Listen to “Episode 74: Getting the Reformation Wrong” on Spreaker.
To purchase Dr. Payton’s book you can go here.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. It’s a pleasure to be with you here today on a fine cold winter day and Chris, you tell us about the weather.
Chris: It’s delightful. It started last night, just a light dusting. It was great to see all the snow falling down.
Kurt: Snow has finally arrived in Chicagoland.
Chris: And it stuck. It’s not a lot of it, but it’s definitely coating the atmosphere. It’s fantastic.
Kurt: And for those that are long-time listeners, they know that Chris just loves the winter. It’s his favorite time of year.
Chris: Yeah. We’ve had the cold this week and now we have the snow as well.
Kurt: I will take cold and snow up through I would say about mid-January. By that time, I want spring to arrive.
Chris: I was going to say through February. You have a whole other month and a half to go.
Kurt: I know.
Chris: I’ll put a hot cocoa in your hand. We’ll segue you over to reality.
Kurt: Yes. Winter has arrived in Chicagoland. It’s very nice. It’s always nice in the Christmas season. I know you are very pleased with it so…
Kurt: It was quite warm and mild in November.
Chris: It was. I think even last week and the weekend we’ve had 30 and 20, but it was Sunday, Monday was 60 degrees. It was like a nice little overture to fall before it finally left our presence.
Kurt: On today’s show we’re going to be talking about Getting The Reformation Wrong and we’ll be talking about the Protestant Reformation and some perhaps misconceptions that we might have about it. Before we get into that discussion though, just a few housekeeping items. I know that speaking of the Christmas spirit, last week I forgot to mention, if you look behind me here, you can see I’ve strung some nice fine colored Christmas lights over the Veracity Hill television there so if you had a keen eye you would have spotted those last week. We will keep those up of course through the holiday season. Just something a little festive I think that we can do here in the office. We haven’t set up anything else.
Also, Veracity Hill has been doing this fundraiser. It’s been an ongoing fundraiser. It started back in September I think and we had planned to do a two-month fundraiser, but then Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, we were fundraising for someone else, I think had some health problems, I recommended that we go and support them, then we had our conference coming up….
Chris: We did, and before the conference, we had some web errors as well.
Kurt: Yes. So right. It’s been an extended two months.
Chris: There’s been a lot of hurdles thrown up our way.
Kurt: Nevertheless, just for three more weeks, I will be requesting your money here before the end of the year and would love to get your support. There are a couple ways you can do that. The best way is to go online to the website, veracityhill.com/patron. I’ve also included a -give there. If you become one of our monthly supporters at $20 a month, we will send you this nifty USB flash drive. It has the USB side there, the regular USB, and for integrating and moving into the future, the USBC which can plug into different smart phones, android, Joel, the guy that works behind us, he had an Android, and this would plug in right to his phone, and also I know for newer iPhones, so you can plug this right in and listen to episodes that we have pre-loaded on this flash drive so we’d love to get your support and you can go to the website to learn more about that and of course, if you’ve got any questions, just send me an email, Kurt@veracityhill.com.
Chris: It’s worth mentioning Kurt. I think we mention it at the end of every show. Every show that we do here is funded completely from the generosity of patrons and people who believe in the work that we’re doing.
Kurt: You help us make this happen and if you want our podcast ministry to grow here, we need your support and we are growing, 2017 has seen good growth, especially with the livestream that we’ve been doing on Facebook. We’re able to advertise that. We can reach 2,000 people with just $10-$15, so with your help, we can be getting the show in front of numerous different eyeballs and ears and helping them to see what a great program we have here on the variety of topics, also from a variety of perspectives. Getting Christians to think well about different issues, to go outside their comfort zones, to learn to engage with one another and to discuss civilly conversations that might otherwise be uncomfortable. I’ll have those uncomfortable conversations for you I guess in the meantime. So today’s program, we are blessed to be joined with Dr. Jim Payton. He spoke at our conference a few weeks ago. He’s the author of Getting The Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings and, Jim, thank you so much for joining us on the program today.
Jim: It’s a privilege to be on. Thank you, Kurt.
Kurt: Great. So before I get into asking you some questions about misconceptions that we might have, let me first ask you this, we’ll call it a baseline question. Could you tell us what do most people, most Protestants, think about the Reformation generally speaking?
Jim: To the degree we think about it, we think of it as a renewal movement. Sometimes people almost act as if nothing had happened between the time the apostles died and the Reformers came along. That’s certainly not accurate, but that’s kind of the gut hunch some people seem to operate from. The thing about the Reformation we’re positive on, we’re grateful for it, we think of it as a reaction obviously to the problems that had developed, but along the way, some of the notions that have developed among us and have become common, have problems with them, show some misunderstanding of what actually took place during the Reformation, and that’s why I wrote the book.
