The Right Perspective THE PROTESTANT movement today is on trial. The Protestant Reformation has spawned a veritable Babylon of hundreds of differing denominations. They vary in faith and practice all the way from fundamentalist Quakers to modern Congregationalists, from primitive Methodists to Christian Scientists, from conservative Lutherans to Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah Witnesses — with hundreds of shadings in between.
What is the real basis of the Protestant Churches throughout the world today? Why did their early leaders revolt against the authority of the Roman Catholic Church? To what extent are they responsible for today's "divided Christendom"?
Did the Protestant reformers succeed in attaining their stated goals? More important, did they succeed in recapturing the faith and belief of Jesus and the inspired New Testament Church? For the real question is whether the Protestant reformers and their successors have succeeded in returning to the "faith once delivered."
These questions are vital. Many of us have been reared from childhood in one of the many denominations or sects stemming from the Protestant Reformation. We assumed — as every child does — that what we were taught was altogether true.
Of course, we were, however, all taught different things!
We are told in Scripture to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Thes. 5:21). The purpose of this thesis, then, is an objective examination of the real factors underlying the Protestant Reformation. We will seek to find out why the early reformers rebelled against the Roman Catholic system, and why the various Protestant bodies took shape as they did. Using the impartial facts of history, we will compare, in principle, the teachings, methods and actions of the Protestant reformers with the Bible, which they professed to follow.
Realizing the current trend toward modernism and rejection of the Bible as an inspired authority, let us simply state that this thesis is written from the point of view of fundamentalist, literal understanding of the Bible. This inspired revelation from God will be the criteria of truth.
For those readers who may be modernists, or "higher critics," we will simply ask: Have you really proved whether or not the Bible is supernaturally inspired? A good way to disprove it would be to present conclusive evidence that the scores of prophecies, which pronounce specific judgments on the major cities and nations of the ancient world, have not come to pass. Unfortunately, for your cause, no one has been able to do this.
Another test would be to take God at His Word, surrender to obey His will, and then in real faith and earnest, believing prayer, claim one of the many specific promises given in the Bible and see whether or not a miracle-working God stands back of His Word.
Naturally, the modernist has not done that. He has failed to prove that the Bible is not inspired. So it may be well to remind ourselves that it is intellectual hypocrisy to scoff and ridicule something when there is no proof to the contrary.
Therefore, we will employ the Holy Bible as the overall spiritual "yardstick" against which we will measure the Protestant Reformation.
Also, we shall quote the statements of the reformers themselves about what they intended to do. We will examine the historical record to see what they actually did do. Then we will consider statements of their Protestant descendants, and let them help pass judgment on the ultimate results of the Reformation.
The Protestant Aims We will examine the well-known saying of Chillingworth, the Protestant theologian: "The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is the religion of Protestants" (Schaff-Herzog, Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, art. "Chillingworth, W,"). In their constant affirmation of the scriptures as "the inspired rule of faith and practice" (Schaff-Herzog, art. "Bible"), the Protestant leaders have committed themselves to follow the religion of Jesus Christ and His Apostles in all respects.
The Lutherans, in their Torgau Book of 1576, declare that "the only standard by which all dogmas and all teachers must be valued and judged is no other than the prophetic and Apostolic writings of the Old and of the New Testaments" (T. M. Lindsay, A History of the Reformation, p. 467).
The average Protestant of today usually accepts these statements at face value, and assumes that they must be at least very close to the truth. We would ask: Was this actually true during the course of the Protestant Reformation? Is it true now?
It is well to remember also that in his writings and teachings, John Knox, among other leading reformers, acknowledged "that all worshipping, honouring, or service of God invented by the brain of man in the religion of God without His own express commandment is idolatry." He then adds force and pointedness to his statement by saying that "it shall nothing excuse you to say, we trust not in idols, for so will every idolater allege; but if either you or they in God's honour do anything contrary to God's Word, you show yourself to put your trust in somewhat else besides God, and so are idolaters. Mark, brethren, that many maketh an idol of their own wisdom or phantasy; more trusting to that which they think good not unto God" (Hastie's, The Theology of the Reformed Church, p. 50).
