THE CHURCH TODAY AND THE
REFORMATION CHURCH: A COMPARISON
Prof. David Engelsma
If someone thinks that it is presumptuous of me to speak on the subject that the chairman announced, he is correct. The Men's Society of this Church has asked me to speak on "A Comparison of the Protestant Church-World Today with the Church of the Reformation." You may well ask, as I have asked myself, "Who are you, that you presume to have a grasp of the vast scope of the state of the Church today, to say nothing of the state of the Reformation Church, and who are you to presume to stand in judgment of the Church today?"
I have two excuses for the presumption. The first is that this was the subject that the Men's Society assigned me. The second is that, although I am incapable of doing justice to the subject, the subject is an excellent one for God's people to consider. It demands a broad view both of the Reformation Church and of the Church today, a view that looks at the basic characteristics of both. It reminds us that the Reformation was not a mere historical curiosity for later generations to analyze and, perhaps, appreciate, but the Holy Spirit's mighty work in history of forming Christ's Church anew, so that this reformed Church might continue and develop down through the ages. The subject also implies the calling of the member of a Protestant Church today to determine whether the Church to which he belongs is faithful to her origins and, if she is not, to devote himself to her correction or, failing in this, to join himself to the true Church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I may at least make a beginning with the subject, and this beginning may help you to do more with the subject.
There are certain presuppositions that should be clear to everyone from the outset. First, we will be comparing the Protestant church-world of today with the Protestant Church produced by the Reformation. To speak of the "Protestant church-world of today" is, in actuality, to refer to many, diverse Protestant Churches. Indeed, the Reformation Church itself was divided almost at once into two Churches, the Lutheran Church and the Reformed Church (also known as the Presbyterian Church). But there was a certain, basic unity between the early Lutheran Church and the Reformed Church, so that we may speak of a "Reformation Church," a Church that the Reformation aimed at and a Church that it actually produced. Without entering into the question, "What is the Church?", we will simply let the word "Church" have the very broad meaning that was intended in the subject assigned me, namely, a reference to the entire Protestant church-world of the present time. Then, we will compare this Protestant Church of today with the Reformation Church. Secondly, I will be assuming throughout that the Reformation Church was the true Church of Jesus Christ, the one, holy, catholic Church of Jesus Christ. I believe that this can be proved; I believe that I could prove this; but this is not my assignment tonight. This does not mean that the Reformation Church was faultless or even well-nigh perfect. It does not mean that she could not develop and grow up into Christ. But she was the true Church in glorious manifestation, possessing and displaying the marks of the true Church, especially, in the Reformed branch. Therefore, the Church of the Reformation can be a standard for the Church today, not, of course, apart from the Scriptures, but exactly as a Church faithful to the Scriptures. Thirdly, I will have to be general tonight and thus run the risk of oversimplification. This hardly needs demonstration. I must talk on the Protestant Church today. One could spend an hour just listing the various Protestant Churches. There is one danger in particular that must be avoided. I will speak of denominations and other groupings of Protestant Churches. Within denominations that are apostate, there yet remain faithful individuals, faithful pastors, and even congregations that have not bowed the knee to Baal. Nothing that I say may be taken to deny this. Fourthly, my criticism of Protestantism today is not an exercise in mere party-strife. I will condemn Protestantism, as it now is, because it is to be condemned. But the condemnation is not the expression of a narrow, partisan spirit. I love Christ's Church. I love her in her Old Testament form; in her New Testament maturity; in her lovely life soon after the time of the apostles, a life of charity and tribulation; in her agony in the Middle Ages when the Devil and wicked men forced upon the Bride of Christ the appearance of a whorish woman; in her Reformation beauty; and wherever she manifests herself today. In love for the Church, I speak on:
"The Church Today and the Church of the Reformation: A Comparison"
The spiritual condition of the Protestant Church today is wretched. A comparison of it with the Reformation Church shows that the Protestant Church has fallen far from the heights of the Reformation Church. Protestantism now closely resembles the pre-Reformation Church; indeed, in certain respects the Protestant Church today is worse. Its misery is compounded by the fact that, like the Laodicean Church of Revelation 3, it supposes that it is "rich, and increased with goods, and (has) need of nothing." The evil of the Protestant Church today is that it preaches and believes another gospel than did the Reformation Church. The Protestant Church is weighed and found wanting, above all else, in respect to its gospel, its doctrine. The Church's gospel is the essential thing. It is the gospel that makes the Church the true Church of Jesus Christ. In his work, "Concerning the Ministry," Luther wrote:
"The public ministry of the Word, I hold, by which the mysteries of God are made known (is) the highest and greatest of the functions of the Church, on which the whole power of the Church depends, since the Church is nothing without the Word and everything in it exists by virtue of the Word alone."
