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The Reformers Are Not Heroes

Most everyone in fourteenth and fifteenth century Europe wanted reform in the church. Pope Alexander VI was the poster child for everything wrong, but he was far from the only fallible person from within the Holy Catholic Church.

The Reformers generally thought of as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli are in Protestant circles, the heroes. Their change took us from one fallible Pope to hundreds of thousands of fallible popes.

Scott Hubbard of Desiring God writes, “If you read biographies of the Reformation’s other leaders, you’ll find that many harbored character flaws as devastating as Luther’s, Calvin’s, and Zwingli’s. Each goes down in history with their own glaring asterisk. One might begin to wonder if we should celebrate these men and women at all.” (Whitewashed Heroes, Desiring God, Oct. 26, 2017)

These men were extremely intelligent. The Germans can thank Luther for their formed language, we can thank Calvin for deeper theology, and we can be impressed by the rhetoric of Zwingli, but as with all men, we must not miss the paradoxes.

These men, like the popes and priest they battled, were flawed men.

Luther’s words led to the death of thousands of Jews, and Calvin and Zwingli were complicit to murder. All were as intolerant of their enemies as the Catholic Church was to them.

Many people will celebrate the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis in Wittenberg, I will simply mourn and beg God for a return to unity.

The acts of Luther created the greatest schism Christendom has ever known, and his actions and the actions of many others on both sides brought about the deaths of millions in the name of Jesus.

Protestants have celebrated their 500 year history over the past several weeks, our church included. This is a failure to know, study and celebrate our 1,500 year history before Luther.

There was no celebration of: Polycarp, Clement, Augustine, Boethius, Francis of Assisi, Gregory the Great, or Leo I. We are a branch of Catholicism, and if not for the thousands of incredible men and women of the Catholic Church, we would not have our faith today. Our faith was not birthed in Wittenberg, it birthed on the streets of Jerusalem, heck the Garden of Eden.

If Protestants really want to celebrate those who gave validity to their rise, they need look no further than Henry XIII. He gave rise to the environment that permitted the growth of hundreds of protestant denominations; again, not much of a hero.

The Reformation was underway in the hearts and minds of thousands. Most, looking to “reform” the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Would we condemn Blasé Pascal, Jacque LeFevre, Erasmus, and the multitude of those in Jansenism to hell?

I would not.

So many brave men and women laid the language of the reformation. Luther ripped his ideas from LeFevre with no footnote of thanks. LeFevre, Erasmus and Pascal would never have pushed for such a division. The schism still thunders in the hearts of Protestants and it still creates further division with our Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

We can thank these men for proliferating the good message of grace, but we must not celebrate the great division they perpetrated.

As many have come to faith through the reformation, it could be argued it lead to a greater rise in secularism, wars, unbelief, bigotry, and cultural devastation.

On October 31, 2017 take a moment to remember the reformation, and then ask God to unite us from this horrific division.

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