The Church Today and the Reformation Church:
Prof. David J. Engelsma
It is the commendable practice of the Protestant
Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois, to commemorate, annually, Christ's
Reformation of His church in the 16th century, by a fitting speech around
the end of October, the time of Martin Luther's standing up to contend for
the gospel of grace by publishing the 95 Theses. With all sound-minded
Protestants, we look back to the Reformation as Christ's deliverance of us
and our children from the worst slavery of all—the spiritual slavery of
heresy, and as the source, in history, of the most precious freedom of
all—the spiritual freedom of the truth of the gospel.
This pamphlet was originally such a Reformation Day
address, given in 1972, and published in pamphlet form soon thereafter. Now
that a second printing is needed, the original pamphlet has been
significantly corrected, up-dated, and revised. This revision—virtually a
new pamphlet—is now offered to the interested public.
These are dark days for Protestantism. One who loves
that God restored at the Reformation weeps over her faithlessness, her
shame, her poverty, her misery at the end of the 20th century. He is
reminded of the prophet's lament, "How is the gold
become dim!" (Lam. 4:1), and of the apostle's exclamation, "I
marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace
of Christ ..." (Gal. 1:6).
But they are not hopeless days! For "the Son of
God, from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and
preserves ... a Church chosen to everlasting life ..." (Heidelberg
Catechism, A. 54). In this confidence, we resolutely and joyfully carry
on the work of the Reformation, "earnestly contend[ing]
for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3).
The Evangelism Committee
Protestant Reformed Church
1777 E. Richton Rd.
Crete, Illinois 60417
REPRINTED 1988, 1990,
1992, 1995, 1998, 2004
Comparing the Protestant church of the Reformation
and the Protestant church at the end of the 20th century may not remain a
merely academic exercise. The subject confronts every professing Protestant
with the calling to determine whether his church is faithful to her
origins. If she is not, he must exert himself on behalf of her reformation.
Failing in this, because of his church's obduracy, he must join himself to
a church that is faithful to the principles of Protestantism, and thus to
the Lord Christ.
As one of the creeds of the Reformation puts it,
"it is the duty of all believers, according to the Word of God ... to
join themselves to this congregation, wheresoever
God hath established it." All those who do not, "act contrary to
the ordinance of God." This involves separating themselves from a
church that "ascribes more power and authority to herself and her
ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke
of Christ" (Belgic Confession
28-29). For some, a comparison of the church of the Reformation and the
church today may be a painful experience, leading to radical action.
As we make the comparison, it will help to keep
several things in mind. First, we are comparing what we might call
"the Protestant church-world" at the end of the 20th century with
the church produced by the Reformation of the 16th century. Even though
this church soon divided into two churches, the Lutheran and the Reformed,
there was a fundamental unity of early Protestantism, so that we may speak
of a "Reformation church."
Second, it is assumed that the church of the
Reformation was the church
of Jesus Christ, the
one, holy, catholic church, as established in the world by God. She proved
this by adhering to the Word of God. She was not faultless. She had not yet
fully matured in Christ. But she was the true Church of Christ,
"fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with
banners" (Song 6:10). She can, and should, be the standard by which
Protestantism today is measured.
Third, a comparison such as this runs the risk of an
unfair generalizing. What an enormous entity is "Protestantism
today"! What a bewildering array of denominations! What a baffling
diversity! One danger in particular must be guarded against—the
"Elijah-error." In an idolatrous age, amidst an apostate Israel, the
prophet despaired of God's Church, supposing himself to be the sole
survivor of the people who worshipped God in spirit and in truth: "I,
even I only, am left" (I Kings 19:14). Jehovah disabused Elijah of
this notion: "I have left me seven thousand in Israel
..." (v. 18). The condemnation of modern Protestantism, vehement
though it may be, must recognize that God preserves His (Protestant) church
today and that, even within denominations that are falling away from the
Word of God, there yet are faithful individuals, faithful pastors and
elders, and even faithful congregations.