The pure preaching of the gospel is the mark of the true Church. Preaching the gospel is the one, great calling of the Church, as Mark 16:15 shows: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."
The entire movement of the Reformation took place in the interest of the pure preaching of the gospel. That tremendous Church-reforming and world-shaking event was DOCTRINAL. It was the purpose of the Reformers and it was the purpose of the Holy Spirit to do away with another gospel that is no gospel and to restore the true gospel. Although there were abominable practices in the pre-Reformation Church, they were not the cause of the Reformation. The cause of the Reformation was not the papacy, un-Biblical and tyrannical as that institution is. Luther said more than once that he would have lived with a papacy. Neither was the cause of the Reformation the incredible immorality of the leaders in the Church, from the greedy, whore-mongering, humanistic, political popes and cardinals down to the lowly priest living in concubinage. It was not any of those multitudes of corruptions that made Luther cry out in his "Address to the German Nobility" that Rome was the hell-hole of all vice and a veritable Sodom and Babylon. In his "Reply to the Letter of Cardinal Sadolet," Calvin explained why the Reformation occurred and why it did not occur: "(There are) many examples of cruelty, avarice, intemperance, arrogance, insolence, lust, and all sorts of wickedness, which are openly manifested by men of your order, but none of these things would have driven us to the attempt which we made under a much stronger necessity." What was that "much stronger necessity?" Calvin continues: "That necessity was, that the light of divine truth had been extinguished, the word of God buried..." In the 95 Theses, Luther indicated already in 1517 what the Reformation would be all about, when he wrote, as the 62nd thesis: "The true treasure of the Church is the holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God." We must briefly take note of what that "holy Gospel" was, in contrast to the other gospel that was destroying the Church.
The gospel restored by the Reformation is the good news of salvation by grace alone to the glory of God. This gospel proclaims that the misery of every man is that he is a sinner, totally depraved and exposed to the wrath of God. Our misery is not the various ills that always plague mankind, sicknesses, wars, poverty, and the like, but our sin and, especially, our sin as guilt before a holy God. Our miserable condition is that we are dead in sin, inclined to all evil and incapable of any good. As such, we are worthy of the damning wrath of the just God. Christ's people are justified by faith and by faith alone. Their great need is the need of forgiveness and of a perfect righteousness that can stand before the judgment seat of God, that is, they need justification. This forgiveness, this righteousness, is in Jesus Christ and becomes ours through faith in Him. When we believe, God reckons Jesus' righteousness to our account. We are not forgiven or counted righteous, therefore, because of anything that we do. Our righteousness with God is not at all what we are or what we have done, but it is wholly what Jesus did for us. Our faith is neither the basis for God's forgiving us nor a work of ours that earns righteousness, but only the means by which God imputes Christ's righteousness to us and the instrument by which we embrace Christ our Righteousness. In fact, faith is God's gift to us, as Ephesians 2:8 teaches. The actual saving of the child of God, the converting of him from a dead sinner to a living saint, is exclusively the efficacious work of the Holy Spirit. We are saved by sovereign grace. In the great work of God of justifying His people, the preaching of the gospel has a vital role. We sometimes forget this. First of all, it is through the preaching that the Holy Spirit works in us the faith by which we are forgiven. This is taught in Romans 10:17: "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Secondly, it is in the preaching of the gospel that God presents Jesus Christ crucified to us, so that we have Him to believe on (cf. Galatians 3:1). Thirdly, it is through the gospel that God utters the divine verdict in our hearts that actually acquits us. This is Paul's teaching in Romans 1:15-17: ". . . I am ready to preach the gospel . . . for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. . for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith." The one and only basis of our justification is the satisfaction and atonement of Jesus Christ. In His life-long passion and especially by His death on the cross, Jesus paid in full for the sins of His people and earned for them the right to eternal life. The pure gospel is the good news of Christ crucified; it proclaims "Christ alone", just as it does "faith alone" and "grace alone." The source of this salvation is God's eternal, gracious election. God chose a people in Christ, the Church, unto salvation. The grace of this election is peculiarly illustrated by the fact that God did not choose all men, but reprobated some who were no worse than we whom He chose. Election is the very heart of the gospel of grace. This was the gospel joyfully proclaimed and staunchly defended by both branches of the Church of the Reformation, by Luther as well as Calvin.
