Chapter 5


The Reformation Continued

What the Reformation’s return to biblical teaching gave society was the opportunity for tremendous freedom, but without chaos.
  • The Reformation did not bring social or political perfection, but it did gradually bring forth a vast and unique improvement. What the Reformation’s return to biblical teaching gave society was the opportunity for tremendous freedom, but without chaos. That is, an individual had freedom because there was a consensus based upon the absolutes given in the Bible, and therefore real values within which to have freedom, without these freedoms leading to chaos. The world had known anything like this before.
  • The Reformation’s preaching of the Gospel brought forth two things which were secondary to the central message of the Gospel, but nonetheless were important:
    1. An interest in culture
    2. A true basis for form and freedom in society and government
  • The Reformers were not romantic about man. With their strong emphasis on the Fall, they understood that since every person is indeed a sinner, there is a need for checks and balances, especially on people in power.
  • When Christians who came out of the Reformation tradition had more influence than they do now on the consensus in the northern European culture (which would include the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), this did not mean they achieved perfection.
  • There were many areas where the Bible was not followed as it should have been, but two were outstanding:
    • A twisted view of race
      • Two types of abuse
        • Slavery based on race
        • Racial prejudice
      • Both practices were wrong and often both were present when Christians had stronger influence on the consensus than they now have–and yet the church, as the church, did not speak out sufficiently against them.
      • Today’s Christians, by identification with their forebears, must acknowledge these inconsistencies in regard to a twisted view of race. We can use no lesser word than sin to describe those instances where the practice was (or is) so far from what the Bible directs. The most effective acknowledgement is for Christians to strive in the present to follow the Bible at these points.
    • A non-compassionate use of accumulated wealth
      • Came about following the Industrial Revolution
      • If industrialization came about with a compassionate use of accumulated wealth and on the dignity of each individual, the Industrial Revolution would have indeed been a revolution for good. But all too often in England and other countries, the church was silent about the Old and the New Testament’s emphasis on a compassionate use of wealth. Individual efforts of charity did not excuse this silence.
      • It was not that the majority of the people were worse off than under the previous agrarian situation, but rather that the wealth produced by the Industrial Revolution was not used with compassion.  This resulted in:
        • The growth of the slums in London and other cities and industrial towns
        • The exploitation of children and women (who suffered especially),
        • The general discrepancy between the vast wealth of the few and the misery of the many (whose average working day was between twelve and sixteen hours)
      • Seldom did the church, as the church, lift its voice against such “utilitarianism” (the teaching that utility is the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions).
      • But when utilitarianism is made the standard–if there is no absolute standard to judge it by or if the standard existing in the Bible is not courageously applied–then the concept of “the greatest happiness for the greater number” is easily manipulated.
      • The churches could have changed things in that day if they had spoken with clarity and courage. The central reason the church should have spoken clearly and courageously on these issues is that the Bible commands it. Had the church been faithful to the Bible’s teaching about the compassionate use of wealth, it would not later have lost so many of the workers. And if it has spoken clearly against the use of wealth as a weapon in a kind of “survival of the fittest,” in all probability this concept as it came into secularized science would not have been so automatically accepted.

Cover Photo: Luther Monument in Wittenberg, Germany 

This post contains quoted and paraphrased passages of How Should We Then Live? by Francis A. Schaeffer. 50th L’Abri Anniversary Edition, © 2005 by Crossway Books.

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