Fourth, our criticism of Protestantism as it appears in the churches today is not an exercise in mere
party-strife; nor is it attributable to a narrow, partisan spirit. We love
Christ's church. We love her in her Old Testament immaturity; in her New
Testament maturity; in her loveliness in the age immediately following the
apostles—the loveliness of doctrinal fidelity, of martyrdom, and of
charity; in her agony in the Middle Ages, when the devil and wicked men
seduced her to become a whore; in her Reformation purity and beauty; and in
her every manifestation today. It is love for the church, chosen and
precious, that compels us to the comparison so damning to Protestant
The spiritual condition of Protestantism today is
wretched. One cannot see in her that she is the daughter of the church of
the Reformation. Protestantism now very much resembles the pre-Reformation
church. 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 Protestant churches today is that they
preach and believe another gospel than did the Reformation church. The
Protestant churches are weighed and found wanting, above all, in respect to
their gospel, their doctrine. This is fatal, for a church's gospel is the
essential thing. It is the gospel that makes a church the true Church of
Jesus Christ. In his work, "Concerning the Ministry," Martin
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.
By this criterion, the best that can be said of
Protestantism today is that it is nothing.
The Reformation was the restoration of the pure
preaching of the gospel. That tremendous church-reforming and world-shaking
event was doctrinal. It was the purpose of the Reformers, as it was
the purpose of the Holy Spirit, to do away with another gospel (that is no
gospel) and to restore the gospel of God revealed in the Scriptures.
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, unbiblical and tyrannical as that institution is.
Luther said more than once that he would have lived with the pope, if only
the pope preached the gospel.
Neither was the cause of the Reformation the
outrageous immorality of the Church's leaders, from the greedy, whore-mongering,
humanistic, political popes and cardinals to the lowly priest living in concubinage. In his "Reply to the Letter of
Cardinal Sadolet," John Calvin explained why
the Reformation occurred:
[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
What was that "much stronger necessity"?
That necessity was, that the light of divine truth
had been extinguished, the Word of God buried ...
Already at the outset, in 1517, in his 95 Theses,
Luther indicated what the Reformation aimed at, when he wrote, as the 62nd
The true treasure of the church is the holy gospel of
the glory and grace of God.
We must, therefore, briefly note what that "holy
gospel" was, in contrast with 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 alone. This gospel,
encapsulated in the epistle to the Romans, proclaims that the misery of
every man is that he is a sinner, totally depraved and exposed to the wrath
of the offended God (Rom. 3:9ff.). Man's misery is not the various earthly
ills that always plague mankind—poverty, oppression, war, sickness, and
death, as a natural calamity, but his sin, especially his guilt before the
judgment of a just God. His great need is the forgiveness of his sins and a
righteousness that will stand up in the judgment of God. This forgiveness
and righteousness is in Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:3-4). It becomes ours
through faith in Jesus. When we believe on Him, God reckons Jesus'
righteousness to our account. Our righteousness before God is nothing that
we have done, or what we are, but only what Jesus has done for us and what
He is on our behalf. Christ's people are justified by faith alone (Rom. 3:20ff.).
This justifying faith is not the basis of God's forgiving the sinner; it is
not a work of the sinner to earn righteousness; it is not the one condition
that man must fulfil, in order to be saved. But
it is the means by which God imputes Christ's righteousness to the guilty
sinner and the instrument by which he embraces Christ, his righteousness.
In fact, faith itself is God's gracious gift to the man who has it:
"... faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God"
This passage points out the vital role that the
preaching has in God's great work of justifying His people. It is by means
of preaching that the Holy Spirit works in men the faith that knows and
trusts in Jesus Christ, the Saviour, including
the repentance that renders them needy. Also, it is in the preaching that
God presents Jesus Christ to men, as the object of faith (Rom. 1:1ff.).
Then, it is through the preaching of the gospel that God utters the divine
verdict in the consciousness of the believer, to acquit him: "... 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" (Rom. 1:15-17). It was not one of the least charges of the
Reformation against the pre-Reformation church, that
it did not preach. That church did many things—built cathedrals, went on
pilgrimages, plunged into politics, and fascinated the people with pageant
and liturgy; but it did not preach.
If the means of the forgiveness that is the heart of
the gospel is preaching, the one and only basis of forgiveness is the
satisfaction and atonement of Jesus Christ. In His life-long passion, but
especially by His death on the cross, Jesus paid in full for the sins of
His people, and fulfilled all righteousness. The Reformation proclaimed the
cross of Christ as redemption from sin—effectual, substitutionary,
bloody, sin-covering redemption (Rom. 3:24ff.). Just as it declared Jesus
to be the eternal Son of God (Rom. 1:4), so the bodily resurrection of
Jesus from the dead proved the cross to have been the effectual acquiring
of righteousness for those sinners for whom Jesus was delivered: "[He]
was raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25).