Kurt: Great. I like what you said there. For many people, there is no time development. There’s no time gap between when the New Testament was written and the Reformation era. It’s complete consistency. The history is a little muddier than that and so I’m glad that you’re here to guide us through some of those muddy waters and also before I forget too, we’ve got your book here and we’re going to be giving it away today so for those that are following along on the livestream, all you have to do is share the livestream video with your friends on Facebook and that will be enough to enter you to win this book right here. This very copy. We’ve got a few back in the storage closet, but I’ll send you this one right here. If you want a copy of Jim’s book, we would be glad to send it your way. All you have to do is share this video with your friends on Facebook and we’ll get in touch with the random winner that we select after today’s program.
We’ve got history that we have to look at. You have been a career-long historian looking at different issues in church history and theology and so, first, I want to ask you this. Give us a little bit of context if you would as to what led us to the Reformation? It didn’t just happen in a vacuum. It happened behind cultural backgrounds, political issues, and the like. There’s a context to the event so tell us about the pre-Reformation era.
Jim: After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West in the 400’s, there was a slow Christianization, evangelization of Europe, that led also trying to establish Christian mores in government and practices in society, and that seemed to go pretty well through about the twelfth century through the thirteenth century, the 1200′,s and people were positive on it. We should note that nations had really been established as we would recognize them today with Canada or Britain or France. They were emerging from tribal loyalties and local realities and so the only international association was the church which was headquartered in Rome in the West. In so many ways, people looked to Rome for guidance, not only because it had contact everywhere, but also because through the church and through the teaching of the missionaries and establishment of churches throughout Europe, people had been brought into the faith and looked to the church for guidance. Things were going well through the thirteenth centuries, but beginning with the last two centuries with what we call the medieval period, the 14th and 15th centuries, there was a succession of horrendous events that happened. First was some real agricultural problems with bad weather and bad harvest and since people were dependent on the harvest for the seed for the next year, that was a problem. Some famines set in. There was bad weather that contributed to this. About the same time, the Black Death came along, the Bubonic Plague. People had no idea what was causing it, but it would erupt and huge swaths of people would die in regions and it was terrifying so when people look legitimately to the Church for answers, the Church didn’t have good answers. In fact, in some of the times the priest were the ones who were fleeing from areas of contagion. That was kind of background. In addition to that, you had a lot of warfare and revolts, not just the 100-year war between England and France, but many of the local skirmishes where people who claimed to be Christians were fighting with each other over whatever topic. There were problems with the government of the Church. The leadership became corrupted. There was a time when the leadership of the Church no longer was in Rome. It went to Avignon. It was known to be a very corrupt area of practice for the Church. Then there was a time when there were two and then eventually three Popes and what ended up happening by the 1400’s is that a lot of people had lost confidence in the Church, the kind of confidence that had been available a couple of hundred years before. There were problems in teaching, the development of schooling, in scholastic development schooling in the universities ended up emphasizing the emphasis on logic and reason, depending on the works of Aristotle that had been rediscovered, but eventually then in theology what ended up happening is that the theology was mostly argument. They delighted in having debates and arguing with each other about abstruse topics that had relatively little relevance to the way people were actually living. There was a whole host of things that were happening. There was a greater recognition as well that the leadership of the Church not only in Rome but also locally was not living up to its obligations, to what they professed. There was quite a bit of anti-clericalism, hostility toward clergy, as kind of an attitude, kind of a default position if you will, kind of the way a lot of North Americans now look at politicians, not trusting them to do what they say they’re going to do. When the Church is the only kind of coherent bond holding everything together, that’s a real problem. Along the way nations were being established though and so some loyalty was being shifted from this international body if we could call it that of Rome to what could be found in being well-governed by a French king or a Spanish king or the German emperor or whatever. There was a lot of upheaval going on and in that upheaval there was a lot of argument about what the Christian faith is about, how to understand it, how to practice it. What ended up happening with the Reformation was not that new ideas were, new questions were raised, but different ideas were given as answers. The Reformation didn’t drop out of the sky, out of heaven from God, it happened on the ground as people found different ways of wrestling with and responding to issues that people had been raising for a couple hundred years. For 200 years, by the time the Reformation broke out, there was a call for Reformation from head to toe, to straighten things out from, in Latin[NP1] , from head to toe, straighten things out. Finally, it started to happen.
Kurt: Yeah. Like you said, issues in theology, the practical application thereof, and the lifestyle of the clergy, the ownership of land and the taxing of people by the Church, these are ideas which to the unlearned mind here in our 21st century, it’s like “Wait a second. Churches taxed people?” It’s a very foreign concept to us and so when we can go back and study the history we can see what those reasons were for bringing about the good of the Reformation. Let me ask you this. I know in my experience some people, pastors or people in ministry that are, especially those that tend to be Reformed, capital R, often contrast the Reformation with the Renaissance. Could you tell us first what was the Renaissance and why maybe should we not be so against it?
