Bryan Peters, who runs the Young Evangelical blog, is beginning a series on “Reformed Pacifism.” Bryan is an evangelical American Baptist who considers himself both a Calvinist and a pacifist and is trying to show how the two parts of his identity fit together. Although I think his definition of the Reformed tradition is too narrow (he rules out such prominent Reformed pacifists as Ellul, Trocme, and Lassere as not part of the main Reformed tradition), the series should be extremely interesting. As I said, I think Bryan construes the tradition too narrowly: Reformed pacifists include Jean-Michel Hornus, Paul Ricoeur, Jacques Martin, Charles Delizy, Eduourd Theis, Henri Roser, G. H. C. MacGregor, D. M. MacKinnon, G. J. Heering, George A. Buttrick, Nels F. H. Ferre, Maurice McCracken, George H. Hunsinger, Beyers Naude, Allan Boesak, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (U.S.A.), the United Reformed Peace Fellowship (U.K.). Not to mention such Reformed theology bloggers as Kim Fabricius, D.W. Congdon, Ben Myers (I think), Chris of Disruptive Grace, Aric Clark, etc. But I think Bryan is referring to conservative Calvinists: Those who see themselves as being able to affirm the Synod of Dordt, or the Westminster Confession, or, perhaps, as the heirs of the Hodges and Warfield. Even in this narrower definition of “Reformed,” I think there have been more pacifists than Bryan seems to acknowledge in this first post in the series, but the series definitely bears watching closely. Those who are Calvinists and challenge Christian pacifism from within that tradition should pay close attention as should pacifists (especially Anabaptist-influenced folks like myself, or Franciscan or Quaker types) who are suspicious of the Reformed tradition because of its historic opposition to nonviolence, should also follow the series. It promises to be a very interesting series.
Maybe others from other theological traditions would like to respond: A Wesleyan argument for pacifism, an Orthodox pacifism, a Processs theology pacifism, Lutheran pacifism, Boston Personalist pacifism, etc. The Anabaptists and the Quakers and the Franciscans have done this often enough. I am not convinced that any and all theologies will support gospel nonviolence equally. But given that the gospel commands of peacemaking are so clear, it would seem that any theology which undermines that must, at least, be in serious need of revision, right?
To the left, of course, is a picture of Martin Luther. Why? Because on All Hallows Eve (31 Oct.) of 1517, Martin Luther, then a Dominican Monk, nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany. This act is usually cited as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Sing several verses today of Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
But don’t stop at celebrating Luther’s legacy: Investigate and take time to appreciate the contributions of other Reformers–Zwingli, Bucer, Bullinger, Melancthon, Karlstadt, and, yes, Calvin, who was a great expositor of Scripture and whom I like far more than I do most of his followers (Calvinists). (But, then, I pray every day that Jesus will not be evaluated by his followers!) And go further and celebrate the Radical Reformers: Conrad Grebel, Felix Mantz, Georg Blaurock, Balthasar Hubmaier, Michael Sattler, Menno Simons, Pilgram Marpeck, Hans Hut, Jakob Hutter, Pieter Riedemann and more.
Also, although the Protestant Reformation was necessary, it did break the unity of the Western Church and, thus, I must agree with the late Jaroslav Pelikan, Lutheran church historian, who called the Protestant Reformation a “tragic necessity.” While celebrating the Reformers’ legacy, take time to shed a tear for the fragmentation of the church universal.
And Catholics have also been graced by Reformers before the 16th C. (e.g., the monastic movements), during it (e.g., Erasmus, Savanarola, Ignatius Loyola), and later (especially Vatican II). All reform movements soon need their own reformations, too. Pray for further reform of the whole church. And read a Reformer today!