The Radical Reformation & Authority – Part #1

Right now I am watching the Vikings/Eagles NFC Championship game fearing that I will have no team to pull for in the Super Bowl (How can I pull for the Vikings or the Patriots). Therefore, to keep my mind off of the possibility of having lots of people over to our home to watch a game of two teams that I really don’t like I thought I would post about an area of influence from the Radical Reformation that I see all around us.

Before I begin I will paraphrase and mashup Amos 7:14 and Dan Carlin and say that I am neither a historian, nor the son of a historian, but I am a fan of history. In other words, I am speaking very much as a lay person here. I will leave it up to Rob Harper to correct my errors in discussing the influence of elements of history and Kirby Goidel in my brief “rabbit chasing” into political theory. So I will begin.

When we talk about “The Reformation” we are actually talking about three interlocked reformations that began in the 16th century. The three different reformations are:

  • The Magisterial Reformation – made of of Lutheran and Reformed thought and supported by the princes in their areas. The Magisterial Reformation consisted of thinkers who said to themselves “The Roman Catholic Church is beyond reform and therefore we will separate replacing the Roman Catholic elites with our elites”.
  • The Catholic Counter Reformation – obviously made up of Roman Catholics. The Catholic Counter Reformation may have saved the Roman Catholic Church. A lot of people in power agreed with the arguments of the Magisterial Reformation and the Roman Catholic Church began to loose a large number of people. So RC thinkers took this opportunity and reformed the practices and various theology that supported those corrupt practices. The reforms led to a Catholic resurgence from a pending collapse and the RCC kept its elites in power in many places and maintained support form many monarchs and members of the second estate.
  • The Radical Reformation – made up .primarily of thinkers who thought that the Magisterial Reformation didn’t go far enough in following what was written in the Bible. So the RR went further … often much further. This is why we have the saying “The Catholics hated the Protestants, the Protestants hated the Catholics, and EVERYBODY hated the Radicals.”

Of the three reformation movements the Radical Reformers held the most extreme view of the Priesthood of All Believers and this led to them often rejecting almost all institutional religious authority. In my opinion, the best parts and the worst parts of the Reformation come out of the Radical Reformation. I am a big fan of the RR even though things like Münster rebellion came through it. The best and worst often come through the same thought.

The Radical Reformation’s rejection of institutional, especially religious institutional,  authority was a threat to the stability of all the city states and kingdoms in Europe. If you could say that anyone, regardless of pedigree, could interpret scripture and it might be as good, or even better, than the interpretation of your priest, bishop, or pope it wouldn’t be a much bigger step to start thinking that anyone could make political decisions as good as your sheriff, mayor, prince, or king. Ultimately this step was taken and democratic republicans run by ordinary people replaced the “divine right to rule” of monarchies. Thank you Radical Reformation.

Like I wrote earlier, I believe the best and worst often come through the same thoughts. One of the great things that came out of the RR was the questioning of authority. So much of the institutional authority, both sacred and secular, at the time was corrupt and desperately needed to be questioned. The authorities served themselves and not the people. The “priesthood of all believers”, as understood by the radicals, led to ordinary people realizing they could think and act and this led to the correction of many of the abuses. Of course, it also led to a couple of not so good results also. In my opinion two examples of the bad result were:

  1. The institutional authority that didn’t reform on its own had a tendency to dig in and really force institutional authority until it was itself forced to reform.
  2. Any “Joe Blow” who could string a couple of sentences together could suddenly reject the institutional authority and proclaim him/herself an expert and authority for other people to follow.

Both of these things can be very destructive and often feed upon one another. Any “Joe Blow” being able to proclaim him/herself an authority often leads to the mistaken belief that just because everyone has an equal right to interpret scripture and make choices based on those interpretations that therefore everyone’s interpretation and acts based on those interpretation are equally good. This can and has led to some seriously out there interpretations and actions. The institutional authority often reacts to these “Joe Blows” by pulling inward on itself and excluding anyone who doesn’t fit their criteria or have the correct credentials. This led to and still does lead to the authority separating still further from the non-experts. A the time the clergy separated further from the laity, making the divisions even greater than they already were. Which then fed into people being even more open to the self-proclaim “Joe Blow” experts who were not separating themselves from the ordinary people.  People don’t usually follow wackos when tthey feel like they are actually being engaged by the institutions of which they have long been a part. And the cycle fed on itself and still does.

I will separate this post here because I don’t like writing very long posts and this is now one such post. Tomorrow I will write about the subject that this historical discussion is meant to point toward. For you see, I believe that so much of the danger of the separation of medical science and alternative medicine has its roots in the inherent distrust of institutional authority that can be traced back to understandings of the great doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. The experts don’t listen to the laity because of fear and anger at the “Joe Blows” and this leads to more people listening to the random self-proclaim “Joe Blow” experts.

SIDE NOTE – The Eagles won! This means that I now have someone to cheer for in the Super Bowl. Yeah!

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