Jim: Okay. The Renaissance was an attempt that developed first in Italy before it broke out in Northern Europe. It was an attempt to reinvigorate Italian society, but the way they did it was by going back to the original sources of the Greeks and the Romans, looking to them as a better period than this intervening century since the collapse of Rome, of the Roman Empire. The Renaissance was an attempt to give a new form of education rather than scholastic theology or the kind of learning that had developed during the Middle Ages, to go back to what was the practices of training people for service in society and in the church, in the ancient period. What ended up happening is that the first real book that was written about the Renaissance, to interpret it for us in the West, was by a man named Jacob Burckhardt who wrote Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. He wrote it in 1860. It was a brilliant essay, a lengthy and very influential document in which he emphasized those trying to return to the ancient sources called themselves which[NP2] is Italian at the time for human or for humanists. What ended up happening though is that in the 19th century when this book was written, humanism was a philosophical orientation, that man is the center of all things, basically excluding God, and what ended up being understood by some people though it wasn’t what Burckhardt himself said is the Renaissance was a kind of man-centered movement and that set it up nicely in some peoples’ minds for a contrast with the God-centered movement of the Reformation. Interesting thing though is that when people actually started to go to do research into what during[NP3] the Renaissance, is that they could not find that philosophical orientation, rather meant[NP4] a teacher of the humanities, somebody who teaches math, physics, history, science, as we would say it in the present day, languages. It didn’t have a philosophical focus. It had a pedagogical focus. So this contrast of the Renaissance being man-centered was a misunderstanding. The Renaissance was an attempt to find a better way of training people to live in God’s society, the Christian society of Europe, but to do so in a way that wasn’t all just focused on logic. The interesting thing about this is that this man-centered Renaissance vs. God-centered Reformation approach did become common, has been heard, and as I indicate in one of the chapters in the book, has become a fairly common trope in a lot of Protestant circles, but what actually is the case is when the Reformers themselves, aside from Martin Luther, all of them were trained in the North in the version of the Renaissance that took root in the North which was studying the ancient Greeks and Romans, but especially studying the church fathers and studying the Scriptures and the early church, and all the Reformers except Luther, so this would include Philip Melanchthon, John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Ulrich Zwingli and all the others whose names we don’t know as well, all of them were steeped in this Northern Renaissance tradition or what was called the Northern Christian Humanist Movement, largely led by Erasmus, and none of them ever repudiated the movement when it came to the Reformation. As a matter of fact, what they did instead is they continued to basically indicate their allegiance to and respect for Erasmus even to and beyond his death in 1536 and when they ended up setting up schools that were one of the main ways in which the Reformation could be defended and propagated for future generations, everyone of them ended up setting up according to a Northern Christian Humanist educational program so that rather than being a foe of the Reformation, the Renaissance was a friend to it. It offered them materials the Reformers used. Erasmus produced a Greek New Testament, the first critical edition. He and others including Protestant Reformers ended up editing and publishing the works of the church fathers to enable people to get back and study what the early churches said, not just what the medieval teaching that had developed in scholastic terms were. The Renaissance was really a friend to the Reformation and it served it well and scholarship has really destroyed the notion that the Renaissance was in opposition to the Reformation or a contrary movement.
Kurt: Yeah, so on last week’s episode, we were speaking with Dr. Augustine Casiday and we were talking about how often times some people want to think very simply, an either/or mentality, either this or that, so in our context last week, some people mistakenly believed you were either an Augustinian or you were a Pelagian and so in this context here, it seems that we also find this where people want to think in just simple two label categories, Renaissance or Reformation, when really the Renaissance as you said was a friend and was beneficial to the Reformation and it strikes me that one of the Reformation terms, might even apply to both movements, the ad fontes, getting to the source. Of course, for the Reformation, the source being the Bible, the Renaissance though, the source might be something else in their context, getting back to the way that Christians ought to function in the society, something like that.
Jim: That’s true.
Kurt: That’s great. That’s great. The next question I have for you is regarding Sola Fide, and what that phrase means, how people usually understand it, and maybe how they might be mistaken on what the Reformers meant. Please enlighten us.