The source and foundation of this salvation is God's
eternal, gracious election (Rom.
9-11). In Christ, God has chosen unto salvation a people from all the
nations—His Church. The grace of this election is peculiarly illustrated by
the fact that God did not choose all men, but reprobated some, according to
His own good pleasure. Salvation is wholly and exclusively gracious.
The life of the man who believes this gospel will be
a life of freedom—freedom to serve God and his neighbour,
in thankfulness (Rom.
In contrast to the gospel stood the "other
gospel" of Rome.
That was the teaching that the sinner 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 indulgences: selling the pardon of sins for money.
But the root error was Rome's
official doctrine that men could, and must, earn righteousness with God by
their own good works. A man's righteousness with God consisted partly of
the work of Christ and partly of his own work. Justification was by faith
and works. What made it possible for a sinner to earn, or merit, salvation,
according to Rome,
was his possession of a "free will." Though fallen, mankind is
not totally depraved; all men retain the ability to choose God and the
good, and to cooperate with grace, when grace is offered in the sacraments
and in the Word. If a sinner will only exercise his "free will"
properly, God will bestow grace upon him. By virtue of his own will and by
virtue of grace bestowed, the man performs good works. On the basis of
these works, as well as on the basis of Christ's work, God forgives the
sinner's transgressions and pays him the salvation he has partially earned.
"Free will" was fundamental for that "other gospel."
Upon it, all of salvation depended. Even God's election of men to salvation
in eternity (which the pre-Reformation church taught!) was due to God's
foreseeing who among men would believe and who would not believe.
The life of the man who believed this "gospel"
was bondage—the bondage of the fear that he had not done enough to placate
God, and the bondage of a service of God (often exacting, arduous service)
from the motive of a slave.
This doctrine, this "gospel," the
Reformation condemned as "another gospel," in terms of Galatians
1:6-9: "If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have
received, let him be accursed." It was not merely a faulty
presentation of the gospel; but it was heresy—Christ-denying, God-dishonouring, Church-destroying, comfort-robbing
heresy. Galatians 5:2 proves the Reformation to have been right in this
indictment: "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 as the basis of
salvation, you destroy the gospel altogether, and whoever trusts in that
work, in addition to Christ, will be eternally damned."
Condition of Protestantism
Now how does the Protestant church today compare with
the Reformation church, as regards 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 matter of the gospel, Rome has not changed;
nor does she claim to have changed. The Canons and Decrees of the
Council of Trent, which condemn total depravity, denial of free will,
justification by faith alone, the doctrine of a once-for-all sacrifice of
Christ, and predestination; which damn those who teach and believe these
truths; and which even bless the practice of indulgences, stand to this day
as the official creed of Rome. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)
explicitly reaffirmed every Roman doctrine contested by the Reformation.
One of Rome's
own, the priest and author, Malachi Martin, gives the lie to the popular,
Protestant pipedream that the Roman Catholic Ecumenical Council, Vatican
II, effected basic changes in the Roman Catholic Church. In his book, The
Jesuits, published in 1987, Martin writes,
. . . the intent, the
effort, and the message of Vatican II were simple. They formed an attempt
on the part of the Roman Catholic Church to present its age-old doctrine
and moral outlook in a new way that would be intelligible to the minds of
modern men and women. The Church changed no doctrine. It changed no part of
its hierarchically structured bishops and Pope. It abandoned not one of its
perennial moral laws. It affirmed all (p. 477).
Rome is a false church, proclaiming another gospel.
But what about Protestantism, heir of the
Very early in its history, the Lutheran Church
strayed from the truth and became a bitter foe of the Reformed Church over
the doctrine of salvation by sovereign grace—the very doctrine that was the
central message of the Reformation and that Luther so vigorously defended
in The Bondage of the Will. Soon after Luther's death, Philip
Melanchthon, the leading Lutheran theologian, taught, in his popular work
on theology, the Loci Communes, that the conversion of the sinner is
accomplished by three co-operating factors—the Word of God, the Holy
Spirit, and the free will of man. In their confession, The Formula of
Concord (1576), the Lutheran
lip-service to the doctrine of election, which testimony, weak to begin
with, it promptly corrupted by an explicit affirmation of a universal will
of God for the salvation of sinners and by an explicit denial of
reprobation. She also launched a furious attack upon the Reformed doctrine
of predestination, caricaturing it just as Rome has always done and
slandering it as "false, horrid, and blasphemous," depriving
godly minds of "all consolation."