In contrast to the gospel stood the other gospel of Rome. That other gospel, (which is no gospel) rejected by the Reformation was the teaching that man must save himself by his own works. The gross form of this teaching against which Luther went to war in 1517 in the 95 Theses was the practice of buying the forgiveness of sins with money. But the basic doctrine of the Roman Church, out of which the indulgence-trade arose, was the doctrine that man by his good works could pay for his sins and earn righteousness with God, at least in part. Rome taught justification by faith and works, that is, salvation by Christ and and himself. Underlying this doctrine was the teaching that men by nature are not totally depraved but in possession of a "free will" with which they are able to choose for Christ and co-operate with grace. All of salvation depended upon this ability of man. If a man would exercise his "free will" and choose for God, God would give him grace; then, by virtue of that grace and his own "free will," the man might do good works; on the basis of those works, God would pay him the righteousness he had partially merited, so that he could go to heaven (on the condition that, by his free will, he remained faithful). Even God's election, according to Rome, was based on God's seeing beforehand who would believe and persevere by free will. This doctrine, the Reformation condemned as "another gospel," in terms of Galatians 1:6-9: "If any man preach any other gospel unto you then that ye have received, let him be accursed." It was not merely a faulty presentation of the gospel, but heresy -- Christ-denying, God-dishonoring, Church-destroying heresy. And, as Galatians 5:2 makes abundantly plain, the Reformation was right in this judgment: "Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing," that is, "If you add any work of man to Christ as part of your righteousness and the basis of salvation, you destroy the gospel altogether, and whoever trusts in that work along with Christ will be eternally damned."
Now, where does the Protestant Church today stand in comparison with the Reformation Church on this one fundamental issue: the gospel? This is a proper question because the gospel of grace restored by the Reformation is unchanging truth the good news for every age. It is a particularly foolish and arrogant notion of some today that we "modern men" need a new gospel. But this is the same as to insist on and create a new Christ and a new salvation. So, the question is in order: Where does Protestantism stand with regard to the gospel proclaimed by the Reformation Church? The Roman Catholic Church today is the same as it was in the days of the Reformation. On the essential issue, the gospel, Rome has not changed, nor does she claim to have changed. THE CANONS AND DECREES OF THE COUNCIL OF TRENT, which condemns total depravity, denial of free will, justification by faith alone, the doctrine of a once-for-all sacrifice of Christ, and predestination and which damns those who teach and believe these truths and which even blesses the practice of indulgences, stands to this day as the official creed of Rome. Rome is a false Church, still proclaiming another gospel. But what about Protestantism, heir of the Reformation?