Jim: The Reformation is basically most known probably as far as slogans by Sola Fide, by faith alone, that we are justified, that we are accounted as righteous before God by faith alone, and so that’s what sola fide means in Latin. The way that the Reformers all ended up emphasizing whether Luther or Melanchthon or Calvin or Zwingli or any of the others of the major Reformers, they all ended up emphasizing that as over against what had developed in a lot of peoples’ understanding at the time and was taught to some degree within the late Medieval church that in addition to believing you had to do this or that or the other. You had to do a certain amount of good works whatever that might be, and that would add to your acceptance before God, you would earn merit, and it was only through that pile of additional things you would do that you could be that you could be accepted or justified before God. Reformers ended up arguing no, that we are accepted before God by faith alone, not by all the things we do. However, by our time and I’ve heard this often said in evangelical churches or fundamentalist churches, various types of conservative churches, it almost sounds the way a lot of people talk about justification by faith alone as that faith can remain alone. For the Reformers, justification is by faith alone, but faith is never alone. They stressed repeatedly that a true faith that brings us peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ will lead us inevitably to serve God, to seek to walk before Him, to love God and our neighbors, so while we’re justified by faith alone, faith is never alone, faith is always accompanied by works of love and service and devotion. We’re not perfect. We’re not going to be accepted by God for them. We don’t have to try to work hard so that God will like us better by things we do. He already has loved us in Jesus Christ and we can find peace with God through faith in Christ alone, but that faith in which we find that peace with God does remain solitary so that the idea that sometimes I’ve heard, perhaps you’ve run into this as well of a carnal Christian, somebody who walked the aisle at a evangelistic rally and prayed the sinner’s prayer and somehow has eternal security, once saved, always saved, and that’s the last kind of time he’s tipped his hat toward God, but God stuck with him forever now that he said the ten seconds of the sinner’s prayer. The Reformers would find that utterly absurd, because everyone of them emphasized that while we are justified by faith only, we can find genuine peace with God, that peace with God leads us to serve Him, not to neglect Him, and that discipleship and devotion and turning toward Him is not an option, but it’s our call, and we don’t do it perfectly. We’re going to continue to fail, continue to need to repent of sin in our failures, and learn to love God more faithfully, but none of that’s an option. That’s simply the way faith lives. Solitary faith for the Reformers would be an abomination and to the degree to which we’ve in some conservative Christian circles, have stepped in that direction, we’ve definitely turned away from not only the Reformers, but what the New Testament teaches as well.
Kurt: I could certainly think how evangelistic crusades, for example, Billy Graham crusades being the most famous of the 20th century, are a good starting point for getting people to accept the gospel message, but if we just leave it at that as you mention, if it’s just faith on its own, lonely, that that’s not a good thing and so part of our task as Christians is to disciple people. Right? The Great Commission is to go and make disciples. It’s not necessarily to tell everybody that you can about the gospel, but it’s about having them become real followers of Jesus and so that’s maybe where the task after the crusade, the evangelistic crusade begins, so you want to meet with people that have recently given their life to Christ. Don’t just give up on those people. There are people in my life that I know have sort of done that. They think, like you said, Jim, that they’ve just said this prayer and they’re set to go. Maybe they go to church on Christmas and Easter and that God would perhaps still like them. That was maybe some of the pushback that the Reformers had against the Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, insofar as there was uncertainty about one’s salvation because they had to not just have faith but also work, it was a combination of both in order to be saved. Is that an accurate description of the Reformers’ position?
Jim: Yeah. Luther, for example, who was the first one to articulate this so vigorously, was someone who had sought through the means the church had laid out, through fasting and repentance and doing good works to find peace with God, and he found it just didn’t work and that was part of what drove him and others as well to find this peace with God that we can have through believing in Christ and relying on Him rather than on ourselves, but I think the point you made is very good, but the Great Commission doesn’t say go and make converts of all nations. Go and make disciples of all nations and that means beyond the time of a making a profession of faith however that would be done, whether in the sinner’s prayer or some other fashion. It’s an ongoing lifelong growth and encouragement to walk in the ways of the Lord. That’s what the Reformers were after.
Kurt; That’s great. Well, we’ve got to take a short break here. Before we go to break, I see we’ve got Blaine here who has asked a question on the livestream. Blaine. We will get to your question in the second half of today’s show. Before we take the break, let me remind you to take this opportunity. If you would like to have Dr. Jim Payton’s book here, Getting The Reformation Wrong, please share this video livestream that you might be watching and you are immediately entered to win. We will pick a random winner at the end of today’s show and so we’d love to get your support just through sharing this video and telling people about today’s episode. Stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Alright. Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. I am very honored to be joined here on today’s program by Dr. Jim Payton. He is a highly respected church historian and scholar and he’s written numerous different books. We’re talking about one of those books today and the topics and the themes therein, Getting the Reformation Wrong, and before we get into that discussion though, I do want to welcome Jim to a round of Rapid Questions where we’ve got sixty seconds and we’re going to ask you some of these goofy sort of questions, most regular listeners already know what they are, but for first-time guests like yourself, you don’t quite know what’s going to be coming your way, so we’re going to start the game clock here and again, sixty seconds and we’ll try to see how many you can get. Jim. Are you ready?
Jim: I’m ready.
Kurt: Okay. Here we go. What is your clothing store of choice?
Jim: Clothing store of choice. Moore’s.
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Jim: Taco Bell.
Kurt: Where would you like to live?
Jim: Where I’m living, in Hamilton, Ontario.
Kurt: What’s your favorite sport?
Kurt: What fruit would
you say your head is shaped like?
Jim: Melon I guess.
Kurt: Okay. What’s your favorite movie?
Jim: Where Eagles Dare.
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Kurt: Ah. I’m sorry. Have you ever driven on the other side of
Kurt: Have you ever driven on the other side of the road?
Kurt; What’s one thing you’d be sure to keep with you if you were stranded on an island?
Jim: I don’t know. Stranded on an island. My wife.
Kurt: Nice. The Hokey Pokey, Electric Slide, or the Macarena?
Jim: Hokey Pokey.
