Scripture, Authority, and Tradition Part 7

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8Part 9

The Radical Reformation 

“Every revolution carries within it the seeds of its own destruction.” Frank Herbert, Dune.*

Bucking the Establishment

Much to the chagrin of Martin Luther, further reformations broke out and Christians became even more divided.  The cat was let out of the bag.  People realized they could be their own popes and be held accountable to absolutely nobody.  Political opportunists especially took advantage of this concept to free themselves from Rome and set up their own national church, whether or not the common folks wanted that (many did not).

Others felt that Martin Luther did not go far enough because he respected some church authority and tradition.  Groups were emerging who felt that after 1,500+ years, they were the only ones who finally got the Bible right.  This movement was called the Radical Reformation.  These groups would continue to split and schism, sometimes within a few years of forming.  Now we have tens of thousands of independent groups that fall under the Protestant umbrella, each believing that their own interpretation of scripture is more correct than everyone else.

What the Reformation experienced hundreds of years ago is the same thing that Mainline Denominational churches discovered a couple of decades ago: every new movement eventually becomes the establishment.  Our society has no patience for tradition and a great aversion to anything that is “the establishment.”  No matter how new or revolutionary an idea is, eventually, if it catches on, it becomes status quo.  Our western culture idolizes independent thinking, which was the foundation of the Reformation.

The Fall Out

I’m not opposed to reason or critical thinking; however, I wonder if what we are witnessing among Christians is an idolization of their ego.  “What do you think this passage means?” is a much more frequently asked question during a Bible study than “How was this passage interpreted by church fathers in the first several centuries of church history?”  We like fresh ideas.  Interpretations from stuffy, old, dead guys just don’t appeal to most of us.

The result of this ego-driven independence is a reason for one of the top complaints I hear from pastors: a lack of commitment.  Congregants church hop so frequently that it would not surprise me if about 75% of a given Protestant congregation completely changes every five years.  Think about your own church experiences and those you have met in churches.  There are always a few folks who are there for the long haul, but most congregants are transient.  Why? At least part of the problem is that we are subconsciously taught not to respect church tradition or authority.  So if someone doesn’t agree with the pastor’s point of view, they change churches instead of asking, “Is it me that needs to change?”

Continue to Part VIII here

*I should give credit to Fr. Andrew Damick for tying this quote to the Radical Reformation in his Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy series.

Featured image by Lawrence Cornell Photo.


1 thought on “Scripture, Authority, and Tradition Part 7

  1. It’s really interesting to step back and look at how our culture has shaped western Christianity. As usual, you’ve brought up a lot of really good points!

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