Lessons on Reformation, Part 4
Lessons on Reformation, Part 4
Let us now see what was the state of the Church previous to the Reformation.
"The nations of Christendom no longer looked to a holy and living God for the free gift of eternal life. To obtain it, they were obliged to have a recourse to all the means that a superstitious, fearful, and alarmed imagination could devise. Heaven was filled with saints and mediators, whose duty it was to solicit this mercy. Earth was filled with pious works, sacrifices, observances, and ceremonies, by which it was to be obtained. Here is a picture of the religion of this period transmitted to us by one who was long a monk, and afterwards a fellow-labourer of Luther’s—by Myconius:
" ‘The sufferings and merits of Christ were looked upon as an idle tale, or as the fictions of Homer. There was no thought of the faith by which we become partakers of the Saviour’s righteousness and of the heritage of eternal life. Christ was looked upon as a severe judge, prepared to condemn all who should not have recourse to the intercession of the saints, or to the papal indulgences. Other intercessors appeared in His place: —first the Virgin Mary, like the Diana of paganism, and then the saints, whose numbers were continually augmented by the popes.’ " History of the Reformation, 17, by J.H. Merle D’Aubigne.
"The two centuries intervening between 1294 and 1517, between the accession of Boniface VIII and the nailing of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses against the church door in Wittenberg, mark the gradual transition from the Middle Ages to modern times, from the universal acceptance of the papal theocracy in Western Europe to the assertion of national independence, from the supreme authority of the priesthood to the intellectual and spiritual freedom of the individual. Old things are passing away; signs of a new order increase. Institutions are seen to be breaking up. The scholastic systems of theology lose their compulsive hold on men’s minds, and even become the subject of ridicule. The abuses of the earlier Middle Ages call forth voices demanding reform on the basis of the Scriptures and the common well being of mankind. The inherent vital energies in the Church seek expression in new forms of piety and charitable deed." History of the Christian Church, vol. VI, 1, by David Schaff.
As the world was prepared for the coming of Jesus as a babe in Bethlehem, so it was being conditioned for the coming of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. When Christ was born, the means of travel had been improved; one language was universal, the people were discontented with their religious experience and desired something better.
Similar things were beginning to take place in the thirteenth century. "The Renaissance, or revival of classical culture, unshackled the minds of men. The classical works of antiquity were once more, after the churchly disparagement of a thousand years, held forth to admiration. The confines of geography were extended by the discoveries of the continent in the West.
"To this generation, which looks back over the last four centuries, the discovery of America and the pathways to the Indies was one of the remarkable events in history, a surprise and a prophecy. In 1453, Constantinople easily passed into the hands of the Turk, and the Christian Empire of the East fell apart. In the far West the beginnings of a new empire were made, just as the Middle Ages were drawing to a close." Ibid., 3.
By the time the Renaissance was in full bloom, the Roman Church had been in virtual control of the world for over eight hundred years. God was still in control and trying to prepare a people that would be perfect representatives of His character. The printing press was invented, making it possible to scatter the Scriptures around the world on a much larger scale. Men and women were slowly being unshackled from the bondage to the Roman Catholic heel.
The Reformation Begins
In the fourteenth century, John Wycliffe arose to become the "Morning Star of the Reformation," because of his translation of the Scriptures into the English language. This was the greatest impetus to the freedom of man up to that time. It paved the way for the Reformation to come, nearly two hundred years later, in the person of Martin Luther and other reformers to follow.
The Reformation brought freedom not only in the religious realm but also in the secular.
Withholding the Scriptures from the populace meant that there was no advance in any other area
of society, particularly in education. The Papacy knew that if they kept people illiterate they would be much easier to control. Individuality was suppressed and the church then in power demanded
adherence by all.
We have seen in the twentieth century the effects that attempts at control of the masses by such ideologies as Communism, Fascism and Nazism have had upon the world. Absolute control leads eventually to corruption on the part of leadership and dictatorial control of all those under their jurisdiction. It was under this type of circumstances that the Reformation began in the thirteenth century with John Wycliffe. The papal power was in almost total control of the world at that time and demanded absolute obedience to her demands.