Kurt; The Hokey Pokey. Alright. Jim. Thank you for playing that round of Rapid Questions.
Kurt: I think you’ve given, I wouldn’t say the most humorous answer for the stranded island question, but you’ve given probably one of the best for someone who’s married. Having the company. Of course, we’ve had traditional ones, someone would keep a Bible with them or, we did, was this a month or so ago now Chris with Tim Hsiao? We did an episode on the gun control debate and the interviewee was an advocate for gun ownership so his answer to the stranded question was he would keep his gun with him, because he could hunt with it. That one I think caught me most off guard.
Kurt: Alright, so before we get into the discussion again, let me say this. Here’s an article that I’m reading, thanks to my wife sharing this article with me. This comes from Inc.com, why you should surround yourself with more books than you’ll ever have time to read, an overstuffed bookcase or e-reader says things about your mind, that you love to learn, interestingly enough that you’re intellectually humble, because you realize how much you don’t know, and having those books around, what they called an anti-library, is actually beneficial for your health and well-being. For those that fear that they have too many books, fear not. Even my wife Michaela wrote here, she posted this on my personal profile, “This will make you very very happy and more smug than I’ll probably like.” Good benefits. Jim. I’m sure you’re someone like myself that has more books than what I can read. Apparently, that is a good thing. It leads to having good health and a good state of mind. Having an anti-library, as they say, is good so I’ll be sure to share that article on the Veracity Hill social media just for people that might be interested. If you wanted to read that article, I will be sure to share that after today’s episode. We are talking about the Reformation and the ideas behind it and perhaps some misconceptions that we might have about it and I’ve got a few more questions for you Jim and then we’ll be able to get to Blaine’s question, which, Blaine, assuming you’re still watching, that’s a very good question and Jim is an excellent person to answer that, so before we get to your question though, Jim. Before the break we talked about Sola Fide and I’m wondering now if you could talk about the phrase Sola Gratia and what that idea was and how we might have some misunderstanding about that phrase.
Jim: Sola Gratia means by grace alone, that it’s entirely by God’s work and mercy toward us and by His grace that we can find peace with God and so on. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have any responsibilities. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be diligent about prayer or reading Scripture or serving others or walking in God’s ways, but Sola Gratia indicates that what brings us to peace with God, what gives us that sense of the assurance that God does love us in Jesus Christ is the grace that He has shown toward us in Christ and not what we have accomplished of good works or other kinds of things that we try to commend ourselves towards Him by.
Kurt: Okay. That’s a great clarification of that term. I know in my field of interest in the conversations I like to have with people, that certainly can come out that the human role is limited or passive when the fact of the matter seems to be that, no, we still have a strong active role to play here and I think it might play into also what you talked about before the break, that for some people, as long as they said that prayer, they’re good to go. They don’t have to do anything else. But it’s clear that Scripture teaches us to have an active spiritual life, to be constantly growing and walking with the Lord, and to think that it’s exclusively on God at the expense of the human role to play, that’s a misconception that we might have. The Reformation was chock full of controversy, fake kidnappings, a lot of drama, stress for people, for the Reformers, for their supporters, and some of that was because of the concern of what the Roman Catholic Church would do. What was Rome’s response to the Reformation?
Jim: A couple different things. We’ve gotten used to talking about the Counter-Reformation as if that was the whole story and certainly there was a vigorous reaction beginning in the 1530’s to what had happened with the Reformers. In fairness though to what was going on in the medieval church, there was what’s called a Catholic Reformation going on well before Luther came along. Various attempts to address the issues and problems that people had been criticizing for a couple of hundred years, and there were different streams of this, different approaches, each of them having some success, but some weakness, some limitations as well. There were definitely currents of movement, of reform endeavors within the Church before Luther came along and the Protestant Reformation developed. When the Protestant Reformation developed initially it seemed like most of the Roman leadership in the Roman Church was basically reacting against it and that’s what gives some credibility, gives good credibility to talking about the Counter-Reformation, because it’s seen as a movement to counter what Protestants had done, but in due course, more than just opposing the Reformers, what ending up happening is that the concerns Reformers had emphasized, the answers they had given began to resonate also with people in the Roman leadership and there did turn out to be some genuine changes that happened. The founding of the Jesuit order, the society of Jesus, became a major player in the endeavors of the Roman Church to straighten itself out and they became especially known for setting up very good schools, some of the best in all of Europe. That and then you finally had as well a Reformed minded Papacy that came along with Paul II and Paul the IV in the 1550’s, 1530’s to 1550’s, these men were determined not to become Protestants, not at all, they were strictly, vigorously medieval Catholics, but they were going to clean up the corruption. They were going to see to better education of priests. They were going to get rid of some of the things that were legitimately complained in Rome and what ended up happening is the city of Rome went with just a few years to being kind of a cesspool of every kind of thing going on that could be because, after all, it was the only international body center there was in Europe, but it became pretty clean. It became almost sterile in the way in which these things were taken care of. The equivalent of the Mafia just disappeared at the behest of the Pope’s soldiers. Prostitution was outlawed and brothels became convents. the[NP5] order of the papacy it’s either that or face life on the streets. So all kinds of rather dramatic and extraordinary things were done within Rome itself to try to clean up its act, but then also at the Council of Trent there was a vigorous endeavor to try to nail down what it is the Church should be doing and teaching and practicing, often by opposition to the Protestants, but not always. There was a requirement for example that bishops, the leading figure in an urban situation or over a large territory of land, would have to set up schools that would actually train priests. It’s hard for us to imagine, but during the Middle Ages there was no training required of priests other than to be able to read Latin. They didn’t have to go to university. They didn’t have to go to seminary if we were to think of that and what ended up taking place is through the Council of Trent it became a requirement that every bishop had to set up his seminary where people would be trained not only in the faith, but also in morals and ethics and to read Latin and so on. There were 350 of the bishoprics were in Italy itself. That meant for huge transformation of Italian society and then the other 350 place scattered throughout the rest of Western Europe also ended up and establishing leading up to a much better informed even if non-Protestant or even anti-Protestant leadership, so it made for quite a difference.
