RHYMING THE REFORMATION

RHYMING THE REFORMATION
Reformational Poets of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

By Roger Salter
Special to VIRTUEONLINE
www.virtueonline.org
The age of the Reformation was obviously an era of enormous intellectual and doctrinal ferment and keen controversy. Confessional issues were hammered out with great mental power and precision on all sides – Roman, Lutheran, Anabaptist, and Reformed. Over a period of a century and a half statements of faith were honed and consolidated to demarcate the positions of various parties comprising Western Christendom. The fervent theological pursuit of orthodoxy and accuracy in belief and in articulation of the articles of faith was in the ascendancy and the Christian mind was severely taxed over many significant, and even more specifically fine matters of dispute, creed, and conduct considered to be apt in faithfulness towards Jesus Christ and his Church.

Titanic struggles between champions of differing causes ensued over decades and their tomes bequeathed to succeeding generations are eagerly perused by specialists and scholars to this day, although only rarely do their findings and discoveries overlap into the interest and concern of average church members. The general loss of historical perspective and the development of doctrine is a huge loss to the health and effectiveness of the organized people of God. Laity have a huge responsibility to hold experts to account for what is taught and current in debate in the academy. Explanation must be sought and the mystique of intellectuals thoroughly probed. The church must check out its educators in responsible and fair-minded ways. Professionals are not to be in search of notoriety or engage in profit and competition, but to feed the flock in sacrifice of personal ambitions. Lay theology is a duty and many can handle it with competence given the encouragement and opportunity. Intelligence and the influence of the Holy Spirit are more widely dispersed than supposed confinement to colleges and seminaries where pride and envy may prevail as much as in other departments of learning. The passions of professors contribute to theology almost as much as learned perception and theologues are sinners too, swayed by unsuspected influences. Rivalry in academia is a curse to the cause of truth and genuine learning.

Dogma, so-called, is derided as dull and dry, and the indifference to history means that mistaken notions and attitudes are recycled through lack of critical discernment. Congregations are stunned by sensationalism, deceit, and error among the elite thinkers of Christian institutions and the prevalence of heresy (the striving for originality and the exaltation of private opinions and preferences over the consensus of sound godly conviction). Our vast heritage of right religious thought is largely going to waste in a time when it is urgently needed. In many instances, highly capable minds in many other (secular) areas of valuable knowledge and vital expertise seem to be satisfied with trivia when it comes to Christian literature. The espousal of the faith in some cases (scanning church bookstalls and libraries) seems to be demoted to the level of a hobby or relaxed reading when our society needs informed and competent advocates of the teachings of Holy Scripture and the tenets of the Gospel. Centuries ago humble Scottish crofters were tackling theological volumes of the quality and complexity that our generation would only encounter in seminary or college. Church members knew how to expound the confessional stance of their denominations and recount the origin and history of their tradition. Days may be recalled when believers conversed amiably over Scripture and systematics at a pronouncedly able level. It was a privilege to sit among the elders.

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