The New Reformation -- By: Harold J. Ockenga

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 105:417 (Jan 1948)
Article: The New Reformation
Author: Harold J. Ockenga


The New Reformation

Harold J. Ockenga

“When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him” (Isa 59:15). A text like this serves well to introduce the subject of the discussion following. The Reformation era may be compared to the first century in importance and influence in human history. Both abound in great and good men. Both abound in important facts and both abound in permanent results. Both refashioned the world from forces born out of the depths of the human soul in contact with God. Luther wrote in 1522: “If you read all the annals of the past, you will find no century like this since the birth of Christ.”

It behooves us to remember that two branches of Christendom evaluate the Reformation. One does so sympathetically. The other does so hostilely. Your attitude toward the Reformation will be determined largely by the source of your information and by the access you possess to the facts. It is the desire for understanding which motivates us.

The times preceding the Reformation were very dark. It was the end of the feudal era. Powerful forces were released in the Renaissance, in the rise of city bourgeois influence, in the freer movement of commerce, in the increase of guilds, and in the emergence of national states. A leaven was working in the political economy of Europe. The thraldom of economic poverty was broken and men were being liberated from the position of chattel and of belonging to the soil. The air was stirred by the spirit of progress and freedom. Such forces were bound to produce great men and great movements.

The necessity for religious reform at the close of the

Middle Ages was self-evident. The church which had exercised a monopoly with no competition from the time of Constantine to the time of Charles V over a period of some twelve hundred years had sunk into corruption which was exposed not only in the Reformation but also in the Counter Reformation. Even Bellarmine and Bossuet, Roman Catholic scholars, admit in strong terms the decay of discipline and the necessity of moral reform in the sixteenth century. The corruptions of Alexander VI, Julius II, and Leo X, Popes in office between 1492 and 1521, brought the church to a new low in moral and spiritual life. The decline of monasticism and scholastic theology, the growth of mysticism and the secular nature of the clergy in which high offices were granted to the sons of nobility as favors or as privileges in return for payment of money, cried to heaven for reform. Reform had once come from within the church in the days of Hildebrand, but it was resisted in the early sixteenth century t...

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