Today, much of Lutheranism shares in the advanced
apostasy of Protestantism generally, denying such cardinal doctrines as the
infallible inspiration of Scripture, creation, and the Virgin Birth of
Jesus. In 1963, international Lutheranism assembled in Finland, to
formulate a statement on the crucial truth of justification. The conference
failed, because the Lutheran Churches were unable to agree on the doctrine
that Luther called "the article of a standing or falling church."
Luther's fear that the church would not be able to maintain the truth that
is the cornerstone of the gospel has been realized in much of the church
that bears his name. In light of these developments, it is not surprising
that Lutheran Churches are presently engaged in ecumenical discussion with Rome
and that both the secular and the religious press report that agreement has
been reached on all main doctrines, including that of the sacraments, and
that only the issue of the papacy remains to be resolved.
The Anglican Church ordains a bishop, the Bishop of
Durham, who publicly denies the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ, and thus His
Deity, and who ridicules the bodily resurrection of the Lord as a
"conjuring trick with bones." Antichrist sits in that temple of
God, opposing and exalting himself above all that is called God, or that is
worshipped (II Thess. 2:4).
As for the largest, "mainline" Protestant
Churches in the United
States, their apostasy from the faith
once delivered to the saints is appalling. They have abandoned the gospel
entirely. Man's misery is no longer sin, but poverty and physical
oppression. The enemy is no longer the devil of Hell, but the capitalism of
the West (never the Communism of the Soviet Union), the government of (aparteid) South Africa, and the chauvinism
of the male. Redemption is no longer by the blood of Jesus, but by social
action, including violent, revolutionary action that sheds the blood of all
"oppressors." The people of God are no longer the poor in spirit,
but the materially and politically poor. Salvation is no longer peace with
God, but earthly peace.
Miserable examples are the Presbyterian Church in the
and the United Church of Christ.
The Presbyterian Church, spiritual heir of John Knox,
the Westminster Assembly, the Hodges, and Thornwell,
has officially shelved 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 (descendant of the Puritans and Pilgrims) and of the
Evangelical and Reformed Churches, is bold to advertise its defection from
the Reformation. In 1966, one of its leading theologians, Douglas Horton,
wrote a booklet, "The United Church of Christ," in which he explained
his denomination to the world:
... the bond which joins
United Churchmen to [Roman] Catholics is of the essence, and the
differences between them are largely accidental.
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:
... 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 out its Reformation birthright, with specific reference to both the
formal and material principles of the Reformation, the sole authority of
Scripture and justification by faith alone. It now stands ready for union
with whom it professes to be essentially one.
If we look to the Reformed Churches, heirs of John
Calvin, for a clear, loud, certain, and fearless blast on the trumpet,
against all this iniquitous departure, we are bitterly disappointed. They
too have dropped the standard and are become traitorous. Of them too, it is
true, as a version of Psalm 74 sings, "Amid Thy courts are lifted
high/The standards of the foe/And impious hands with axe and fire/Have laid
Thy temple low." The "axe and fire" are higher critical
scholarship, universalism, and sheer world-conformity. Where we ought to
find an unabashed defence of an inerrant,
authoritative Bible, we find instead the admission of Scripture's
fallibility; the denial of the historical truth of Genesis 1-11; and the insistence
that much of the New Testament is the mistaken word of man (about the
earthquake at the time of Jesus' resurrection, about the headship of the
husband, about the exclusion of women from the offices in the church, and
about many more matters) rather than the Word of God. Where we expect the
message of salvation by free, sovereign, particular grace to be sounded
forth, as is required by these churches' creed, the Canons of Dordt,
there is instead a bold denial of predestination, limited atonement, and
total depravity, or a deafening silence regarding these doctrines of grace.
Where we expect to hear a ringing call to
holiness, in obedience to all the commandments of God's law, we hear
instead from the degenerate sons of that "theologian of holiness,"
John Calvin, an approval of homosexuality. In the infamous "Report of
the Commission on Church and Theology to the General Synod of the Reformed
Churches in the Netherlands,
Bentheim 1981," these churches speak of
"many sincere Christian homophiles." They assert,
There will be ... homophilial
Christians who—likewise in much struggle and prayer—through a growing
friendship find a genuine friend, male or female, with whom they are
prepared and willing to share the joys and sorrows of life. Only that
intimate union may create an atmosphere of trust and confidence in which
people can give themselves to each other. They
will also feel constrained to involve God in their relationship.
