Back to article index


But they were all rejected by the Reformation. In Reformation thinking there was no spiritual hierarchy in the body of Christ. All individuals are equal and equally responsible before God for their own salvation. The church is a gathering of individuals. They will of course have different abilities and be able to serve the church in different ways but this will of itself have no bearing on their capacity to be saved, to enter into eternal life. 

There is no discipline that can bring the individual soul closer to God. Luther left his monastery because, he felt, it simply wasn't working. Salvation is a free and quite arbitrary gift of a sovereign God. Not all Protestant tendencies suggest that the individual has no role whatsoever to play in the process but the role is minimal. It is confined to the need to lead a decent life and refrain so far as possible from overt sin. Prayer is the fulfilment of a personal need and it may be effective in realising particular earthly needs but it is not of itself a means of salvation (it is something the saved Christian will want to do and therefore  the taste for it carries with it the implication that one is a saved Christian).

The boundary between the living and the dead is absolute. No help can be expected from the dead (the saints) and no help can be given to the dead (prayers for the dead). So if Protestants are aware of the presence of Heaven on earth it is a comparatively empty Heaven, confined largely to God as Trinity. Karl Barth in his massive Church dogmatics has written at some length on the presence of angels, but he complains that they have been neglected in the Protestant tradition. They ought to be present but they really aren't.

Although the resurrection of the body was not, I think, formally repudiated in the mainstream Protestant tendencies there is a tendency to see the spiritual life in entirely immaterial terms. Not, as in the old gnostic model, that the soul is trapped in a material prison, but more that the material shell is in the last analysis irrelevant - one might say immaterial. Calvin, arguing for a 'real presence' of Christ in the Communion of the Bread and Wine, saw it as an entirely spiritual presence. As far as material reality is concerned, this side of the grave at least, the laws of nature and the limitations of space and time are regarded as pretty well absolute. Miracles are manifestations of God's exceptional power not, as in traditional Christianity (at least as argued by Metropolitan Anthony), revelations of the real nature of things.