Very early in its history, the Lutheran Church strayed from the truth and became a bitter foe of the Reformed Church over the gospel that Luther so vehemently heralded. One of its leaders, Philip Melanchthon, soon after Luther's death, attacked the doctrine of sovereign predestination, the foundation of the gospel of grace, and unashamedly taught in his popular work on theology (LUCI COMUNES) that salvation is accomplished by three co-operating factors, the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and the will of man. By 1576, in THE FORMULA OF CONCORD, the Lutheran Church could give a weak and poor explanation of election and could launch an assault on the Reformed doctrine of predestination, caricaturing it much as Rome has always done. Today, much of Lutheranism shares in the advanced apostasy of Protestantism in general, denying such fundamentals as the Virgin Birth of Christ, the infallible inspiration of Scripture, Jesus' bodily resurrection, and the like. In 1963, the Lutheran Churches had a world conference in Finland at which they were to formulate a statement on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. They had to give up on this project because they were not able to agree on that truth which Luther regarded as the cornerstone of the gospel. This is evidence that Luther's fear that the Church would not long be able to keep the offensive, but precious and essential, doctrine of justification by faith alone has been realized in the Church that uses his name. It does not surprise us, therefore, that ecumenical conferences are now going on between Roman Catholic and Lutheran leaders and that the worldly press reports that agreement has been reached recently even on the sacraments and that only the issue of the papacy remains to be resolved. At the present time, the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, one of the most conservative Lutheran Churches, is establishing official fellowship with apostate Lutheran bodies and is struggling with the issue of the infallible inspiration of the Bible, the denial of which is prevalent in their seminaries.
It is well enough known that the spiritual condition of the largest Protestant Churches is one of extreme apostasy from the faith. These are the Churches of which the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and the United Church of Christ are representative. They have left off preaching the gospel completely. They no longer preach man's misery to be sin. They no longer preach redemption by the blood of Christ. Instead, they preach the message of social improvement and the betterment of oneself by human efforts. They deny every truth of Scripture, beginning with the truth of Scripture itself. They glory in their shame by standing in the van of the lawlessness of our time, raising a hue-and-cry for abortion, for revolution, for sexual immorality. The United Presbyterian Church, spiritual heir of John Knox and Westminster, has officially discarded the Westminster Confession of Faith and replaced it with the humanistic Confession of 1967. Nothing more needs to be said. The United Church of Christ, recent amalgam of the Congregational Church (descendants of the Pilgrims and Puritans) and the Evangelical and Reformed Churches, can serve to know the state of the large Protestant denominations. One of their leading theologians is Douglas Horton. In 1966, this leading churchman in the UCC wrote a booklet called "The United Church of Christ" in which he explained his denomination to the outside world. Several statements show plainly enough the condition of the United Church of Christ. " . .. the bond which joins United Churchmen to (Roman) Catholics is of the essence, and the differences between them are largely accidental." Again, "Often in the course of history theological issues which at one time divided the Church have faded eventually into nothingness or even become transformed into bonds of agreement. The doctrine of justification by faith was crucial to Protestants in the 16th century, for example, as was also the authority of the Bible. Yet, since today many Catholics and Protestant theologians see eye to eye on these matters, so, it is felt by United Churchmen, tomorrow may show us that the differences which rule in theological thought today are on the whole, secondary, and susceptible of being resolved." With reference to the Reformation, he writes: " . . . many of the great divisions in Christendom were the result not of opposing theologies but of bad human relations . . It is obviously for us . . to substitute good for bad human relations." On its own admission, the United Church of Christ has sold its Reformation birthright, with specific reference to both the so-called formal and material principles of the Reformation, the sole authority of Scripture and justification by faith alone. It now stands ready for union with Rome, with whom it already professes to be essentially one.
