Saturday, March 11, 2017

Protestantism "Lite"?

The question came up in class the other day, as we reviewed the reformation of the Church in England in the 16th century. Was the Anglican church of Elizabeth’ day “Protestantism Lite”? Is this a fair or accurate characterization of what the English Reformers achieved?

No. The 16th century reformation of the church in England was a battle for souls. Nobody took it lightly.

Mixed as their motives, goals, and values may have been, the English Reformers sought to get Christianity right - in thought and action.

To use a metaphor, the Reformers of the Church in England in the 16th Century sought not to water down an imported product, like a German lager made “lite” by Miller or Coors, but to make an English ale even better. The church in England had existed and endured since Roman times (witness 3rd Century Saint Alban, “the protomartyr of Britain”). [The Book of Common Prayer served as a kind of Reinheitsbegot - brewmaster's standards and practices - for public worship.]   

Granted some of the brewmasters had learned methods and ingredients in their Continental sojourns - and there was some violent disagreement over methods and ingredients - but the reformers all had the sincere desire to get it right - “it” being Christian worship in England.

People do not die for a joke, but they will give their lives for something greater than their own self-interest or even self-preservation. Tyndale, Jewel, Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer, and others, even the victims of the Smithfield Fires, are among these witnesses.

The testimony of John Jewel to a sincere and well-thought out theology and way of prayer, the diligent efforts of William Tyndale and others to offer a Bible to the people in a language they could understand, the prayers of Thomas Cranmer and the Creeds, the impassioned preaching of Hugh Latimer and the articulate explication by Nicholas Ridley of the real presence of Christ in the sacrament of bread and wine, all give evidence that these people sought not some compromise version of Christian belief, or a halfway house between Rome and Geneva, but a way, sometimes broad and sometimes difficult to traverse, that had its own integrity and enduring witness.

Perhaps the greatest gift of the Protestant Reformation, Moorman observed, was the sense of personal responsibility and integrity. Certainly these men, and even some of the political leaders, felt a responsibility beyond their own interests to look after the people under their care.

And they gave us something beyond the boundaries of their land: an enduring way forward, not in compromise but in good faith, to pursue the truth of the Gospel in the company of friends.

First Draft Saturday March 11, 2017 JRL+

Re: UA Humanities Seminar, "The Protestant Reformation", Spring semester 2017.

Cf. English Reformers, Library of Christian Classics, T.H.L. Parker, ed., Westminster Press.