Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Reformation and religious liberty: A conscience bound to government or God?

2017 marks the 500-year anniversary of the event that sparked the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk with a carpenter’s mallet nailed 95 theses to the door of the church of Wittenberg to call for a public debate over the sale of indulgences. This monk, whom we know as Martin Luther, dared to assume that the doctrines and practices of the medieval church were not above biblical scrutiny. Luther’s conscience, as he would later declare, was held captive to the Word of God, not the institutions and traditions of men. Luther’s conviction regarding the primacy of Scripture led him to recognize two different realms (or kingdoms) of authority. There was the kingdom of Christ, which was a spiritual realm, and there was the kingdom of world, which was a natural realm. Luther believed that Christians lived in both realms and had to learn to navigate life in both without conflating the two realms. Luther, however, was not the only reformer who recognized and affirmed distinct realms of authority. John Calvin, a second-generation French reformer, carried the torch that Luther’s lit, arguing not only for two kingdoms of authority but also for the freedom of the believer’s conscience to willingly embrace the commands of the Lord in joyous obedience without compulsion by the law. When Luther’s understanding of two overlapping, yet distinct realms of authority was combined with Calvin’s understanding of the freedom of conscience by later generations of Christians, the foundational principles of religious liberty emerged. Read More

Photo credit: Church Gotesti

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