Kurt: So for those of us that think of the so-called counter-Reformation, which in essence might be the small and minor events that brought forth the Council of Trent, it views Trent as almost exclusively a response to the Reformers, you’re saying that’s just too simplistic of a view. There was surely more going on even within the Roman Catholic Church, that brought forth the need for Reformation and we could look at numerous different instances where reform was brought about that was not a direct response to the Reformers. There was surely more going on there when we investigate history. Is that right?
Jim: That’s right. There was a lot going on and much of this fed into the Council of Trent and didn’t have anything directly to do with Protestants as much as it was an attempt to address to raise the concerns that had been raised for 200 years already throughout Europe and in many ways they were trying to deal with those as well, but for certain, the Protestant Reformation did kind of provoke the vigorous response that you find in the Counter-Reformation of the Council of Trent. Many years ago I found out that I was anathematized condemned to Hell over 268 times for various perspectives that I held. Certainly, there’s a vigorous counter-movement against Protestantism, but there’s more to it than that. There’s more going on. They’re trying to nail down and be more explicit about the faith as embraced by the Roman Church.
Kurt: And in our pursuit of truth here, we shouldn’t be mistaken to be Catholic sympathizers here. We’re just trying to find out what really happened and where are some good things, where good things can be credited and bad things where bad things can be credited. It’s always best to have the truth on your side. You can understand the issues and be a more well-informed individual. Lest anyone think all of a sudden that we are Trent affirmers. Okay. This is my last prepared question for you. In what ways do you think the Reformation has been as you’ve used these two terms, a triumph and also a tragedy.
Jim: Okay. I see the Reformation as a triumph in the sense that it helped to make clear again what the Apostolic message was all about, the teaching of the apostles as enshrined in Scripture also, this joyful proclamation of peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and as over against the confusion that had developed in the Middle Ages just with well meant things getting in the way, covering up, being piled on top of that message such that even somebody as diligently searching as Martin Luther couldn’t find it, the Reformation was able to refocus the church on what the message of Christ was focused on and what the apostolic teaching was about, so it’s a real triumph because the gospel again was made clear and the rationale for service of the Lord and worshiping Him and living before Him and being genuine disciples, not out of fear but out of faith and hope and confidence and assurance, all of this sort of thing became open and available and proclaimed again, and so in that regard there’s a real triumph of the Reformation. There’s a tragedy on the side of the Reformation as well though in this sense, the Reformers in the midst of recognizing what the faith was about and coming to so much commonality also found ways of arguing each other. They didn’t just argue with Rome, with the various strands of Roman teaching, but they argued with each other and of all things, the initial basic controversy was about the Lord’s Supper, the difference between Luther and Zwingli on understanding the Lord’s Supper. Since the Supper, the Eucharist, the Communion meal is to be the bond of unity of all things, for that to be the point of conflict and disagreement, a disagreement that continued and has continued down to the present day. There’s been attempts to heal it, but the perspectives that Lutherans and Reformed and others have on the Lord’s Supper became dramatic during the 1520’s and this just played right nicely into the hands of defenders of the Roman Catholic Church, because they said, “You guys can’t even get it straight on the sacrament of unity,” but that tension, that readiness to disparage each other, to depart from each other, has bred a pattern in Protestantism that we’ve continued to divide and split from each other. Usually condemning the other as wrong and what’s ended up happening is that by the year 2009, according to International Bulletin of Missionary Research, there are 34,000 Protestant denominations. Not congregations, denominations. When we take that and compare it to what Christ prays for in John 17:20-21 where He’s prayed for the disciples who will proclaim Him, then He goes on and He says “I pray for those who will believe in me through their word”, which would include the church down through the ages. “I pray for those who will believe in me through their word, that they will be one Father so that the world may believe that you have sent me”, which in the way Christ argued it is at least offers an excuse to the world not to believe if we’re not one. Now, would I say that He meant that? No. But what He said is clearly He wants His church to be one, and for the Protestant movement to be in 34,000 Protestant denominations and who knows how many more have come along in the last eight years is a tragedy because that obscures what the Gospel’s about. The real evidence of that came on the mission field in the early 1800’s when missionaries from Baptist and Anglican and Lutheran and Reformed and Presbyterian and other groups where in India and China and the Philippines, wherever, and the poor people who were hearing this were saying “Is Jesus Presbyterian? Is He Lutheran?” You know, and it became an obstacle so much that William Carey, a Baptist missionary in 1806, wrote back a famous letter to the churches in England and asked, “Find a way to work together so that we’re not in conflict with each other or in competition with each other.” So the missionary endeavors of the church were frustrated, they were made much more difficult by the tragedy of our multiplied splits against each other. It reminds me as well of what the early church, the very early church leader said, Clement of Rome, who wrote in 95 A.D. or so a letter from Romans to the Corinthians. This Clement may have been Paul’s co-worker in Philippians 4:3. That’s certainly what the early church understood to be. He writes to them and says, “Be contentious and zealous, but only about the things that relate to salvation”, in chapter 45:1. There’s no way there are 34,000 different things that relate to salvation that have split us and so this is not a new concern as much as it’s one that we’ve brought on ourselves.
