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Three Types of Reformation5 min read

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lutherdoorThere are three ways to reform bad religion.  These methods of reform may be described as modernization, restoration, and liberalization.

Modernization, in a religious context, is to discard exterior traditions while keeping the original, internal content and intent of the moral code.  It is to change the outer forms of our communication and practice while still holding to the timeless inner truths they are meant to communicate.  Modernism introduces much needed cultural relevance and modern means of communication (both language and technology) by which to deliver timeless, objective truths. While liturgy and tradition are of some value, in and of themselves they are not sacrosanct to a healthy faith (sacraments excluded), and may be abandoned in order to convey the timeless truths they represent.

Restoration addresses the reform of the internals of a faith. Restoration is not so much concerned with outer practices, but rather the internal, timeless truths that have been abandoned or warped by liberalism, fundamentalism, or any other kind of -ism that skews the balance of truth, returning to the original foundation of the faith.  Of course, restoration only makes sense if the original foundation was sound in the first place.

Liberalization also addresses the inner truths of faith.  Liberalism, however, discards or dilutes the content and/or intent of the original moral code for a new moral code that is usually less strict.  And while liberalization is often accompanied by modernization or restoration, it differs in that it modifies the truths considered foundational to a religion.  Liberalism rejects foundational objective truths by replacing them with “modern” truths, usually based in subjective morality, thereby throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

One note on liberalism’s opposite analog, fundamentalism.  Fundamentalism can skew both the outer and inner expressions of faith – it can prescribe or prohibit outward forms, and it can also warp the inner truths of faith by making them harsh, not balancing truth with love, and misapplying truth in hurtful ways.

Here are some examples of modernization, restoration, and liberalization.

Modernization – Rock and Roll Worship

One sign of true spiritual awakening is the appearance of modern, lively worship music.  This occurs because both the churched and unchurched begin to have their own experience with God, and rather than expressing themselves in cliched and formal religion, begin to extemporaneously express their hearts to God in language and music that is natural to them.  It is especially pronounced when the unchurched begin to experience God because they are unfamiliar with church tradition, so they use the language of modernity.  This was seen during the early days of the Salvation Army, whose use of band instruments was frowned upon by church traditionalists, and happened again during the Jesus Movement of the late 60’s and 70’s, which gave birth to contemporary christian music and contemporary, rock and roll worship.

Restoration – Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation

The most obvious historical example of restoration is the Protestant movement, often called the Reformation.  Its main contribution was the restoration of foundational theological truths that had been obscured or contradicted by the corrupt doctrine and leaders of the Catholic Church.  As a true restoration movement, reformers called for a return to foundational truths, which were often summarized as “the Five Solas,” sola meaning “only.”

Liberalization – Acceptance of Homosexuality as Normative

Christian scripture and tradition have steadfastly classified homosexuality as a perversion of nature and a sin.  Modern theologians, however, in the name of reform, have called this an outdated, perhaps even cultural taboo that has nothing to do with objective morality.  However, this can not be considered modernization because it deals with the internal truths of the faith, not the externals.  Neither can it be considered restoration because the founding documents of Christianity, namely the bible, clearly condemn homosexuality, so returning to them will not produce a more liberal doctrine of homosexuality.  If you move to a more liberal view of homosexuality, you can not claim fidelity to the foundational teachings – you must replace them.

Reformation and Islam

As I mentioned previously, Salman Rushdie has called for a reformation of Islam.  But which of the three types is he calling for?  It appears that he is calling for modernization and liberalization.  He can not really call for restoration, because if one returns to the foundational teachings of the Koran, one gets jihad and murder in the name of God.  But that is a longer discussion.