It was not until Wycliffe and Luther translated the Bible into their respective languages that the people could see a way to obtain their freedom from the papal tyranny. "Except among the
Waldenses, the Word of God had for ages been locked up in languages known only to the learned; but the time had come for the Scriptures to be translated and given to the people of different lands in their native tongue. The world had passed its midnight. The hours of darkness were wearing away, and in many lands appeared tokens of the coming dawn. In the fourteenth century arose in England the ‘Morning star of the Reformation.’ John Wycliffe was the herald of reform, not for England alone, but for all Christendom. The great protest against Rome which it was permitted him to utter was never to be silenced. That protest opened the struggle which was to result in the emancipation of individuals, of churches, and of nations." The Great Controversy, 79, 80.
"The Reformation did not and does not consist in exposure and denunciation of the iniquities of the Roman Church.
"That is included in The Reformation, as an incident; because it is of the essence of Christianity to hate iniquity, as it is to love righteousness. "It was the iniquities, enormities, and desolations wrought by the Roman Church, that caused the universal desire and the pressing demand that there should be a reformation. Yet the Reformation was not wrought by magnifying or dwelling upon those things.
"The Reformation springs from another principle, lives in another atmosphere, and works in
another field, than that.
"If exposure and denunciation of the iniquities of that church could have wrought reformation, then The Reformation would have been in the world more than five hundred years before it was.
"All men saw the iniquities practiced. They actually felt them on every side. Nobles, kings, emperors, priests, bishops, cardinals, and councils, called for reformation. Even Popes confessed the sore need of it." Lessons from the Reformation, 102, 103, by A. T. Jones.
What is the Church?
All the reformers, in the beginning, did not plan to leave the church or think of establishing another one. Their desires were to reform the errors and evil practices within the church and bring it into line with Scripture. But even this was not a sufficient explanation for the Reformation that was to follow. There was more to it than that.
The Roman Catholic Church said that it had absolute authority over the individual both physically and spiritually. It further stated that it was only through the church, "the ark of God," the "ship of salvation" that anyone could obtain salvation. The captain and the crew as well as the pilot could all be pirates yet the "grand old ship" was all right and would come safely to the heavenly port. The church leadership also said that it was the church, and the church only that could rightly interpret the Scriptures. The people were admonished to "stand by the old ship" and "cling to the ark" in order to land safely on the heavenly shore. Once the Bible was made available to all, it was seen that what the church had been claiming was not true at all, but that each person could, through the direction of the Holy Spirit, determine what the truth is.
The extent to which the church leaders would go in their ridiculous logic, the following quote will illustrate. This statement was made by the Pope’s legate at the General Council of Basle, in 1432. "In the time of Noah’s flood, as many as were without the ark perished." If one is not a member in good standing he will be lost.
The study of the Bible led the reformers to the conclusion that the church was not correct in their claims but that all persons were free and only answerable to God for their faith. This brought about a disagreement between the reformers and the Roman church on the definition of the Church. According to Scripture it is the people that make up a church and not an organization or its leadership. Man’s salvation is based upon his connection with Christ and not upon what some Pope (President) decides.
"But as soon as there arose men with the courage of conviction and the confidence of truth,
and spoke out plainly and flatly that the Roman system is not the Church at all in any feature or in any sense, then the Reformation had begun. "That is how The Reformation came. And without that The Reformation never could have come." Ibid., 106.
The Roman Catholic Church could not claim Scripture for their authority; all they had was tradition that, they claimed, superceded the Bible. Unable to convince the reformers with words, their only recourse was to use the power of the state to force men to obey the their demands. The basic premise of the Roman Catholic Church was that it was supreme on the earth. It is defined to
be: "The society of the validly baptized, united together in one body by the profession of the same faith, by the participation of the same sacraments, and by obedience to the same authority, Christ, its invisible head in heaven, and the Roman Pontiff, the successor of St. Peter, Christ’s visible representative and vicegerent upon earth." Christian Apologetics, Section 300.
