Today I finished reading The Protestant Revolution, a book I got at Christmas. My knowledge of the history of my own religion is a bit poor, so when I saw this I thought it was a good opportunity to improve it. The book goes into reasonable depth about the theological twists and turns of the story of protestantism, from its difficult birth through to it’s impact on the world through some significant people like William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King. It also goes down some of the side roads and dead ends along the way, which is always interesting. It’s definitely a history book more than a theology book, but it’s a good balance, and I know more than I did before I started.
It’s interesting to note that Martin Luther himself only ever intended to
reform the Catholic church, and never intended to create a split from it. It’s depressing to read about the history of the religious wars that raged across Europe as various rulers tried to assert their faith over their people.
But the part that I found most interesting was the difference between the
magisterial reformers and the radical reformers, and how that continues to echo through lots of contemporary situations. The magisterial reformers believed that all of society must be reformed, and so were compelled to force their beliefs on other people to “bring them into the light”. However, the radical reformers were happy to break off from the main body of society (or the church) in order to follow their beliefs on their own.
I think this fits into a lot of situations where we have the choice of trying to change and improve something from within, or walking away and starting again. It also raises the question of trying to impose the rules of your religion on the wider society. If that is anti-slavery, it’s a good thing, but if it is anti-gambling, or against Sunday shopping, is it still as valid? And is it our duty regardless? Where does religious freedom fit in, and respect for other beliefs.
The one good thing that all those wars did give us was that the people in charge decided that the cost of state religion was too high, and they gave us the freedom to make our own decisions on matters of faith. It would nice if that kind of freedom existing everywhere in our troubled world.