The Church may not condemn such a relationship. On
the contrary, we must "accept one another in the ongoing process of
understanding and reflection." Where we hope to see separation from
infidelity and idolatry, in a faithful keeping of the marriage-covenant
with the Church's only Husband and Lover, Jesus, we see instead Reformed Churches
in bed with the apostates of the National and World Council of Churches, or
lusting for such carnal union, and shamelessly eyeing Rome itself. Indeed, they give signals
that they, like the churches of the World Council, now desire the world
religions and their gods.
The Protestant church-world also includes the
churches that call themselves "evangelical." They have not been
backward in railing on Rome
and in excoriating the "liberals." As their name indicates, they
pride themselves on proclaiming the gospel (evangel is the Greek for
"gospel"). Nevertheless, a large part of "evangelical
Protestantism," although it preaches about sin, Jesus, the blood, and
heaven, has perverted the gospel. Its error is the lie of "free
will." It holds that every man naturally possesses the spiritual
ability to make a decision for Christ, to open up his heart to God, and to
accept the offered salvation. It maintains that all of salvation, from
election to final glory, depends squarely upon the will of man. Their revered
representative is Billy Graham.
This gospel is a different gospel than that of the
Reformation; and it is another gospel than the gospel of grace of
Scripture. It is not a whit better than the gospel of Rome. There are, in fact, many
"evangelicals" who proclaim a dependency of salvation on man who
would have embarrassed Rome
in the 16th century, and who would have given that old hawker of salvation,
Tetzel, pause. Rome teaches that salvation is of man's running, that is,
working; "evangelical Protestantism" teaches that it is of man's
willing; both are equally opposed to the gospel's teaching that salvation
is of God who showeth mercy, as Paul declared in Romans 9:16. The apostle
mentioned "running" here, because the Holy Spirit saw Rome coming; he mentioned
"willing," because the Spirit saw "evangelical
Protestants" in the offing.
That the doctrine of free will is "another
gospel," in the sense of Galatians l:6ff.,
was the judgment of Augustine (cf. his "Anti-Pelagian
Writings" in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. V, Eerdmans, 1956). It was the judgment both of Luther,
who, in his The Bondage of the Will, declared the issue of the
bondage or freedom of the will of the natural man to be the basic issue of
the Reformation, and of Calvin, who, in chapters 2-5 of Book 2 of the Institutes,
refutes those who teach free will, characterizing them as "enemies
of divine grace," and their efforts on behalf of free will as the
erecting of "their statue of free will," that is, idolatry. The
Reformed Churches officially condemned free will as heresy at the Synod of
Dordt (1618-1619), in the Canons of Dordt; and the Presbyterians did
so by implication when, in the Westminster Confession, they
confessed the bondage of the will to be the truth of the gospel (chapter
9). In embracing free will, "evangelical Protestantism" has
returned to the vomit from which Christ delivered His church by the
Still another, related characteristic of
Protestantism today, because of which it comes off badly in a comparison
with the Reformation church, is Protestantism's indifference to the truth.
There are still some, perhaps many, who know the truth. They know what the
Reformation stood for. They know that Protestant churches have forsaken, or
are in the process of forsaking, their doctrinal heritage. But this does
not perturb them, much less move them to take any
action. This is a sin, not only of the leaders, but also of the people. The
people will not endure sound doctrine; the people resist expository,
doctrinal preaching; the people clamour
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 children and grandchildren, the lambs of the flock, are destroyed (cf.
II Tim. 4:Iff.; Acts 20:28ff.). 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
present-day Protestantism's indifference to the truth. One is the
ecumenical movement—the effort to unite the churches. Whereas biblical
ecumenicity finds unity in, and grounds union upon, doctrinal oneness,
which oneness is expressed creedally, the unions
of the World Council, of COCU, and of the Protestant churches' turning
are effected with disregard of doctrinal
difference and at the expense of the truth. Indifference to the truth is
the oil that makes all the vast machinery of modern ecumenicity go.
