There are many items of evidence that the Reformation had a profound effect and became a major source for Enlightenment thinking. If nothing else, the Reformation gave permission to individuals to think outside the religious box that had reigned in any intellectual thought that actually or was perceived to disagree with religious ideas and values. I agree with our colleague Jonathon Rowe who has proposed that the Reformation undermined Orthodoxy. In fact, if we remember just the rudimentary historical aspects, this was really the over riding purpose of the Reformation. When Martin Luther nailed the ninety-five thesis to that door in
This did give rise to a new frame of thinking that allowed people not only to question religion and religious organizations but also to question the Bible itself. This was not a new occupation. It was as old as the scriptures themselves. It was however a new manifestation of thought that could and would actually survive (literally and physically) because the power of the prevailing religious organizations of that day were losing their political power to punish and restrain dissidents. While from our perspective, we may see Calvin as just as closed to religious dissidence as the Catholic Church, we must look at the historical perspective and see that the religious and intellectual freedom they were experiencing was a magnificent improvement in a very short period of time. It cannot be understated that the blow to the political power of the Catholic Church in
So, can we conclude that the Reformation being a Christian religious movement, parented the Enlightenment and therefore was also the foundation of American Civil government? I think that is a bit of a stretch, but there is a thread or two that does preserve a strong connection of influence from both the Reformation and the Enlightenment in the formation of the unique American values that influenced our nation’s founding. I also propose that the formation of this country owes a debt to both the Reformation and the Enlightenment whose proportion cannot be quantified in such a way as to state unequivocally that
This is where Christianity comes into play. First of all, when attempting to enter the argument about whether
This is where Bible Study enters the picture. It was individual Bible Study that was the impetus of the reformation itself. As Martin Luther studied the scripture, casting of the confinement of the teaching and interpretation of the institutional church, he found a freedom of relationship to his creator that was streamlined because a major middle man was removed. The truth of his conclusions brought folks to the point where their salvation was provided by God alone through “One mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:3-6) This newly rediscovered way of relating to God encouraged individual thinking. It began to erode and abolish the tyrannical and absolute human authority of religious corporation and institution. This was a socially huge step in the process of giving humanity the permission and freedom to question, erode and abolish political tyranny and authority as well.
We must begin to apply a system of understanding when studying history that has been co-opted by Seminaries and applied to Biblical Study. Almost any Seminary today has one or more courses titled “Hermeneutics”. This has been defined as the ability to understand things from other points of view, including cultural and social pressures that influence these others perspective. This specifically includes process of applying this new perspective to interpreting the meaning of written text and symbolic artifacts whether they are historical or contemporary in nature. The lack of this understanding is, for example, is what leads folks to make blanket statements such as “all of the founding fathers are Deists” or “most of the founders were Unitarian” or even that “All of the Fathers of our country were Christian.”
When we do our best to study the historical writings of the founders and look at it from their perspective, we find that their overwhelming world view when synthesized (which carries its own dangers) was that people had a responsibility to conform to a set of values that prized human life and liberty. These values were based, primarily, on a Judeo-Christian ethic that had a moral source in “Orthodox Christianity” including Catholicism and the new concepts of freedom and individual expression that came from the Reformation. By the time of the Revolution, there was also a significant influence from the relatively new thought produced by the enlightenment. The influence of these concepts which have be termed as religious or Christian in nature are the basis for calling America a Christian Nation, when, in fact, religious freedom, as a cornerstone of the Constitution, would disallow it. However, even though we have no established religion, we cannot deny the roots of morality and freedom that have come to us primarily from a, while certainly didactic, Christian point of reference. This nation surely would not be claimed by the forefathers as an unchristian or even irreligious country by description. No other form of worship or theory of the existence or person of God had more influence on the founding of this nation. However, no other nation has EVER been more tolerant or more protective of the rights of individuals to express and hold to other forms of worship or theories of the existence or nonexistence of the person of God.
This is why, as long as we can have this discussion, the greatness of