Within the Protestant church-world there are also the self-styled "evangelical" churches. These are churches that have not been backward in railing on Rome and excoriating "liberal" Protestants. They pride themselves on being faithful to the gospel, as the name "evangelical" indicates (EVANGEL, in Greek, means "gospel"). A very large part of "evangelical Protestantism", although it preaches and although it preaches about Jesus and sin and blood and heaven, has actually perverted the gospel. It does not preach the gospel and, therefore, has no right to the name, "evangelical." This is evident when the "evangelicals" are compared to the Reformation Church. Their error is the error of "free will." They hold that everyone has a free will, the ability to choose for God, to make a decision for Christ, and to accept an offered salvation. They maintain that salvation, all of it from election to final glory, depends on man's willing. Billy Graham is their representative. This gospel is a different gospel than that of the Reformation, and it is another gospel than the gospel of grace in Scripture. It is not a whit better, and perhaps worse, than Rome's gospel. There are many "evangelicals" who proclaim a dependency of salvation on man that would have embarrassed Rome in the 16th century and that would have given that old hawker of indulgences, Tetzel, pause. Rome teaches that salvation is of man's running; "evangelical Protestantism" teaches that it is of man's willing; both are equally enemies of the gospel, that salvation is of God Who showeth mercy, as Paul teaches in Romans 9:16. The Holy Spirit included "running" here, that is, working, because He saw Rome coming; He included "willing" because He saw "evangelical Protestants" in the offing. That the gospel of free will is another gospel, in terms of Galatians 1, is not the private judgment of a man or even of a particular denomination of Churches. It was the judgment of the catholic Church at the time of St. Augustine; it was the unanimous judgment of the Reformation (consider Luther's declaration in THE BONDAGE OF THE WILL of 1524 that the central issue of the whole Reformation was the Reformation's doctrine of the bondage of the natural human will); it was the judgment of the Reformed Churches at the Synod of Dort in the 17th century. The doctrine of free will is THE evil of Protestantism today. It cuts across all denominational boundaries; it is shared by Churches and sects. And it is the very heart of the theology of Rome. Protestantism has returned to the vomit from which Christ delivered it at the Reformation: Man saves himself; salvation is not by grace; not God, but man is glorified. What makes the situation so hopeless is Protestantism's obstinate insistence that free will is the essence of the gospel and its determined refusal to hear any warning.
There is another, closely related characteristic of the Protestant Church today, because of which it comes off badly in a comparison with the Reformation Church. This is the Protestant Church's indifference to the truth. There are some still, perhaps many, who know the truth. They know what the Reformation stood for. They know that the Protestant Church has forsaken its heritage. But they do not care; they are not perturbed. This is not a sin only of leaders, of ministers and elders, but it is fully shared by the members. The PEOPLE will not endure sound doctrine. The PEOPLE resist expository, doctrinal preaching. the PEOPLE clamor for entertainment in the services of divine worship, instead of instruction. the PEOPLE tolerate deviations from the Scripture and permit the wolves to ravage the sheepfold of Christ, looking on while their own seed, the lambs of the flock, are destroyed. Jeremiah 5:30, 31 is fulfilled: "A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?"
There are several outstanding expressions of Protestantism's indifference to the truth. One of these is the ecumenical movement. The ecumenical movement is a gigantic monument to indifference to the truth; indifference to the truth is the oil that makes all that machinery go. Protestant Churches are at work to effect mergers among themselves on a vast scale, as witness COCU. The Protestant church-world now turns again towards Rome. This movement towards Rome is evident in the World Council of Churches. Lutherans are busy in high level conferences with Rome. Even Dr. Berkouwer, influential theologian in the sphere of Reformed Churches, takes a radically different position with respect to Rome than he did years earlier. In his recent book, THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL AND THE NEW CATHOLICISM, he goes so far as to allow for the possibility that the controversy at the Reformation over justification by faith was merely a semantic difficulty. None of this is due to Rome's repentance and abandonment of its false doctrine, but to the indifference of the Protestants to the truth that once their ancestors died for.
