Some months back, a reader left a comment asking me to write some posts demonstrating that the 16th Century Reformers like Luther and Calvin weren’t models of perfection. At the time, I felt that she’d made a reasonable request. We often look back on those Reformers as if they could do no wrong, thus cultivating a very dishonest approach to history. For that reason, I agree that we mustn’t ignore negative facts about these heroes of the faith.
When I agreed to write a few articles on the character deficiencies of these men, however,I failed to consider the changes in my condition and the impact said changes would have on my schedule. Sadly, I have at least seven hours a week less time at my computer, which restricts my ability to research topics. I have some idea of Luther’s antisemitism, and I sort of know that Calvin had issues with the Anabaptists because they wouldn’t baptize their infants, but I don’t believe I’m educated enough on these problems to write intelligently about them. So I need to back out of my agreement to write on the flaws of 16th Century Reformers.
As I thought about this matter these past few days, a couple things occurred to me that I want to discuss. In acknowledging the truth that the Reformers sinned in certain areas, we must examine our motives for wanting to look at their sins. And we must consider the probability (not merely the possibility) that history will look back on us and see our blind spots.
But let’s begin with acknowledging that every servant of God (including the apostle Paul) was an imperfect vessel carrying the perfect message of the Gospel.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves, ~~2 Corinthians 4:7 (NASB95)
All Christians have struggles with pride, and frequently our pride creates blind spots that lead us to think and/or do things that dishonor the Lord. Many of those thoughts and actions result from cultural influences so subtle that we don’t even recognize their influence on us. I know we resist that fact, believing that we perfectly follow Scripture, but future generations of Christians will probably look back at us and wonder why we thought and did certain things. Some of them may even question whether or not we were actually saved.
Often, critics of Reformed theology like to point to the problematic behavior of Luther, Calvin and other 16th Century Reformers in an effort to discredit the monumental work they did in leading people back to Biblical Christianity. Since they disobeyed God’s Word in such and such a matter, their detractors reason, surely we should disregard everything they taught. Their hypocrisy must show them as untrustworthy representatives of Scripture.
Perhaps. But didn’t the apostle Peter fall into hypocrisy (see Galatians 2:11-14). Peter went on to write two epistles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, indicating that his character flaws didn’t cancel his ability to minister God’s truth accurately.
Similarly, the Holy Spirit used the Reformers despite their failings, Yes, they had faulty theology on some secondary issues. If they were on Twitter, I might argue some minor points with each of them. But I praise the Lord for all the solid doctrine that they brought back to Christians. Rather than pick at minor disagreements I have with them, I choose to be thankful for how the Lord used them.
Thinking about their blind spots reminds me that I also have blind spots. Some have been exposed, even on this blog. More will be exposed when I stand before the judgment seat of God. I am a woman of my time, just as Luther and Calvin were men of their time. All I can do is study the Bible prayerfully, doing my best to present it accurately. I’m an earthenware vessel with cracks that the Father needs to mend.