groups either disappeared by joining with the mainstream Reformation, or in the case of the Waldensians the sub-group in the Cottian Alps simply became Reformed.
Some Waldensians and others undoubtedly helped provide some of the early foundations of the Anabaptists. These groups were never uniform in terms of doctrine. Good people devoted to Scripture have and continue to differ on several key theological points, baptism being one of them.
The Reformation was deeply flawed on many fronts but in the subsequent centuries some segments, particularly the Reformed have maintained a vigorous intellectual life. This is not always positive nor has it always produced positive results. However, we should appreciate the vitality even if it is sometimes misguided. Sadly many other groups have stagnated and lost sight of the riches of Scripture. The deep thinking in many circles consists of working out the minutiae of legalistic prescription.
Clearly among the Reformed there have been some that have gone far beyond the text of Scripture and have been caught up in various philosophical traps[i] and this has heavily influenced their theology. Despite this vibrant mental climate, Confessionalism has closed many doors and prevented those within their circles from examining some fundamental issues and problems, and that continues to this day.
I continue to bring up the Reformed because I feel in some ways they are inescapable and anyone who spent any time reading my work knows that I have something of a love/hate relationship with them. For many years I was deeply within their fold and yet in time the deep flaws became apparent and I began to find them the odious as I realized they had insulated themselves not only from change but even argument. To be fair, the history of the 20th century has driven many Bible-believing groups to take up a very defensive posture. During the 19th century most Protestant bodies allowed some of their Confessional threads to be unraveled and within a couple of generations most of these groups were in a state of crisis. Things had unraveled so far they were almost naked.
The 19th century proved to be a meat-grinder for many philosophies and systems. The 20th century was the fallout and we now live in strange and frustrating time of transition.  The 18th and 15th centuries perhaps provide a similar example of transition and new orders being established.
What is the Christian life? How do we as Christians living in This Age experience the Age to Come?
For many the Christian life is ethics, rules and regulations. It's something of a code they follow. For others it's about identifying with a culture and the political implications that come with that stance. For others it's a form of therapy.
The Reformed are right (at least in theory) when they understand the Christian life to be about knowing God, rejoicing in God, learning His ways, treading His paths, being reconciled to Him and learning everything we can about how He was revealed Himself to us, the ways and means of redemption and the consummated Kingdom that awaits us.  
This means a life focused upon and built upon the Word. The Bible contains many layers as it were. It's simple enough for a child to understand and yet so profound it cannot be mastered in a dozen lifetimes. The deeper things are not requisite of saving faith but we should want to know (and thus experience) them. Those who view the Christian life as a set of rules or those who have been fooled by a Cheap Grace Gospel (one resting merely in the notion of not wanting to go to hell) which often waters down faith and repentance....these people usually express little interest in pursuing the deep things of God.
Again, there are dangers. We can over intellectualize the faith. We bring outside ideas with us when we read the Bible and history is replete with examples of people synthesizing those ideas with the Scriptures themselves. We run the risk of turning the Church into some kind of formal institution that begins to function as a bureaucracy and worth is measured in credentials and accomplishments. This is the world invading the Church and it ought not to be.
By no means am I suggesting that only Reformed authors can or should be turned to when we pursue deeper theological study. There are many other options. Certain traditions will be good on certain topics and likely awful on others. The Reformed are no different. In fact some Reformed groups can be very poor in terms of a general outlook, while others may for the most part be pretty good. But all must be read critically. I cannot fully endorse any one camp.
In terms of intellectual endeavour, commentaries are very helpful and I would by no means restrict people to using Reformed works. In terms of general doctrine, read widely and the Patristic writings are always a good place to spend some time. In terms of history I can't think of any Reformed authors I would recommend while I can think of some that I might still read and yet very critically.

[i] Anyone who has spent any time wandering the labyrinth of philosophy should quickly be able to detect it is a landscape of  mires and traps. It is a house of madness, that cannot be ignored but if you drink too deeply, you'll lose your mind. It is vastly complicated and nuanced and every figure is full of polarities and contradictions.

I often think of William of Ockham. On the one hand he's a hero of the Reformation,  an enemy of the Papacy, a seed-planter for the restoration of Biblical Christianity.... but on the other hand some view him as a father of modern secularism. Both are in some ways true. In some ways I resonate with his ideas and appreciate points he makes and on the other hand, like Wycliffe I repudiate him and many of philosophical foundations and commitments he espoused. Augustine of Hippo is in many ways a similar figure. Virtually every idea can be abused. Justification by Faith Alone can even be abused, exaggerated, mis-defined, and distorted.


Cal said...

Good thoughts on the Reformed. I feel the same way. They understand that the Christian life is walking the path of the Cross, walking in communion with the Crucified God, and rejoicing in His victory. Though sometimes I see in the Reformed a tendency to make a Christ a tool in the hand of a God bound by Decree rather than realize Christ is the eternal will of the Father.

