We all wear glasses
When outlining the central truths of the Reformation (the five solas and the doctrines of grace), I sometimes hear a response that some of the Reformers seemed downright mean in their rhetoric and even nasty to people. Its important to respond to this because this can be something of a roadblock to people, preventing them from even looking into the Scriptures on such vital matters.
I wrote the following as a response to someone articulating this issue earlier today:
Nothing is “shrugged off” or excused but we also must at least try to understand the historical times rather than simply looking back at them through anachronistic glasses (through a 21st century lens). That is not always easy to do, but to understand the people and events of history, we must also seek to understand the thinking that governed hearts and minds at the time.
We don’t have heresy trials in our day for the simple reason that today’s society does not view doctrinal heresy as a problem at all. Cults and false religion can exist without any fear of persecution. While I for one very much appreciate the freedom of religion in our day, the down side is the thinking that often goes with that, namely that it does not matter what a person believes, as long as they are “sincere.” However, this concept was not in anyone’s thinking in the 16th century. All society actually believed in heaven and hell and that individuals actually go to one of those two places, and that heresy was a terrible blight on society. People on both sides (Protestant and Roman Catholic) believed that heresy was a high crime against both God and the people, equivalent to treason. If we understand that, and also look at the facts rather than the hyped up inaccurate vitriol that is so often pervasive, while not in any way excusing the excesses, we can at least begin to have an understanding of the times in which these things occured and have some measure of sympathy. If we do not, then we will come to the false and sad conclusion that no one in the 16th century has anything worthwhile to teach us.