Kurt: Right. I imagine many of those 34,000 could be grouped and categorized into broader tents, but nonetheless, the principle applies here that now anyone can go off and start their own church.
Jim: Seems like it.
Kurt: Right, and that’s definitely a tragedy. I also think in 1 Corinthians Paul talks about their being unity among the people. It is one of the shortcomings of the Reformation. So what would you say about evangelical free churches or churches that are more broadly evangelical? My church denomination’s more broadly evangelical, doesn’t major on the minor issues. What do you think of churches like that that are trying to bring in a broader net of people with varying beliefs on those minor issues?
Jim: I think that’s one of the ways of trying to address this and to have a living embodiment in a local area of people who embrace Christ by faith, but who may have some difference of perspective. As I’ve often said, if we’re brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re family, and as we all know, families have differences of opinion, but they’re still family. I think that’s one of the ways of doing it. I think another thing that’s to be recognized and respected is the endeavors in ecumenical movements to try to overcome long-standing disagreements, not to build some one organizational body that will arise ecumenical endeavors. That’s nobody’s dream, but to find ways of working together and respecting each other in the midst of recognizing the differences that still keep us in separate bodies but to affirm the ways in which we can embrace each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and make that manifest on local levels so that people can see that people who are Evangelical Free or Presbyterian or Reformed or Baptist or Methodist or whatever, can all interact together and work for common causes.
Kurt: Yeah. I know you’ve done some work as well in reaching out to Eastern Orthodox folks and you’ve also written this book Light From the Christian East which I also had here, I grabbed that at the break, and the reason I grabbed it to also mention this, it’s an introduction to the Orthodox Christian is because Blaine, his question, assuming he’s been anxiously awaiting here, his question is “I’d like to hear Jim’s thoughts on how the Orthodox East post-schism”, he describes “on how that relates to the discussion on the Reformation.” What are your thoughts about Reformation era relationships or responses of the East?
Jim: It’s fascinating to look at that situation. By the time the Reformation came along all the Orthodox Churches had been swallowed up by Muslim states except for the Orthodox Church in Russia and Russia remained pretty much unknown, an unknown commodity for Europeans for a long period of time. The Orthodox Church had had its own history of development. It didn’t have the focus on law and legal standing with God that had become the common pattern in the medieval period in the West and so the idea of justification in having a standing before God and the final judgment as it were, that wasn’t the way they focused on the question. The way I put it sometimes is that the Eastern Orthodox didn’t itch where the Reformation wanted to scratch. Things they were dealing with, were looking at, were not things that the Reformation spoke to as such. The Reformation spoke to a particular context in the West which had developed, but in the East it developed in a different fashion and so, there were endeavors on the part of Luther and the part of Reformed to try to make some contact with leadership in Constantinople especially because that had been the ecumenical patriarch that was first among equals of Orthodox leaders, but the endeavors to try to enlist the Orthodox to be also anti-Rome or anti-Catholic, but to get them and the Lutherans or the other Protestants to agree together, it didn’t go anywhere. By and large the leadership in Constantinople backed away from that because they recognized this wasn’t something that fit with who they were and the kind of things they emphasized. It’s a fascinating area of question. It’s one that I’ve had interest in and been educated by the book I wrote and also teaching about Eastern European history, but the Reformation has not had an impact by and large in Eastern Orthodox because it speaks to questions that Orthodoxy doesn’t, they’re not front and center for Orthodoxy. Their questions are different.
Kurt: Yeah. That’s great. Before I let you go, tell me what are some things that are on the horizon for you? Writing projects that you might be working on or interested to get around to in the future?
