The realization that sola scriptura was not Biblical brought me to study the Reformation and the Reformers in more detail than I had before. I had perused their commentaries on pertinent books during my study of the solas, and I had read some primary sources during high school and college so I turned to these first. I reread Calvin’s Institutes and I reviewed some of Luther’s works like his First Principles of the Reformation, Small Catechism, Large Catechism and, of course, the infamous 95 Theses. I also read the Book of Concord and as many primary sources as I had access too.
I also began to study histories and included secular and opposing works to gain a more balanced understanding. Two books that stood out were The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Volume 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700) by Jaroslav Pelikan and Early Christian Doctrines by J. N. D. Kelly.
In Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church Volume VII he writes, “Luther refused to recant in the crisis at Worms, unless convinced by testimonies of the Scriptures and ‘cogent arguments’.” We find that this is accurate. Luther said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures or evident reason (for I believe in neither the Pope nor councils alone, since it has been established that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures that I have adduced, and my conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God; and I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen.” (72. WA, 7, 836-38. Luther – Diet of Worms). As you can see, Luther’s theological arguments were based on what he “adduced” – his personal interpretation of the scriptures. Luther’s accusations of error and contradiction were not substantiated, and he did not prove that he was free from error or contradictions. Without the authority of the church, people interpret the Bible according to their own ideas, and Biblical interpretation is subjected to the tyranny of syncretistic relativism.
Throughout my study I was also dissatisfied with the character of the reformers and the reformation itself – it was no “Great Awakening” of spiritual revival and renewal! I began to ask myself questions like the following: Are we to obey the authority God has established, or do what is right in our own eyes? Did Christ teach doubt and rebellion, or faith and submission?
A few years later I would read the words of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), “The saints, as we said, are the true reformers.”