I sat there for a long moment digesting all that I heard and it was all just about as clear to me as pea soup.
“Paul, I understand that the masses were getting tired of being ground to bits financially by the church through a series of clever manipulations. Seems to me that when you are hit by the whammy that they were hit by, you either become a member of the religious cult by swallowing the implied blessing of giving or you rebel. Seems like these folk decided to rebel but I am still missing a piece. There is more to this story I am sure.”
Again Paul pondered what I said and replied: “There is always going to be a connection between matters of faith and matters of life. Like that man over there at the stoplight with his hand printed sign asking for money. I routinely give him a dollar or two because in my belief system, my faith has to be put into action, independent of course, of the motives of others. In all things, matter of life always intersect with matters of faith.
“Getting back to our discussion, there is a historic connection between how your faith was formulated and what was happening in life. Yes, the mood of the time was one of angst and all of this dissent actually in a way fueled the reformation. There were a series of peasant revolts where masses of people who were tired of being manipulated into turning over great chunks of their incomes to the church collected at the church to voice their dissent. They collected and actually attacked the cathedrals with pitchforks! There was a strong desire to see faith in action! The Peasant Revolts took place roughly between May of 1524 and July of 1526. The hopes of the peasants were articulated by Sebastian Cotzer in his defining articles where what they really wanted was:
The power to choose and appoint a pastor, the removal of the fair grain tithe, the abolition of serfdom, the right of the poor to hunt in order to feed themselves, the right of the poor to share the forest with the rich, land owners rule should be fair, land owners rule should not be oppressive, rent should be fair, laws should be fair, the community should receive their originally owned property, the Todfall Tax should no longer be endured and if these are unscriptural they should be withdrawn.
“As you can see, their concerns were not theological but rather economic and cultural.”
Like seeing an enigma walking towards me in the middle of a fog, I was beginning to piece all of this together.
“I get all of that,” The masses were beginning to see through the empty veneer of the church and began to rebel against the hollow and empty religious experience that they were being forced to pay for. All I see is a bunch of riots and an angry mob. That is a far cry from the reformation.”
“You are close,” replied Paul with his pleasure beginning to show. “This is the mood of the time that was outside the window of John Calvin who put all of this into theological terms. Or maybe he took this dissent as an opportunity to propel his theology. At any rate, this was the cauldron in which your religious understanding was formatted. By the way, he didn't like Baptists too much; thought they were heretics and should be put to death by drowning. At any rate, he penned much of the theology of this time. John Calvin was no different from you in that he, like all of us, was able to see the things that he was preconditioned to see. So to understand a theologian, you must understand his way of thinking.
“Calvin was nurtured in a rich theological tradition but at the age of 18 or 19 he made a decision that would later influence his religious perspective. In 1529 Calvin decided to pursue a career in Law. Calvin studied under Andreas Alciati, probably the most important figure in his young life at the time of his conversion. The point is that while studying law Calvin ultimately came to see the light, and that context carried over into his unique religious perspective. Put another way, his theology was significantly influenced by his legal training since he decided to follow a career in theology while studying law.
“He wrote a preface to his commentary on the Psalms that shows that his conversion was seated contextually in his legal studies:
God drew me from obscure and lowly beginnings and conferred on me the most honorable office of herald and minister of the gospel. My father had intended me for theology from my early childhood but when he reflected that the career of the law proved everywhere very lucrative for its practitioners, the prospect suddenly made him change his mind, and it was so that it happened that I was called away from the study of philosophy and set to learning law . . .
“That may not seem like a big deal but in Calvin's theology, his legal training has a way of creeping in all over the place. One of the ways that Calvin liked to explain Gods' grand act of forgiveness is that Christ became the sinners legal substitute who perfectly fulfilled the haw on the sinner's behalf and then took upon himself the sinner's punishment for law breaking. In his commentary on Romans 6:14 Calvin taught:”
Christ submitted himself to the bondage of the law, although he was not otherwise a debtor to its demands in order that in the words of the apostle he might redeem those under the law.
