This stuff is important, because context matters. It matters that theologians, ministers, and other thinkers – in different times and places – questioned the validity of the doctrine of the trinity. It matters that they puzzled over the freedom to practice religion for themselves. It matters that no matter how hard people tried, these anti-trinitarian and free church thoughts kept cropping up… in Spain, in Switzerland, in Poland, in Transylvania, in England.
Why does it matter? Why should we care about context?
To me, if we don’t know where we came from, we can’t know what formed us and what we bring into the future. Sure, on a daily basis, it doesn’t matter that John Bidle wrote unitarian tracts that got volumes of argument in response. It doesn’t matter on a daily basis that beliefs we hold sacred were considered such heresies, people were actually put to death.
But we must remember our history; we must embrace the fact that we are heretics, daring to question the status quo, so that we have the strength to question the status quo in our modern world – the status quo who claims to be Christian but doesn’t act like Jesus, the status quo who turns a blind eye to the world’s woes in order to focus on the self, the status quo who fears being called out for the sin of certainty.
When we talk about exemplars and pioneers in our congregations, we are often talking about people like James Reeb, Harriet Tubman, Albert Schweitzer, and Dorothea Dix – people who stand out in our relatively modern American history. But we should also be talking about Michael Servetus, Farenc David, John Bidle, and others who dared to stand up even in the midst of major Christian reformation and call for more freedom and more reason.