Our Lutheran friends are celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. This notable event dates from October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic monk, nailed his 95 Theses to the door to the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
The Protestant Reformation marked the second great division in Christendom. The first was 1054 when the Eastern Orthodox split from Rome and would not acknowledge the authority of the Pope.
The Reformation was the religious wing of the Renaissance. The two significant events were the publishing of the Greek New Testament (1516) by Erasmus and the Bible translated by Luther into the German language.
The Protestants quickly divided. John Calvin fathered the Reformed. John Knox founded the Presbyterians. There was a semi-reformation in England as the Church of England (Episcopalians) abandoned the Pope, but remained essentially Catholic.
Each of these religions was territorial and political. Each was a “state church” in its own geographical domain. What faith you followed depended on where you were born and lived. In one place, you were a Catholic; in another, a Lutheran or in still another, Reformed. This resulted in the religious wars that soon followed. The 30-Years War, 1618-1648, disseminated Europe.
This raises the question “Where were the Baptists in all of this?” Baptists were not a product of the Protestant Reformation. They were all over Europe before the Reformation and had existed from apostolic times.
Baptists adhered to no single political philosophy and were never territorial. Holding steadfastly to the Scriptures, they practiced a baptism which followed believe. No infants were baptized. There are over 5,000 instances of baptism in the books of Acts and not one instance of an infant being baptized.
Baptists held that a church is a body of people who have savingly believed on Christ and then, as an evidence of that faith are baptized and form a church according to the biblical pattern.
All the Reformation did for Baptists was give them a choice of persecutors. If they did not like being persecuted by the Catholics, they could move into Lutheran territory and be persecuted. If they were dissatisfied with that, they could move where the Reformed held sway and experience persecution at their hands.
On Reformation Sunday, October 29, at the 11 a.m. service in Orland Park, I will be preaching on the subject “The Reformation Meant Death for Baptists”.
One of the most interesting and informative books about Baptists is not by a Baptist but by a Reformed believer, Leonard Verduin “The Reformers and Their Step-Children”. Verduin had the linguistic facility to go into court records and primary documents to ascertain the facts. His scholarly volume is worth reading.