not only that the priesthood played a special part in interpreting scripture, but that
the Church, because it was founded by Christ, had the authority to augment
Christian doctrine (call this ‘tradition 2’). Considering this question from the
standpoint of traditions 1 and 2 we can identify three opposing positions on the
question of doctrine:
1.Catholic – tradition 1 plus 2Doctrine is determined by scripture as interpreted
by the Church (tradition 1) and developed by the Church’s leaders (tradition 2).
2.Magisterial reformers – tradition 1Human beings still require a body – the
Church – which provides authoritative interpretation (tradition 1), but
Christianity should rid itself of post-Biblical accretions, so no tradition 2. In
addition, the Bible should be translated into vernacular languages so that believers
- or at least the literate among them – can read it.
3.Radical reformers – tradition 0 When you read the Bible you have direct
experience of the word of God, unmediated by any tradition (McGrath, 1988:
The second major theological issue was the nature of salvation. The common
medieval view was that God had established a covenant with humanity, whereby
he was obliged to justify – that is, allow into a relationship with himself, or ‘save’
- anybody who satisfied a minimum standard, which was defined as recognising
one’s sin. In practical terms it meant remaining ‘in communion’ with the Church.
Luther challenged this, arguing that human beings were so damaged by sin that
there was nothing they could do by their own – or the Church’s – efforts to save
themselves. Rather, God freely gives – gratis, by grace – to those who have faithin
him the means of salvation. The Catholic view came to be known, somewhat
misleadingly, as salvation by works, in contrast to the Reformed position of salvation
by faith alone.
Taken together these two theological disputes generated significantly different
views of the role of the Church. For the mainstream reformers the Church’s task
is to teach doctrine rather than create it, and it has no direct role in human salvation
- the Church cannot guarantee salvation. As the label suggests, the radical reformers
went further: it was for individuals to determine correct doctrine. We can summarise
the three positions on the nature of the Church:
1.Catholic position The Church was a visible, historical institution, grounded in
the authority of Christ through his Apostles.
2.Magisterial position The visible Church is constituted by the preaching of the
word of God – legitimacy is grounded in theological, not historical, continuity.
The Church will contain both the saved and the unsaved.
3.Radical position The true Church was in heaven and no institution on earth can
claim the right to be the community of Christ.
These two theological disputes, and the consequent re-evaluation of the role of the
Church, had important immediate and long-term political implications. The
immediate impact was on the relationship of the secular and spiritual powers. In
the longer term the theological ideas generated by Reformed Christianity, and also,
importantly, by Reformed Catholicism, gave rise to secular equivalents. For example,
the theological individualism of Protestantism was ‘translated’ into a secular,
philosophical individualism, which stressed individual responsibility. As we shall
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