Another indication of indifference to the truth
appears among "evangelical Protestantism" in their willingness to
join and co-operate with churches and groups that maintain doctrines widely
at variance with the doctrine proclaimed by the Reformation church, and
differing sharply among these churches and groups themselves, in the
cause of evangelism. A glaring instance of this was the ecumenical
venture in evangelism some years ago, known as Key 73. Its objective
was "to raise an overarching Christian canopy in North
America under which all denominations, congregations, and
Christian groups may concentrate on evangelism during 1973." It
brought together such groups as Campus Crusade, thoroughly "free willist" in theology and practice, and the
Salvation Army and 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, the Reformed
Church in America, and the Roman Catholic. Whatever the result may have
been in North America as regards
evangelism, many churches and groups united in carrying out the fundamental
calling of Christ's Church, namely, preaching the gospel, in total
disregard of doctrinal soundness and of doctrinal agreement. This spirit,
long the driving force in the "liberal" churches of the World
Council of Churches, now pervades the "evangelical" churches. It
ignores the fact that the main requirement of evangelism is the message,
the doctrine, that will be proclaimed; refuses to ask about any church, or
group, whether it holds the truth of the gospel; is deaf to the prophet's
warning that two cannot walk together, except they be agreed; and omits to
notice, for the present, that if churches can co-operate in preaching the
gospel, they can also unite institutionally. Ominous in the extreme are the
statements in the official literature of "Congress 88: A National
Festival of Evangelism" (scheduled for Chicago in August, 1988;
purposing the evangelising of the unchurched in America; and uniting on the Board of
Directors the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America
with such churches as the Presbyterian Church in the USA, the United
Methodist, the Mennonite, the Christian Churches, the Church of God
[Anderson], the Progressive National Baptist Church, and the Salvation
... thousands of Catholics and Protestants ... have
been quietly striving to undo the scandal of Christian disunity which has
ripped apart the seamless robe of Christ ... Let us join together in
Chicago, sharing ideas and resources, and helping to carry out our Lord's
Great Commission and his prayer for a unified church [italics mine].
Yet another expression of indifference to the truth
is the powerful movement in Protestantism today that extols the working of
the Holy Spirit and the religious feeling of the church-member, at the
expense of solid, expository biblical preaching; sound doctrine; and belief
of the truth. This movement is devastating Protestantism today. It takes
several forms, all pernicious.
One form is the "happy church," where
salvation is feeling good about oneself; a blessed congregation is a people
who smile and shake hands with their neighbour;
and the ambassador of Christ is a man who gives a cheery "good
morning" to the flock and enables the audience to leave the service
thinking shallow, positive thoughts.
Another is the teaching that explicitly disparages
doctrine, and theological orthodoxy, in favour of
the mystical workings of the Holy Spirit, and the experience of these
workings. The Chinese teacher, Watchman Nee, is an influential purveyor of
this unbiblical, and dangerous, philosophy. In his book, The Release of
the Spirit, Nee 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 the 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" (pp. 87-88).
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 ...
until we have found this way we have not found true Christianity" (p.
89). This is mysticism at its very worst. For a church, or for an
individual, the embrace of this "spirit" is the kiss of death.
Incidentally, this philosophy exposes church and individual to cultic
enslavement to the charismatic leader.
A third form of the expression of indifference to the
truth that consists of playing up the Holy Spirit while playing down sound
doctrine is the charismatic, or neo-Pentecostal, movement. (For a thorough
analysis of this movement, from the viewpoint of the Reformed Faith, the
reader is invited to read the pamphlet, "Try the Spirits: A
Reformed Examination of Pentecostalism.") The charismatic movement
is, at bottom, an attack upon the Word of God—upon the sole sufficiency and
authority of Holy Scripture; upon the content of Holy Scripture, namely,
Jesus Christ and Him crucified; and upon the only way of receiving the
salvation of the cross, namely, believing sound doctrine, when it is
preached. Neo-Pentecostalism is an ancient error in new dress: mysticism.
It is in virtually every detail the mysticism that tempted and opposed the
Reformation, as soon as that movement was underway. The Reformation was
fought on two fronts, and not on one only.