This legal theme comes up over and over again. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion book 2 section 16
The curse caused by our guilt was awaiting us at God's heavenly judgment seat, accordingly, scripture first relates Christ's condemnation before Pontious Pilate, Governor of Judea, to teach us that the penalty to which we were subject had been imposed upon this righteous man.
“I hope that you can see what is happening; a theologian who was steeped in a lawyers background took the economic upheaval of his time to propel his thinking that although scriptural and accurate, never addressed the economic conditions that created it.”
I was beginning to feel as though my foundation was being shaken. “Wait a minute Paul. That sounds all great to me. Are you saying that this is somehow wrong?”
“No, not at all” shared Paul with a compassion that I had not seen before. “See this as a wonderful foundation but as with all foundations, they are to serve as a base for further building. There are so many mind boggling layers that can be easily placed upon this grand foundation! Calvin viewed the scriptures based upon the times in which he lived and the life experiences that he lived through. Rather that continuing to see what he saw I think that it will be far more rewarding to stand on the foundation that has been laid and see what you now see, adding your unique perspective to the mix. I believe that to build on that rich foundation is to add fresh layers of religious understanding that only these unique times can create. The rich joy of true spirituality is viewing as through a kaleidoscope the many manifestations the layers fresh thinking can produce. There are so many avenues left for you to investigate and to build on the great foundation that has already been laid. I don't want to spoil for you the joy of discovery but let's take a peek down some of the broad avenues that you can more fully investigate.
“Since the Reformation was largely an economic revolt, you can begin in your thinking by connecting the dots to the economic responsibilities that fall in the lap of the church. “So many people today see all of religion as being focused only on them to the extent that as long as they are personally doing well, that's all that really matters. They have no sense of responsibility to those around them, so much so that they can freely drive past homeless people on the way to church! The Lord's Prayer has some interesting language in it:
Our Father in heaven hallowed be your name, your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
“Listen to the language: Our, Us, and so on. In other words, you cannot truly approach God without being concerned for those around you. Spiritual health and social justice should walk hand in hand but churches rarely get involved in critical social issues. In the voice of the peasants that fueled the reformation, religion rightly formatted does not create grand cathedrals at the expense of others but rather must address the needs of the community in which they reside. It is time to take the stained glass out of churches so that we are forced to view the world in which we are called to serve.
“There is in fact a myriad of varied perspectives through which the scriptures can be viewed. Perhaps there is the most compelling layer where the cross is not seen as a stand alone entity but rather inextricably bound to the resurrection and the empty tomb. To combine the cross with the empty tomb is to place a challenge on you that does not end at conversion but rather begins there; you are not redeemed just to be redeemed but rather you are redeemed to live a higher life by experiencing your own unique and inward resurrection. You are called to live a higher life that has a positive influence on those around you as you work with others to not only make the world a better place but to also give a tangible expression of thanks to the God who in the word of Calvin . . . redeemed you.”
“Not only that but the scriptures are filled with many metaphors for God. It is as if the writers of the bible are wrestling with the limitations of language in describing the indescribable. God is described as:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
Why do you look at the speck of saw-dust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.
“I could continue this for hours but our time together is winding down. The key is that there are volumes of insights left to be uncovered as the scriptures are brought to life and made truly relevant in these very times.”
I could almost see the light going off in my mind! “That is amazing. I am particularly drawn to the notion of God as being close as you shared; “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” I have always enjoyed reading Science Fiction and have pondered the very real possibility that in light of the sheer immensity of the universe, there could well be other life forms on other planets. Could it be that God disclosed himself to them in a form that they will recognize and understand? That just as he became flesh for us, could he have also adopted other forms in other worlds to disclose himself to them as well?”
Mr Athena smiled and said “now you are beginning to think!”