At the start of the Reformation, Europe was glad to be free from the Roman Catholic Church’s “domination.” The Lutheran Church, Calvinist churches, and Mennonite and Baptists churches surged forward as society reconfigured its moral base. These are patterns we can understand and recognize in our own day—religious reform happens all the time, globally and locally. Like those who lived in the days of the Reformation, we see others’ choices to abandon, adopt, or switch up their spiritual lifestyles as expressions of being free from domination. As long as a person chooses for him or herself, it seems, domination can be avoided. But, there is one element of the Reformation’s ban on power that hugely contrasts our day’s anti-control attitude: the actual definition of domination.
In an era when people wanted to choose for themselves, many were still fine leaving interpretation of the Bible to the pros. How could a people so eager to learn truth not demand personal access to scripture? As our readings for today state, “It seems odd to us that Christians should not read their own book, and so we conclude that the only reasons for forbidding such activity must necessarily have been malicious. That would be a misleading conclusion. . . . The general opinion in the Middle Ages was that the Bible was a difficult and subtle text that required special training to read properly. Not only was the text itself difficult, but the Devil was ever ready to mislead and confuse the uneducated into false interpretations.” Today, freedom from domination means freedom to do absolutely anything we please. But according to our readings, that hasn’t always been society’s definition. The Reformation was not a complete forsaking of all societal ideals, norms, and expectations. Despite demanding religious change, people still believed in religious order and the need for leadership, guidance, and real authority. The Reformation shook things up, but did not turn everything inside out. The clarification in our readings that people respected the pattern of learning about the Bible from those trained in how to interpret it shows that the Reformation was slow-growing; it was major in terms of forsaking old ways, but gradual in its complete transformation of societal values. It took much longer for people to demand access to the Bible than to demand other changes.