A glaring instance of indifference to the truth is the ecumenical venture in evangelism now going on under the name KEY '73. This is a program that aims at evangelizing North America in 1973, that is, preaching the gospel to North America. It unites under one executive committee such churches as the American Baptist, the Christian Church, the Brethren in Christ, the United Methodist, the Anglican, the Church of the Nazarene, the African Methodist Episcopal, and the Roman Catholic. Included are such groups as Campus Crusade for Christ and the Salvation Army. The Church of which I am pastor has recently been invited to join by the local ministerial alliance. The letter of invitation reads in part: "(One of the objectives of KEY '73 is) to raise an overarching Christian canopy in North America under which all denominations, congregations, and Christian groups may concentrate on evangelism during 1973." We are asked to unite with men that deny the Deity of Jesus, that detest the blood of atonement, that laugh at Holy Scripture, that put on the blasphemous play, "Jesus Christ Superstar"' for the edification of their youth, that proclaim a work-righteousness and salvation by man's will, and who will employ methods of "winning souls" that are an outrage to Christ. And we are to unite with them in preaching the gospel, for that is what evangelism is. Almost everyone joins in with KEY '73 because they are indifferent to the truth. They do not care that Rome does not and cannot evangelize, nor many more of the churches and bodies involved in the venture. They do not care that by joining, they fatally compromise the gospel. They are not impressed by the fact that the important thing about evangelism is the EVANGEL, the gospel that is preached. They do not recognize that if two can walk together and work together in EVANGELISM, they are united in the essential thing, the gospel, and can just as well express their oneness in organic union.
Another expression of indifference to the truth is the current movement that glorifies the mystical working of the Holy Spirit and the emotional experiences which are supposed to be the result of this working. This movement includes the "Jesus People" and neo-Pentecostalism with its stress on "life," "feeling," "power," etc. It is the obvious characteristic of the "Jesus movement" that it disparages, indeed, rejects doctrine, preaching, and the instituted Church which preaches. This downgrading of the truth, of pure doctrine, is also the characteristic of the religious movement today that focuses on the Holy Spirit and devotes itself to emphasizing exotic works of the Spirit. That this is so is not always obvious because some also stress the Bible and preaching. But many of the teachers are quite open in their disparagement of "mere doctrine." For example, the Chinese teacher, Watchman Nee, disparages doctrine and replaces the Word with the Holy Spirit, in his book, THE RELEASE OF THE SPIRIT. He writes: when a brother has been broken by the spirit, "In listening to a message he will use his spirit to contact the spirit of the preacher, rather than focusing upon the pronunciation of words or the presentation of doctrine... And it is further true that whenever God's Spirit makes a move upon any brother, never again will he judge others merely by doctrine, words, or eloquence ... when there is the flowing of His Spirit we will forget the theology we have learned. All we know is that the Spirit has come. Instead of mere knowledge we have an 'inner light.' " Nee speaks of "two very different ways of help before us. First, 'there is a way that seemeth right' in which help is received from the outside - through the mind - by doctrine and its exposition. Many will even profess to have been greatly helped through this way. Yet it is a 'help' so very different from that help which God really intends." The "help which God really intends," of course, is "the way of spirit touching spirit." This is mystical subjectivism at its worst. For a Church or for a person, the embrace of this "spirit" is the kiss of death. The neo-Pentecostal movement as a whole wants something besides the Word. The simple, sober Word is not enough; there must also be alongside the Word a "spirit." This is a fatal lust in the not-so long run. Essentially, it is not different from Rome's disparagement of Scripture. Rome would also speak highly of the Bible, but it must needs have something alongside the Word, namely, tradition, that is, the Church herself. The Reformation said no to this, with one voice, and asserted "Scripture alone." At the same time, the Reformation had to ward off an attack on the Word made from another direction. This was the attack on the part of some of the anabaptists who exalted the Holy Spirit and disparaged the Word. They were the mystics, the "heavenly prophets," the proud possessors of the Spirit in contrast to Dr. Luther who only had the Word, the miracle-workers. NeoPentecostalism is only an old, old error in a new guise. The Holy Spirit of Christ uses the Word, He does not disparage it or ignore it; He has come to teach the Word, not to perform tricks alongside it; He reveals Christ Jesus and directs all attention to Christ, He does not focus our attention on Himself.
