The Radicals, not the Protestants, have won. From Michael Horton

16 Oct

Much of the hoopla surrounding the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has been blather. On October 31, 2016, at a joint service in Lund, Sweden, Pope Francis and the president of the World Lutheran Federation exchanged warm feelings. Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the mainline Lutheran body, said in a press release for the joint service, “I’m carried by the profound conviction that by working towards reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we are working towards justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn apart by conflict and violence.” Acknowledging Luther’s positive contributions, the pope spoke of how important Christian unity is to bring healing and reconciliation to a world divided by violence. “But,” he added, according to one report, “we have no intention of correcting what took place but to tell that history differently.”

Perhaps the most evident example of missing the point is the statement last year in Berlin by Christina Aus der Au, Swiss pastor and president of an ecumenical church convention: “Reformation means courageously seeking what is new and turning away from old, familiar customs.”  Right, that’s what the Reformation was all about: average laypeople and archbishops gave their bodies to be burned and the Western church was divided, because people became tired of the same old thing and were looking for nontraditional beliefs and ways of living—just like us!

The Wall Street Journal reports a Pew study in which 53 percent of US Protestants couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the one who started the Reformation. (“Oddly, Jews, atheists, and Mormons were more familiar with Luther.”) In fact, “Fewer than 3 in 10 white evangelicals correctly identified Protestantism as the faith that believes in the doctrine of sola fide, or justification by faith alone.”1

Many today who claim the Reformation as their heritage are more likely heirs of the Radical Anabaptists. In fact, I want to test the waters with an outlandish suggestion: Our modern world can be understood at least in part as the triumph of the Radicals. At first, this seems a nonstarter; after all, the Anabaptists were the most persecuted group of the era—persecuted not only by the pope, but also by Lutheran and Reformed magistrates. Furthermore, today’s Anabaptists are pacifists who generally eschew mingling with outsiders, rather than revolutionary firebrands such as Thomas Müntzer, who led insurrections in the attempt to establish end-time communist utopias (with themselves as messianic rulers).

I’m not talking about Amish communities in rural Pennsylvania. In fact, I don’t have in mind specific offshoots, like Arminian Baptists, as such. I’m thinking more of the Radical Anabaptists, especially the early ones, who were more an eruption of late medieval revolutionary mysticism than an offshoot of the Reformation. I have in mind a utopian, revolutionary, quasi-Gnostic religion of the “inner light” that came eventually to influence all branches of Christendom. It’s the sort of piety that the Reformers referred to as “enthusiasm.” But it has seeped like a fog into all of our traditions.

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