Knox's warning against false "service of God invented by the brain of man" is certainly parallel to Jesus' condemnation of the "traditions of men" (Mark 7:7-8). It is very important that we understand this principle before attempting to comprehend the real meaning of the Protestant Reformation. For, as Solomon wisely wrote: "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12).
We must not view the Reformation in the light of human ideas and what appears reasonable to man, but in the light of Christ's words: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word of God" (Luke 4:4). We need to consider also Jesus' warning against human tradition, and the fact that the reformers understood this principle and claimed to pursue a course based upon "the Bible only."
Was God's True Church "Reformed"? Although it is a subject many Protestants do not like to discuss, to correctly grasp the significance of the Reformation, we must take one other very important consideration into account. That is, was the Protestant movement a reformation of God's true Church gone wrong? Is, then, the Roman Catholic Church actually the misguided offspring of the Church Jesus Christ said He would build?
If not, was the Protestant movement simply an effort of men to extricate themselves from a false and harsh system, which they admit is pagan and devilish in many of its beliefs and practices? In that case, where had God's true Church been in all the centuries between the original Apostles and the Protestant reformers?
Jesus Christ said: "I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Mat. 16:18). At the conclusion of His earthly ministry, He commanded His Apostles: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Mat. 28:19-20).
At the start of the Reformation, where was the Church Jesus built, the Church to which He promised, "I am with you alway"? If it was the Roman Catholic Church, then the Protestants were simply — as Catholic historians claim — revolting against the Church of God on earth.
In this case, much as they might wish to improve conditions within the true church, they should have remembered and obeyed the words Christ uttered of the Scribes and Pharisees — the perverse, but rightfully constituted religious leaders of His day: "All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not" (Mat. 23:3).
But, if the case be that the church of Rome is not the Church that Jesus built, then why did not the reformers seek for and unite with that Church which had never participated in the paganism of Rome, nor been contaminated by her false doctrine and influence, the Church which Jesus promised to be with until the end of the age, the Church of which He is the living Head? (Eph. 1:22). Why start many new churches if that one true Church was still in existence?
Or was it necessary only to purify the faith and morals of those individuals who would be willing to come out of a corrupted Roman system?
These questions demand an answer! As we shall later see, many Protestant leaders — knowing and believing that Rome is their true source — seek to vindicate her claim as the true body of Christ on earth. This supposition needs a careful examination.
Is the "mother" church at Rome the only historical basis of the Protestant plea of descent from Christ and His apostles? We shall see.
Today's "Christendom" We must weigh any religious denomination or movement in the balance of Christ's prophetic saying: "Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit" (Mat. 7:16-17).
The honest historian will be forced to admit that the Reformation brought in its wake an increased interest in, and knowledge of, the Bible by the common man. Also, the revival of learning and the arts inspired by the Renaissance spread most readily to the whole populace of those nations which accepted Protestantism. Admittedly, the Protestant lands maintain a far higher level of education than do Catholic nations. And, in like manner, they enjoy a much higher standard of living, materially speaking.
But, again returning to the real root of the problem, how do the spiritual standards of modern Protestants compare with that of the inspired New Testament Church?
Has a real return to "Apostolic Christianity" occurred? Or does, of necessity, another tremendous "cleansing and purging" religious upheaval still lie in the future?
Speaking to His disciples of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day, Christ said: "Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up" (Mat. 15:13). Are the "fruits," the results, of the Protestant Reformation such as to show us that this movement was planted by God and used for His glory?
The purpose of the following chapters is to answer the many questions raised herein. We will get at the root of these questions.
Let us be reminded again, at the outset, that the Protestant Reformation must be viewed by every honest Christian in the light of the clear teachings and examples of Christ and the Apostles — "the Bible and the Bible only," which Protestant leaders have claimed to be their "sole rule of faith and practice."
If the Protestant faith be true, then we can prove that it is so. But we must not assume, without proof, that the doctrines, beliefs, and practices of modern Protestantism constitute the religion founded by Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
In this, above all other matters, we must know. We must be sure. We must not be afraid to compare Christ and His Word with what purports to be His Church in our age.
This is a fair challenge.