Still another evidence of indifference to the truth is the refusal of the members of the Protestant Churches to fight for the truth and insist on the truth in their Churches. There are people who know what the truth is and who profess to embrace it personally. They also know that their Church is corrupting it or forsaking it, and they are unhappy about this. But they do not fight for the truth with such zeal that either the Church restores the truth or puts them out. These people can live with the lie. They justify themselves this way: "Well, this is my Church and the Church of my parents and grandparents before me." Certainly, a love for the Church and a desire for the peace and unity of the Church, expressed towards one's own congregation, are good and praiseworthy qualities. But this very argument was one of the strongest arguments of Rome against the Reformation: How can you break union with and make schism in Mother Church? The appeal to maintain the unity of the Church was most powerful in the 16th century, when men knew only one institute of the Church and when that Church was hallowed by centuries. But the answer of Luther and Calvin to this argument was: Where the gospel is corrupted, there the Church ceases to be. Calvin wrote: "Christ has so ordered in His Church, that if (the pure preaching of the gospel) is removed, the whole edifice must fall" (INSTITUTES, IV, I, II). To those who pleaded for tolerance of doctrinal errors in the name of Mother Church, Calvin replied: "there is something specious in the name of moderation, and tolerance is a quality which has a fair appearance, and seems worthy of praise; but the rule which we must observe at all hazards is, never to endure patiently that the sacred name of God should be assailed with impious blasphemy - that His eternal truth should be suppressed by the devil's lies -that Christ should be insulted, His holy mysteries polluted, unhappy souls cruelly murdered, and the Church left to writhe in extremity under the effect of a deadly wound. This would be not meekness, but indifference about things to which all others ought to be postponed" ("The Necessity of Reforming the Church"). Protestant people, tolerating false doctrine and clinging to apostate institutes, do not understand that their ancestors gave up all - for doctrine. They do not understand that men of flesh and blood like themselves once dared everything and risked throwing the world into a tumult for doctrine. They do not understand anymore the words of Luther's mighty hymn: "Let goods and kindred go. This mortal life also" - for doctrine.
The explanation of this indifference is that they are indifferent to the glory of God. The Reformation sought the glory of God. That much of Protestantism does not is shown by the oft-repeated remark: "I can be saved where I am," as if this were all that mattered. God is glorified in the pure truth of the gospel. He is glorified by the message itself, and He is glorified in the Church that lives from that message. God has bound His matchless honor up with the truth. Indifference is lack of love for the truth. It squanders the only treasure of the Church and disdains God's glory.
All of this, the abandonment of the gospel of grace, the adoption of another gospel, and the indifference to the truth, can be summed up as rejection of the Word of God. That was the one, great sin of the pre-Reformation Church. It rejected the Word by denying the sole authority of Scripture, and it rejected the Word by repudiating the message of justification by faith alone. Everything wrong with that Church could be traced to this one evil: She rejected the Word of God. This is the evil of the Protestant Church today. There are many more evidences of this evil in Protestantism. There is an attack on and contempt for the Bible within Protestant Churches today the like of which old Rome would not have dreamed of. Men and Churches openly deny the infallible inspiration of Scripture and scoff at its claim to be authoritative and reliable. No less pernicious is the heavy-handed assault on Scripture's clarity, a truth dear to the Reformation. When Genesis 1-3 is interpreted in such a way that it no longer is simple, straightforward, factual history but a piece of mythical fantasy meaning whatever the current speaker likes it to mean, the ordinary believer says: "If these words can actually mean that, I cannot understand the Bible." Then, he gives over the Bible to the new popes, the scientist and the professional theologian. There is also at present an attack upon preaching. Protestantism has come full circle. Rome insisted that the people must be taught by pictures, statues, and images, "books to the laity." Forgetting Q. 98 of the Heidelberg Catechism ("God . . will have His people taught, not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of His Word"), even Reformed people now clamor for pictures and plays and the like tomfoolery. By this time, Rome can find many in Protestant Churches who agree with her claim that the Eucharist, not the preaching, is the chief means of grace. Another evidence of the rejection of God's Word is the incredible proliferation of unreliable and even deliberately falsified versions of the Bible. Once Rome withheld the Scriptures; now men bury the Word with corrupt versions. In the end, there is no difference.
