How Should We Then Live? Chapter 4: The Reformation

The Reformation was not a Golden Age.  The Reformers weren't perfect.  Schaeffer is very positive (me too) about the Reformation due to the effect the movement had on theology and intellectual thought.  However, when you look at the history, there was societal upheaval and injustice which the Reformers were associated with.  Schaeffer only mentions it briefly.  The only thing he says about politics is that the seeds of democracy were sown, which he also portrayed as a positive.  However, with the breakdown of the unified church in Europe political freedom certainly suffered.  You can read more about that at

It is important we don't idolize Reformers and assign them a type of infallibility which has been attributed to Popes.  These were men who sought to understand the Bible and obey God's commands in it.  In some ways they gloriously succeeded.  In others they shamefully failed.  A further disclaimer is that many critics of the Reformation have been misguided in their criticism.

The disclaimer also alerts us to fact that things weren't going well in the Church in late Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. Destructive heresy had entered the Church. It was harming society.  It needed to be removed.  That was the purpose of the Reformation.

Concurrent Contrast To The Renaissance
In terms of when The Reformation occurred it was like the Renaissance's younger brother.  The Renaissance was born first but both grew up side by side.  As a part of the same family, both searched for meaning and purpose for mankind and where we fit in the universe.  Where they looked for their answers and the answers they discovered were miles apart.

Another difference was the geographical center of the two movements.  The Renaissance primarily took part in Southern Europe in places like Italy and France.  The Reformation primarily happened in the North in countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and England.

Reformation ideas started in the late Renaissance with men like Jan Huss in the Czech Republic and John Wycliffe in England.  To put their lives in perspective, John Wycliffe's life (1320-1384) overlapped with Renaissance figures Dante and Bocaccio.  Jan Huss's life (1369-1415) overlapped with Masaccio's and van Eyck's.  These ideas gained steam and the Reformation started in Germany.

                "Martin Luther (1483-1546) nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the church door in
                Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.  To put this into historical perspective, we should

                remember that Leonardo da Vinci lived from 1452-1519... the year Leonardo
                died Luther has his disputation in Leipzig, with Dr. Eck."

They taught that the Bible was the final authority for theological truth, that Jesus' work on the cross was all that was required for salvation, that every believer has a direct relationship to God, and that the Pope was guilty of error.

              "One must understand that these two things were happening almost simultaneously;
                First in the south, much of the High Renaissance was based on a humanistic ideal
                of man's being the center of all things, of man's being autonomous; second, in the
                north of Europe, the Reformation was giving an opposite answer."

The Five Solas: Scriptura, Gratia, Fide, Christus, Deo Gloria
The Reformation started as an internal movement calling for the Roman Catholic church to repent from sin. But it ended in Protestantism and separation. Zurich, Switzerland left the Catholic church in 1523. England left in 1534. Calvin wrote out his version of Reformed theology in 1536.

Thought in the Renaissance was based on Aquinas's teaching that man did not fall completely. He taught that man's will had fallen into sin, but that man's mind had not. Therefore, those who followed him believed that people could answer the great questions of life on their own through reason.

We saw this already in the chapter on the Renaissance.  Raphael painted in the Vatican Greek philosophers on one wall and just opposite to it a depiction of the church, equating the two. Michelangelo did the same thing putting pagan prophetesses on an equal level with Old Testament prophets.

The Reformers taught that all aspects of humanity had fallen into sin: mind, body, and soul. That meant reason wasn't sufficient. They knew we have to rely on revelation from God to determine truth.  They still utilized logic and reason to think through issues and analyze preexisting traditions, but they admitted its limitations.

                "they refused to accept the autonomy of human reason...they took seriously the
                Bible's own claim for itself - that it is the only final authority."

Spiritual authority was in the Bible alone, the slogan of the day which communicated this truth was Sola Scriptura.  It wasn't found in church hierarchy or in the Pope but in what was written in the Canon.  They opposed the humanistic distortion which glorified the works of mankind and debased the works of God.

                    "First, the authority of the church was made equal to the authority of  the
Second, a strong element of human work was added to the work
                    of Christ for salvation. Third, after Thomas Aquinas there had come an
                    increasing synthesis between Biblical teaching and pagan thought."

To combat these ideas the Reformation heralded the accompanying slogans: Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, and Sola Christus.  Salvation comes from and only from faith in Jesus, His grace, and His payment for our sins on the cross.  No works from us could be added.

Philosophically, seeing the world through the Bible's eyes, the Reformers understood the proper relationship between particulars and universals.  Starting with an infinite but personal God any tension between the two can be resolved.

                "the problem of meaning for individual things, including man, was so completely
                answered that the problem - as a problem- did not exist. The reason for this
                is that the Bible gives a unity to the universal and the particulars....the Bible
                tells men and women true things about God... the Bible tells us true things about
                people and about nature."

Remember "individual things" and "particulars" means you specifically.  You have meaning.  You are connected to God and His earth.  The Bible explains what life is all about for you.  Also, by removing man's supposed greatness from the equation, all the attention was placed on God's goodness and power.  This defines the remaining slogan, Soli Deo Gloria.  Only God is to be glorified because He did it all.  At the same time, a person is elevated to new heights due to his or her relationship with God.

                    "The individual person... could come to God directly by faith through
                    the finished work of Christ.  That is, Christ's sacrifice on the cross 
                    was of infinite value, and people cannot do and need not do anything
                    to earn or add to Christ's work.  But this can be accepted as an unearned gift."

