According to a recent Pew study, 53% of American Protestants couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the one who started the Reformation, and fewer than 30% of white Evangelicals were unable to identify Protestantism as the faith which embraces the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
On this program, the hosts will attempt to show that contemporary Christians, whether liberal or conservative, have more in common with the theology of the Anabaptist reformers than they do with the views of Luther and Calvin expressed in the great Reformation solas. Join us as we continue to think about the Reformation on this edition of White Horse Inn.
“Much of the hoopla surrounding the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year has been, well, let’s just say, blather. At a joint service in Lund, Sweden, on October 31st, 2016, Pope Francis and the president of the World Lutheran Federation exchanged warm feelings. Reverend Martin Junge, general secretary of the mainline Lutheran body said in a press release from the joint service, ‘I’m carried by the profound conviction that by working towards reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we’re working towards justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn by conflict and violence.’ Clearly, the focus wasn’t on truth.
“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, ‘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 by Swiss Pastor and President of an ecumenical church convention in Berlin last year, Christina Aus der Au. She said, ‘Reformation means courageously seeking what is new and turning away from old familiar customs.’ That’s what the reformation was all about, why average lay people and archbishops gave their bodies to be burned and the western church was divided – a lot people just got really tired of the same old thing.
“The Wall Street Journal reports a Pew study showing that 53 percent of U.S. Protestants couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the one who started the Reformation. Oddly, Jews, atheists and Mormons were more familiar with Luther than Protestants. In fact, fewer than three in ten white evangelicals correctly identify Protestantism as the faith that believes in the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Three in ten. Many today who claim the Reformation as their heritage are more likely heirs of the radical Anabaptists. It might sound crazy, but here is my thesis. The Reformation isn’t over because it hasn’t begun in America. Protestantism is definitely over and the radicals won.”
Term to Learn
The “Inner Light,” also called “Inward Light,” is often thought to be a distinctive theme of the Society of Friends (Quakers). This Inner Light is understood to be a direct awareness of God that allows a person to know God’s will for him or her. This expression is often attributed to the teachings of George Fox in the 17th century, founder of the Society of Friends, who had failed to find spiritual truth in the English churches. He experienced an inner light and voice within, “that of God in every man.” The Inner Light should not simply be a mystical experience, but should also result in a person’s working for the good of others.
The practice of Inner Light is believed to be the direct path of ascension towards the divine nature within man. The theme of Inner Light appears in various spiritual traditions as well as in the main religions of the world. Buddhism believes that the one experiences the highest nature of the mind, reaches enlightenment and liberation from the Wheel of Samsara (i.e. bodily existence).
The Society of Friends was influenced by a pivotal figure, Jakob Böhme (1575-1624), a German mystic who was raised in Lutheranism. Böhme had considerable influence on Pietism and various mystical sects including Rosicrucianism and theosophy. Böhme sought a melding of various alchemical and Kabbalistic traditions that focused on the inner path to God, which finds parallels with the ancient heresy known as Gnosticism. Böhme was also an important source for German Romantic philosophy, influencing F.W. Schelling. Böhme is also an important influence on the ideas of the English Romantic poet, artist, and mystic William Blake. The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was profoundly influenced by him as well. The tradition of the Inner Light reaches back into ancient mystical philosophies which have come to profoundly shape modern thinking.
(Adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. “Inner Light;” “Jakob Böhme”)