Volume > Issue > Evangelicalism’s Debt to the Medieval Church

Evangelicalism’s Debt to the Medieval Church


By Thomas O. Kay | October 1983
Thomas O. Kay, an evangelical Protestant, is Chairman of the Department of History at Wheaton College in Illinois.

To paraphrase the query of the ancient church Fathers, “What has Athens to do with Jeru­salem?” we might ask, “What has the medieval church to do with evangelicalism?” Briefly, the an­swer is, “Much.” Some Christians have maintained since the days of the Protestant Reformation that the medieval church was so moribund and overcome by error that no good could possibly be transmitted by it, let alone any truth be received from it. Other Protestants have even suggested that the medieval church, the popes, bishops, abbots, and all were the Antichrist. Still others have sug­gested that the Gospel endured in spite of the me­dieval church amidst persecution and opposition; that there was essentially an uncontaminated un­derground church or even a counterculture that ran parallel to the institutional church.

None of these notions represents a fully accu­rate picture. The purpose of this essay is to endeav­or to remove some of the obscurity that has hidden the roots, yea even limbs and branches, of the Christian church from the view of many modern evangelicals.

First, let us consider that the medieval church was the church that Christ instituted in His conver­sation with Peter and although never achieving per­fection (and which church has?), nonetheless it was used by God for humanity; and secondly, that the Gospel that attracts us today is the same Gospel found in the Middle Ages and that this basic Gospel message in the church remained complete, just as the net that engulfed the miraculous draught of fishes was not torn. This is to say that some evan­gelical roots are to be found part arc parcel in the medieval church. Bernard Lord Manning has put it thus:

It is not superfluous to recall [the medieval church’s] evangelical…quali­ties, its sanity, its common sense, and its rationalism; to emphasize the fact that not only one-half of modern Christianity but the whole has its roots in medieval religion…. For the medieval church is the mother of us all.

The scope of this essay does not permit a sys­tematic review of the entire medieval church. There are several illustrations, however, which will provide information and inspiration for us and will bring before us the record of God’s dealings with the church and His message to His people. The me­dieval church contributed positively to Puritan and evangelical traditions from whence many Christians spring.

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