Establishing the Boundaries of a Biblical Worldview

Reformation

From the archives. Originally published October, 1996,

OCTOBER IS THE MONTH to remember the cataclysmic changes brought to the Western world as a result of Martin Luther̓s action of nailing his 95 theses (complaints) to the church door at Wittenbürg. Such was the rather abrupt beginning of Protestantism. This essay has been prompted by an essay, Condition and Prospects of Protestantism, written last century by the Reformation historian, James Anthony Froude. (Available here.) He had been to an evangelical meeting and what he witnessed there caused him to reflect on the Reformation, of which he was one of the foremost historians of his time, and what for him was the contemporary state of Protestantism.

Can we say that contemporary Christianity is living in the tradition of the Reformation? Our answer to that question will depend on our understanding of both the Reformation and what it stood for as well as our understanding of contemporary Christianity.

Neither the pope nor the king could claim to be the spokesperson for God …


Unlike the sixteenth century, our age is not governed by religious debate. We are, instead, governed by political issues. In particular, it is secularized political debate that leaves God out of the discussion. Legislators do not look to the Bible for answers; they prefer to study political economy (which masquerades as economics) for the answers to the issues before them.

We cannot read the history of the Reformation, however, without becoming aware that religion and politics were tied up in a bundle. The implications of religion for politics were understood — and expected — by all. This helps explain the increasing rift between church and state. Kings wanted to be free to govern according to their own laws. The Church, on the other hand, not only wanted to maintain the connection between religion and politics but was insisting that it was the true representative of God on earth both political and religious, even claiming the right to appoint and remove kings.

Against this trend, Martin Luther, came with another message. All men, whether they be in church or state, were to be under the authority of God, who spoke to men and women through the Bible. Neither the pope nor the king could claim to be the spokesperson for God, since God had spoken directly to the people. No intermediary was needed, it was claimed.
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Is the KJV a reliable translation?

I have written previously on the meaning of the ekklesia. You can find the article here.

What I did not touch on at the time is the obvious mistranslation of the word ekklesia found in English Bibles, starting with the King James Version. There is, I think, a possible reason for the mistranslation.

The word ekklesia in the Greek—usually translated ‘church’ or ‘congregation’ in the New Testament—has its origins in Greek culture. The ekklesia were the ‘called out ones’. This would be a group in a city or town who were ‘called out’ to deal with governance issues of the township.

The ekklesia was the governing body of the township. In antiquity, they met 30-40 times in a year, and usually discussed issues that involved a change to the law, appointments to official positions, contracts, peace, war, and finance, etc.[1]

The political climate in Great Britain at the time of King James was in great turmoil. The king’s mother, Mary Queen of Scotland, had been unceremoniously removed as the monarch. However, Queen Elizabeth I in England, unmarried, provided no heir to the throne. Mary, however, made sure her son had every chance of succession. In due course he not only gained the throne of Scotland as James VI, but also the throne of England as James I.

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Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. You can read more on this in Colin Brown’s, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols.↵back
When Otto Scott visited Australia in 1992 with R.J. Rushdoony, we found ourselves in a second-hand bookstore about 2 hours drive out into the country. The town was Berrima, and the bookstore can still be found today, Berkelouw Books. It’s one of the icons of Australian booksellers, and carries a huge range of used books, along with another building housing rare books.

[T]he fundamental axiom of all real life, that the service which man owes to God is not the service of words or magic forms, or ceremonies or opinions; but the service of holiness, of purity, of obedience to the everlasting laws of duty.

As we wandered through the store, I found a set of 12 volumes, History of England, by J.A. (James Anthony) Froude, published 1893. At Otto’s insistence, I purchased the set, eventually to find a set in better condition in New Zealand a couple of years later. Froude was a source for Otto when he wrote his history of James I, The Fool as King, and his subsequent history of the puritans under Cromwell, The Great Christian Revolution, co-authored with R.J. and Mark Rushdoony.

What is unique in these 12 volumes is that they do not cover a vast period of English history. They cover only a period of about 60 years, from the time of the fall of Cardinal Wolsey to the Spanish Armada. Froude wrote his history to defend the Reformation against a growing criticism by “High Churchmen on one side, and by Liberal statesmen and political philosophers on the other.”

Froude had a unique way of looking at history. He was well aware that the Christianity of his own day had departed from that of the Reformers in some important aspects respects. As he says, “The pale shadow called Evangelical religion clothes itself in the language of Luther and Calvin. Yet what Luther and Calvin meant is not what it means.[1] He was, therefore, looking at the Reformation anachronistically. He wrote to display the Reformation as it was, not what it eventually became. And this makes his presentation somewhat unique.

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Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. See The Conditions and Prospects of Protestantism, p.7.↵back