Jim: Okay. One I’m working right now trying to finish up is a book contract with the publisher of the two books you’ve shown, with InterVarsity Press. It’s called The Victory of the Cross: Orthodoxy on Salvation. It was suggested by an Orthodox friend who’s a systematic theologian and he suggested that with my sense of how Orthodoxy operates and thinks if I would do a work on the victory of the cross, Orthodoxy on salvation, and try to make it accessible to Western Christian readers to as I’ve tried to do in that more introductory work, Light From The Christian East. That would be a service to both groups in Christianity. I’m working on that now. It’s going well and I’m drawing a lot more on the church fathers and the rich liturgical traditions of the Christian East to do that. I’m really enjoying that. Once that’s done I’d like to get back to work on, it’s really taken my attention in the last few years, on the church fathers. The earlier church fathers, I’m trying to discern how to identify how the concern the apostles had for the continuity of the faith ended up fleshing itself out, being carried forward, and to try to trace the steps in that development down to the early fourth century when we ended up eventually with the creed of Nicea. I found some interesting things there because it’s often said it’s the apostolic preaching. Well of course, it’s the apostolic preaching, but how is that passed on? It’s quite awhile before the Bible, the New Testament as we know it is codified and is collected together everywhere. How was that done? That’s what I’m trying to discern in that book, trying to layout in that book, and then another one that I’d like to do after that has a provocative title of The Problem of Augustine, recognizing all the wonderful things that St. Augustine of Hippo brought to the ancient church, but also that he manifested a confidence in human reason’s ability to decipher God’s ways and to figure out the things that earlier church fathers said, “Look. That’s in God’s hands. We can’t possibly understand that.” The reason for doing that is not just to criticize Augustine, but to say that confidence has spread into Western Christian teaching such that we do end up with all these arguments. Let me just toss this out. 34,000 Protestant denominations? The Orthodox have not had any doctrinal controversies that led them to schism. They’ve been around, trace themselves all the way back. There’s something different going on there and I just want to try to help identify that. I don’t mean to say they haven’t had any to dismiss what happened with the Oriental Orthodox Churches, but as the leaders of the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Orthodox Churches said, what really was at issue back when these two groups split from each other was more determination to be out of the Byzantine Empire than any real genuine, definite, doctrinal differences, so it’s quite a difference and I think that to a significant degree, Augustine’s confidence in human reason to lay things out has done away with too much of the mystery that the Eastern Church continues, say, with the ancient fathers, is simply part of what it means to be Christian.
Kurt: Okay. Wow. That sounds like you’re doing some good work and good research and I’m sure we’ll stay in touch and once those books come out we’ll bring you back on the show to talk about where your research has led you.
Jim: Okay. That’d be fun. I would enjoy it. Thanks. This has been a good opportunity. I’ve appreciated it.
Kurt: No. Thank you. Thanks, Jim, and I know before we started the interview formally you mentioned that you’re kind of finalizing up your interviews and public speaking on this topic, so let me thank you for allowing us that great honor to conclude that season of your research so thanks so much.
Jim: Thank you. It’s been a privilege.
Kurt: Of course. God bless you.
Jim: Thank you. You too.
Kurt: Alright. Buh-bye. I hope that you enjoyed that conversation, an enlightening one I think where we’ve had thoughts about the Reformation and how maybe they’ve just been a bit too simplistic and when we investigate and we go into history and we seek out the truth we find that the truth is, in some ways, it’s a little bit more muddy, but as long as we seek out that truth we’re going to come out better, more well-rounded individuals, and we’re going to have a right frame of mind and just representing and speaking the truth in and of itself is a good and so we need to be accurate even in how we understand our own history and how we understand the history of those with whom we disagree so that way we might not falsely accuse them, which also think of that too as one of the Ten Commandments, that we not make false accusations. Really, a great conversation about the Reformation. I know it would probably have been nicer to have this topic a little bit earlier, but I know Jim was around speaking, even spoke at our Defenders Conference, and so we finally got a chance to bring him on the podcast formally here to talk about these issues.
That does it for the show today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons. Those are people that just chip in $10, $20 a month, and again if you’d like to get this USB flashdrive, we’d love to get your monthly support. The flashdrive comes pre-loaded with some of our favorite episodes over the past year, we’ve been doing this over a year now. I’d love to get your support at $20 a month to help this program grow to reach more people I’m also grateful for the partnerships that we have with our sponsors. Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. Thank you to our technical producer Chris, and to our guest today, Dr. Jim Payton. He’s the author of Getting The Reformation Wrong and we’ll be sure to provide a link to that book on our website if you click on today’s episode, we’ll have a link there so you can check out that book and also we will get in touch with the winner of the giveaway. I saw we had a number of people that shared it so we will randomly select someone and get in touch with them, and last but not least, out of all those that I’m thankful to, I am thankful for you for your desire to strive for truth on faith, politics, and society.
[NP1]Unsure of Latin at 13:50
[NP2]Unsure of word at 16:25
[NP5]Couldn’t hear over Kurt at 41:20
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