God's Beauty In Science, Art & Culture
The Reformation has a bad reputation concerning art because some statues and other art was destroyed. Those things were destroyed because they were thought to be objects of illegitimate worship. In many instances the people who owned them were the ones who destroyed them because they were concerned with how it affected their worship to God.  It also has a bad reputation around science due to the thought that faith contradicts serious intellectual inquiry.  However, the renewed reliance on the Bible didn't shackle the minds of believers of that era. Instead it gave them the correct foundation to pursue an understanding of nature through science.

                   "science and art were set free to operate upon the basis of that which God
                    had set forth in Scripture."

In fact the Biblical mind set gives a better philosophical foundation for great human achievement than humanism.

                    "the ironic fact here is that humanism, which began with Man's being central,
                    eventually had no real meaning for people.   On the other hand, if one begins
                    with the Bible's position that a person is created by God and created in the 
                    image of God, there is a basis for that person's dignity.

The fact that each person has dignity, as God's image, gives dignity to all vocations and all social positions.  In the Bible, church elders are appointed based on the example of their service and character.  They already were priests.  People don't have to be elevated to the level of priest and rise in a complex church hierarchy in order to be in church leadership.  We are also all equal in our guilt before God.  Every slave, king, plumber, and professor was an enemy of God at one point in their lives.  Our Western liberal idea of equality was generated from this intellectual soil.

This may seem out of place, but this understanding of God, creation, and man sets the stage for each person to pursue life and all it contains.  We see this working out in the lives of the Reformers.

The first example is Jan Huss who wrote hymns that are still sung today.  In the time of Luther, Lucas Cranach (1472-1553) was known for his painting and engraving.  The paintings of Luther and his family we have today were created by him.  Luther himself wrote songs.  He was said to have a good tenor voice and could play music skillfully.  He even wrote one of my favorite hymns, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God", which has a very strong melody.  Schaeffer lists several more talented song writers who developed sophisticated hymns: Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612), Michael Praetorius (1571-1621, Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672), and Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707).

Buxtehude influenced two other great composers of the Reformation, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and George Frideric Handel (1685-1759).  Both men came out of the Reformation directly.  They were both devoted to Jesus and worked Biblical ideas into their music.  They proved it is possible to make great music and at the same time maintain Biblical accuracy.

                    "what the Reformation produced musically gives us a clear affirmation
                    that the Reformation was indeed interested in culture"

This was also true about visual art.  In addition to Lucas Cranach, there were painters like Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), Altdorfer (1480-1538), Hans Baldung-Grien (1484-1545), Hans Beham (1500-1550), and Barthel Beham (1502-1540).

Durer followed Luther's life and teachings closely.  He was known for wood carvings, Copper engravings, and watercolors.  He lived at the same time as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo. Maybe the fourth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle should have been Durer and not Donatello.

Higher than all these though stood the Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn.  I prefer him to Leonardo as a painter.  I have seen paintings of them both in person.  Granted I have not seen Leonardo's most famous ones in the Sistine Chapel and other places.  But what I have seen of Rembrandt's work is breathtaking and awe inspiring.  His paintings show a very high level of detail and realism.  He also is great at using light.  His dark is pitch black and his light is stunning.

                    "The clearest example of the effects of the Reformation culture on painting
                    is Rembrandt (1606-1669).  Rembrandt had flaws in his life (as all people
                    do), but he was a true Christian; he believed in the death of Christ for him

His true belief is demonstrated in the Raising of the Cross.  He is declaring to everyone it was his sins that sent Jesus to the cross by including himself at the base of the cross in a blue beret.  His sketches were both detailed and emotionally deep.

Rembrandt depicted the ideals of the Reformation.  Nature was drawn as it looked.  It was not demeaned or elevated.  Man had dignity but was also selfish and broken.  Even though it is so awe inspiring, his art guides your eyes down to nature.  That is actually how it inspires ironically.  He even made a painting of his naked wife waiting for him in bed.  He wasn't a prude, but he also wasn't licentious.

The story of the Reformation is one of men trying imperfectly to put everything back in its proper place.  Their teaching, songs, and art show what they thought about God, nature, the Bible, the Church, humanity, logic, philosophy, and science.

                    "in the north, the people of the Reformation, standing under the teaching
                    of Scripture, had freedom and yet at the same time, compelling absolute


  1. There is such an interesting puzzle: the Reformation took out the middleman, and the loss of the middleman in society has unleashed an all-powerful state.

    Are the two connected theologically, not just politically? Did it have to be so?

    1. Yeah, if I hadn't read your blog I would think this was a simple good. Schaeffer discusses political implications of the Reformation in chapter 5, which I am reading through right now. He is saying that the Reformation was an influence toward democracy and freedom, assuming those things go together. I think he is missing some thing, but I think I understand what that thing is. There is a thread in his thinking that does explain the develop of freedom, but it isn't purely the Reformation. I also plan to go back and read some on your blog where you wrote about the rights of serfs and how that plays into what Schaeffer is describing.

      But to comment on your loss of middleman. The loss of middleman in the Reformation was between God and man. That is a good thing. The problem I think was that the theological movement turned into ecclesiastical upheaval which made churches beholden to secular powers for protection over the Roman Catholic church or other secular powers aligned with the Roman Catholic church. That was a bad effect of the Reformation and what I was hinting out in the disclaimer.


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