In the most recent issue of Credo Magazine, “How Then Shall We Pray? The Necessity of Prayer for the Christian Life,” Gerald Bray has contributed two excellent articles on “Prayer in the English Reformation.” Gerald Bray is research professor of divinity, history, and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School. He is the author of numerous books, including God Has Spoken: A History of Christian Theology and God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology.
Here is the start of Bray’s article:
It may seem strange to think that arguments about prayer played a central role in the Protestant Reformation. We know that people did not have the Bible in their own language and that the institutional church suffered from defects that had to be put right, and we think that was what the Reformation was mainly about. Prayer, on the other hand, strikes us as having been much the same after the great upheaval of the sixteenth century as it had been before. It is hard to believe that people did not cry out to God before the Reformation, and since human needs do not change, it is equally hard to believe that their prayers did either. But prayer is at the heart of our devotional life as Christians, and because that devotional life was deeply affected by the movement of reform, questions surrounding the nature and practice of prayer were bound to be raised sooner or later.
Will you pray for me?
To understand what happened and why, we must step back into the medieval world in which Martin Luther grew up. The French historian Georges Duby (1919-96) classified medieval society into three distinct orders – those who prayed, those who fought and those who worked. These orders, better known to us as the three estates of the realm, were clearly demarcated from each other by a series of laws, customs and taboos that extended even to what each of them was allowed to wear. The praying order was the first, or spiritual estate, consisting of priests, monks, friars and other people who were officially recognized as “religious.” It was their duty to connect society to God, a task which was thought to be aided by imposing a semi-heavenly lifestyle on them. Like the angels, they were required to be celibate and they spoke, wrote and prayed in a language that was not in common use. They lived by their own laws, in their own quarters, and were as cut off from the world as they could be.
This way of life seems strange to us now, but it had a logic of its own. …
Read the rest of Bray’s article today!