Please notice the title of the book – it does not say that the reformation was wrong, but that there is misunderstanding about the reformation, especially in the Church today, which needs to be acknowledged. The author is a protestant evangelical scholar and he is not seeking in any way to undermine the (important) successes of the reformation. However, to view the reformation as nothing but a success is a problem. To assume that the reformation is beyond criticism or critical analysis is quite simply nonsense which is why , in my opinion, this book has been a longtime coming.
Payton’s analysis is simple. The reformation was a success. The medieval church had obscured the apostolic message and the reformation pulled back the curtain to reveal once again the gospel message. However, there is a tragedy to the reformation, and that tragedy is that the reformation is by nature schismatic. Even from the earliest times the reformers were divided amongst themselves. Eventually Lutherans denounced Melanchthon, Zwingli’s followers entered conflict with Bucer’s followers. Lutheran and Reformed camps viciously criticized each other, eventually claiming the truth for their side. This has continued in the aftermath of the reformation. We now have 26,000 Protestant denominations.
This is more than a historical issue for Payton. He challenges the reader to examine the words of Jesus in John 17:20-23 (I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me. I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.)
Payton writes, “If as Christians (of whatever denominational stripe) we believe that Jesus Christ had some insight into what would affect the reception of the gospel as proclaimed by his apostles, then we cannot bypass the correlation he explicitly declares here (John 17). According to Jesus Christ himself, for those who would come to faith in him through the apostolic message to be one would constitute a compelling argument to the rest of the world that God the Father had, indeed, sent his son into the world. Conversely, for such believers not to be one would offer the world at least an excuse not to believe the gospel.
Too often, Protestants have divided over non-salvation issues such as the Lord’s Supper, predestination versus free will, eschatology, church governance, charismatic gifts, creation vs evolution, ordination of women, resulting in the fragmentation of the body of Christ. Payton’s book raises the question – is the church today really what it should be? 26,000 or more denominations fighting over small issues of theology?
This is a wonderful balance to reformation studies and a book which should not just be read but thought through. Yes, for some, this may be a provocative read. But it will be a worthwhile and challenging read. I would recommend this book as required reading for reformational studies.