The rejection of the Word of God always has consequences, and Protestant Churches suffer them today. Protestantism is without peace. It is shot through with fears, worries, break-downs, and dependence on pills, drink, drugs, and fun. It lacks the blessed assurance of pardon, of eternal life, of God's Fatherly love. That other gospel, the gospel of salvation by man's willing, must sing with Rome the sad song that no man can be sure of his eternal salvation. In the 17th century, the Arminians (defenders of free will) themselves confessed that the upshot of their gospel was the life-long doubt of every man whether or not he would be saved. For many today, tongues speaking is the ground of the assurance of salvation that they crave. It replaces faith in Christ as the way to have peace with God and to possess solid assurance of acceptance with God. Tongues-speaking must now do what the doctrine of justification by faith alone did at the time of the Reformation. This is to take men off from the Rock and to place them on sinking sand. The Reformation gave peace to despairing souls by the gospel of grace, full peace; forsaking the gospel, Protestantism forfeits its peace.
Protestantism is unholy. It does not walk zealously in good works. On the one hand, it is void of the important good works: Worship of God in spirit and in truth; faithfulness in marriage and home; obedience to State and employer; keeping the commandments, e.g., the Sabbath-Word and the commandment to honor father and mother. On the other hand, it is characterized by bizarre good works. The pre-Reformation Church had its crazy good works, e.g., pilgrimages, crusades, buying indulgences, etc. So does Protestantism today: Defending black and brown and red and white revolutionaries, engaging in civil disobedience, advocating sexual immorality and perversion, promoting abortion, and similar exercises of piety." It is worldly, through and through. It is not on a pilgrimage; it does not seek the city that hath foundations.
Why does so much of the Protestant church-world reject the Word? In part, this is due to the work of our "ancient foe," who hates the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel. The Devil and the spirit of Antichrist which is already in the world are effecting the great falling away that precedes the revelation of the man of sin. In part, the rejection of the Word is also due to men's unbelief, their doubt about the power and sufficiency of the Word. Men fear that the Word cannot gather the Church, and, therefore, they change the message to make it palatable to men and more successful. They fear that the plain Word will not keep the youth. They fear that it cannot comfort the depressed and deliver the troubled. They fear that it cannot stand the test of science. They fear that learned men will disapprove the Word's rough edges, total depravity and predestination. So, they give up on the Word. Are not we also tempted by this unbelief, secretly? Let us cling to the Word. It is the power of God unto salvation. It is the power to save the covenant youth and depressed saints. It will endure triumphant when all the world is rubble and the wisdom of the world dissipates like a vapor. "So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth; it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11).
As for us, thank God for what we have in the Protestant Reformed Churches. God gives us the gospel of grace in His beloved Son and with that gospel the proper administration of the sacraments and the faithful exercise of Christian discipline. Besides, we have Christian Schools founded on the Word, a goal which the Reformation immediately proposed and strove to achieve. There are also other congregations in all the world to whom God is gracious in these days and who tremble at His Word. We rejoice in this and praise God for it.
We are called to be humble, for we have nothing and we are nothing that has not been freely given us. We should be thankful, for in giving us the gospel God has given us all. We must be faithful, safeguarding the treasure given us through the Reformation. We do well, all of us, to acquaint ourselves more thoroughly with this treasure by reading Luther's THE BONDAGE OF THE WILL, Calvin's INSTITUTES, and the first volume of Calvin's TRACTS, but above all by reading the Holy Scriptures themselves for they are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ. Faithfulness also consists of constantly reforming. We have not yet attained, neither are we already perfect. Speaking the truth in love, we are to "grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ" (Ephesians 4:15). Pray that God in His mercy not plague us with the famine of His Word, but that He fill us with the Spirit of truth Who guides us into all truth.