Anyway, I just read a rather good read on the changing theology of the Unitas Fratrum, from Hus to Commenius. The author has an obvious soft spot for Commenius, who I think had some critical flaws in his optimism of progress though was a wonderful educator.

I wish I could just read about Chelcicky. I've been looking for material about him. I've read his biography by Wagner, who is baffled, on account of his memorialist Anabaptism, at Chelcicky's insistence on the sacramental presence of the Supper and infant baptism. He says its inconsistency, I just had to roll my eyes and keep reading. I want to know where he learned what he learned. Was it really all from Wycliffe and Hus? I know it's all in Scripture, maybe it's just the case where the Lord raises up a voice of truth in the wilderness. Though I know the man had his flaws.

9 times out of 10 I agree with the man though. How sad the man is passed by.


PS. Check your email

Protoprotestant said...

Great last sentence of your first paragraph. I think I will contemplate that a bit.

I feel exactly the same way about Commenius. His thoughts on education were good, though he was a bit naive. But overall a stalwart. I still pull out some of his quotes on the Law and the Christian. And what a life! Such sorrow and wanderings.

Basically the Unitas were pretty much wiped out during the Thirty Years War and after. The group that emerged from Herrnhut in the 1700's wasn't really the same.

You might disagree but I'm not too pleased with Lucas of Prague. I think he started steering the Unitas in the wrong direction.

I'm chuckling about Chelcicky. I know exactly what you're talking about. He wasn't an Anabaptist, but he kind of was. Hey, like I've said if anybody is 'my guy' it's him. So far, he's the one I would most line up with.

I don't think it was from Wycliffe and Hus. Many think he had Waldensian ties. They certainly were thick in that region but mostly German. But Chelcicky didn't seem to get fired up about Czech nationalism so I don't think German-ness would have bothered him.

Another fascinating person from that time is Peter Payne. What a life! He stayed with Chelcicky in 1437.

Why is he passed by? Because who would 'want' him? The Anabaptists give him the most attention but he wasn't quite one of them was he? The Reformed and other Protestants don't want him. He'd condemn them. Wylie liked the Taborites but glosses over what they were. He liked Zizka's brilliant generalship but none of those folks would have been interested in what was happening at Tabor.

BTW, I'm assuming you know what I'm talking about if you just read that. If you don't, don't be shy and I'll explain what I mean. And if anyone else is reading...of course speak up.

God willing, one of these days I'll return to historical articles. I've got a gazillion I want to write. There's some really interesting stuff people just don't know anything about.

Protoprotestant said...

Ah you've been reading that Atwood book! That's been on my 'wish' list for some time. The price doesn't seem to go down.

You can read it only with Googlebooks, but I want to have the actual volume. I like reading out of a book much better than a screen. Did you buy it or get it through ILL?

Protoprotestant said...

I was just looking at it online and yeah, he definitely cites Wycliffe as a big influence but I was pleased to see he correctly pointed out that Chelcicky had a different view of Church and State. Wycliffe wanted the monarchy to bust some heads and set things right.

That's why I'm always ambivalent about the Lollards. On the one had you've got Wycliffe's statements and Oldcastle's Revolt, but on the other hand you've got John Ball and the 12 Conclusions which seem to differ with Wycliffe. I think like the Waldensians you don't have a monolithic movement.

Cal said...

I know what you're talking about with the name dropping.

I'm going to make a note to hunt up some stuff on Payne.

I can guess some might have sympathy with Zizka because he sort of represents a Cromwell before Cromwell. Though not as stunning. Who executes a king?! What would have happened with Zizka decided to take the Taborite sword down to Rome. What would history look like if the militaristic Taborites executed the Pope? They certainly had a window.

Now I'm not advocating that at all. Nor would Chelcicky, he would be on his face weeping. He's right to do so.

I'm not sure what I think about Lukas. I'd be curious to see his correspondence with Luther. I am a big Luther man myself, despite all his major failings. I don't quite go along with his law/cross dichotomy. I think Chelcicky had a better handle of the distinction. The Reformed picked this up, though some misunderstood it and applied the Mosaic law in nation building and moralism. Love becomes sacrificed. However Luther nailed the idolatrous theology of glory that marks medieval Roman catholicism. It's the same we see all over in America!

Anyway, I've not read anything by Lukas. I know he was scholastically trained, that may have set up the Unitas Fratrum for instability, being absorbed by the national aspirations of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions.


PS. Got the Atwood book through ILL. You can tell he's a Moravian of some sorts, but critical. He doesn't consider Zizendorf to be the same as what started with Gregory (who he considers the real head).

English Patriotism seems to be a continual theme in all the revolts/revolutions/reformations that occur.