Church Reform in the Late Middle Ages -- By: Peder Stiansen

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 105:418 (Apr 1948)
Article: Church Reform in the Late Middle Ages
Author: Peder Stiansen

Church Reform in the Late Middle Ages

Peder Stiansen

[Editor’s Note: The W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial lectures for 1948 were delivered by the dean and Professor of Church History in Northern Baptist Theological Seminary of Chicago. This annual Lectureship sponsored by Dallas Theological Seminary Alumni Association had for its general theme in 1949 “Late Medieval Church Reform.” As in years past, it is the intention of Bibliotheca Sacra to reproduce the four lectures which were given in Dallas, Texas, February 24–27, 1948, beginning with the first address in the present number.]

The Middle Ages are generally spoken of as the Dark Ages. Some periods were exceedingly dark, but others were not. And even during periods when the Church was shockingly corrupt, we find some shining lights inside the Church. Outside the Church, we find in the late Middle Ages a great many strong reform movements. Rome called the leaders of these movements heretics; we call them evangelicals.

Many historians tell us that Martin Luther was the reformer who produced the German Reformation. Probably he was more a product of reformation than the cause of it. In the period before the late Middle Ages (i.e., 1300–1500) there were also some very strong reform movements: the Albigenses, the Waldenses, the followers of Peter of Bruys, Henry of Lausanne, Arnold of Brescia and others, but these movements will not be discussed in these lectures.

Opposition to Roman Catholicism

Introduction. The New Testament Church goes back to Jesus and His apostles. “Upon this rock I will build my Church,” Jesus said to Peter. The Church was His and He was its builder. The organization of the apostolic churches seems to have been very simple and very natural. Local

churches sprang up wherever a group of disciples was found, and while they did not have much of an organization, there were some characteristics which seem to be common to them. Of these may be mentioned the following: (1) Regenerate Church Membership. Only those who through personal faith accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord became members of the church, and they confessed their faith in baptism. (2) Universal Priesthood of Believers. The churches did not take over the specific priesthood of Judaism, but every believer became a priest; he had direct access to God through Jesus Christ. (3) A Plain Ministry. Those who ministered inside of the churches filled a definite need. “Seven men of good report” had charge of the charities (they were called deacons) and elders, presbyters or bishops, were overseers of the spiritual needs of the members, but they did not constitute a sacerdotal class. They were m...

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