From this foundation, that church ruled over the earth supreme for nearly a thousand years. When the reformers began to read the Bible they saw a different picture of what constituted the Church. "Wycliffe said that the ‘Holy Church is the congregation of just men for whom Christ shed His blood . . . All who shall be saved in the bliss of heaven are members of Holy Church, and no more.’
"Matthias of Janow said: ‘All Christians who possess the Spirit of Jesus the Crucified, and who are impelled by the same Spirit, and who alone have not departed from their God, are the one Church of Christ: His beautiful bride, His body.’ "Huss said: ‘The true Church lies in nothing else than the totality of the elect.’ "Luther said: ‘We are the Church. There is no other Church than the assembly of those who have the Word of God and are purified by it.’" Lessons from the Reformation, 126, 127.
"And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all." Ephesians 1:22, 23. The Church is not confined to an organization or system. It is a body of believers, whether there are two, three or a million gathered together with God in the midst.
The lesson that all the reformers learned was that every man is to be free to worship God according to his conscience and to interpret Scripture under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and not according to what a group of men decides is truth. The Reformation proclaimed Religious Liberty, not only liberty from interference from the state but also from the Church. The reformers understood the admonition of Jesus that "all ye are brethren." Matthew 23:8.
It is sad to say that the attitude among many Adventists today is that we all must do as the leadership says, go where they say to go and preach only what they say is permissible to preach. If an individual chooses to follow the dictates of his conscience and follow the Lord’s leading, that is contrary to what the system says, he is put "out of the synagogue."
A Great Awakening
The Reformation lay dormant for almost two hundred years before a new awakening began. Men in different parts of the world began to study the prophecies and saw that the coming of Christ was near. They began to preach their discoveries. It was in this environment that the Lord raised up a movement, in the middle of the nineteenth century, to bring about a revival of the Reformation.
At first, it seemed that this Second Advent movement would bring about a revival of the
Reformation. Following the disappointment a great opposition developed against the great awakening, and most of those who had embraced the message turned away from it. There were a few who maintained their faith, and, as time passed, the Seventh-day Adventist movement grew and flourished even though there were those that exercised kingly power at times. The Church was organized and continued to develop until the problem of the 1888 General Conference, when many of the leaders rejected the message of Righteousness by Faith.
In 1901 it seemed that the organization was to be changed to what God desired it to be. However it did not go as far as the Lord desired it to. Then in 1903 all that had been accomplished in 1901 was demolished, and a papal system of organization was put in place. We are cursed with that system today. Kingly power continues to be manifested by some leaders. The freedom of the individual is slowly eroding away as more and more power is being put into the hands of fewer and fewer men. We see the virtual loss of our health institutions one by one as they ally themselves with outside institutions. The educational system is a far cry from what the Lord had His people set up in the beginning. Our schools have patterned themselves after those of the world and our young people are preparing for a lifelong career in the business world rather than a place in the Lord’s work.
Will we continue to muddle around in the wilderness for many more years and admit by our attitudes and lifestyles that we expect to be here for the rest of our lives? Or will we get serious about what the Lord wants us to do? God is waiting for a people to perfectly reflect His character so that He can use them for His purposes.
The Reformation is to be revived and if we want to be a part of that reform movement we will have to reverse our field and come into line with the Lord’s plan. God will have a people to carry the Three Angels’ Messages to the world as a final warning. Will you and I have a part in that work? If so, our priorities will have to change, and we must pattern ourselves after Christ and perfectly reflect His character. Only when our characters match that of Jesus Christ will we be safe to save and safe to be filled by the Holy Spirit.
Our God is a patient and longsuffering God but there will come a time when that patience will run out. "The Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man." Genesis 6:3. It is up to each individual to make a decision as to what their fate will be. As Joshua said: "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15.
February 1998 Table of Contents