Every bit as fierce, and important, as the conflict with Roman Catholicism
on the right was the Reformation's warfare with the "heavenly
prophets" on the left. These were the radicals who faulted the
Reformation for not going beyond mere doctrine to the full experience of
the Holy Spirit; who denigrated doctrine and preaching; who boasted of the
power to work miracles (which power the Reformation freely
acknowledged it did not have); and who gloried in such indwelling of
the Spirit as to provoke Luther to muse that these foes of the Reformation
had surely "swallowed the Holy Spirit, feathers and all." This
movement drew off multitudes from the Reformation faith. The difference
between the Reformation faith and Protestantism today is that the
Reformation church said no to this mysticism, sharply and unconditionally,
whereas almost every Protestant church today is saying yes to it, in the
Because of its sublime indifference to doctrine, that
is, truth, the charismatic movement is one of the most powerful and
effective forces at work in the world today, for the union of all
Protestants and for the uniting of Protestants and Roman Catholics. This
was illustrated by the North American Congress on the Holy Spirit and World
Evangelization that met in New
Orleans in the summer of 1987. Some 40
denominations or fellowships were represented in the Congress, which
intended both to draw the churches together and to unite the churches in
the work of evangelising the world. Of the 35,000
participants, 51% were Roman Catholics (cf. Christianity Today [4
September, 1987], pp. 44ff.).
The refusal of members in the Protestant churches to
fight for the truth is also an evidence of indifference to the truth. There
are Protestants who not only know what the truth is but who also embrace
it, personally. They are well aware that their church is corrupting the
truth, or forsaking it; and they are concerned about it. But they do not
contend for the faith, at least not with the zeal that either results in
the church's reformation or in their own ouster. Apparently, these people
can live with the lie. They excuse themselves this way: "Regardless of
its unfaithfulness, this is my church, and the church of my parents and
grandparents before me. I love my church. I cannot bear to think of making
any trouble for her, much less of leaving her."
Certainly, a love for the church and a desire for the
peace and unity of the church, manifested in one's own congregation,
are good and praiseworthy qualities. But to make love for the church an
argument against contending vigorously for the truth, and an argument for
putting up with the lie, not only for oneself, but also for one's family,
is a bad argument. This very argument was the strongest argument of Rome against the Reformation: "You make schism in
Mother Church!" At the Diet of Worms,
in 1521, when the enemies of Luther, both imperial and ecclesiastical, were
urging him to retract his books and recant his teachings, they warned him
"kindly and gently ... that he should keep in mind the unity of the
holy, catholic, and apostolic church... that he should not rend apart what
he ought to respect, venerate, and adore ..." (cf. Oskar Thulin, A Life of Luther). The appeal to
maintain the unity of the church was powerful, not only because of
Scripture's emphasis on the oneness of the Church, but also because men in
the 16th century knew but one institute, and that, hallowed by centuries.
The rebuttal of the Reformation 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 4.1.11). 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 gravity of this indifference to the truth is that
it is indifference to the glory of God. God is glorified in the truth of
the gospel; and He is dishonoured when men change
His truth into a lie. The Reformation
Church burned with desire
for God's glory. Where is this to be found in Protestantism today? God
judges this contempt for His glory in the gospel, even as He punishes those
who glorify Him not as God when He is revealed in creation (Rom. l:18ff.). For a lack of love for the truth, men and women
are punished in these last days by a strong delusion, from God Himself,
that they should believe a lie, "that they all might be damned who
believed not the truth ..." (II Thess. 2:10-12).
All of this—abandonment of the gospel of grace,
adoption of the other gospel of works and free will, and indifference to
the truth—can be summed up as rejection of the Word of God. This was the
sin of the pre-Reformation church: she rejected the Word by denying the
sole authority of Scripture, and she rejected the Word by repudiating the
message of Scripture—salvation by grace alone. Everything wrong with that
church could be traced to this evil. This is the evil of Protestantism
There are many more evidences of Protestantism's
rejection of the Word. Not only does it challenge Scripture's authority,
but it also obscures Scripture's clarity. When Genesis 1-3 is interpreted
in such a way that it is no longer straightforward, factual history, but a
religious myth, so that the six days are now billions of years; "after
his kind" is now "each species evolving into another
species;" Adam is now the supreme ape; and the eating of forbidden
fruit is now the inherent weakness of the supreme ape, from the very beginning,
well, then the "ordinary" believer says, "I cannot
understand the Bible." The "ordinary" pastor says the same
thing. The result is either that men give up on Scripture, or that they
give over the interpretation of it to the scientist and professional
theologian. Thus arises a new papacy, now Protestant—sole authoritative
interpreter of the Bible. There is also an attack upon preaching itself.
Protestantism has come full circle. Rome
insisted, against the Reformation, as she still insists today, that the
faithful must be taught by pictures, statues, and images, "books to
the laity." Ignoring Answer 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 Protestants today clamour for pictures, plays, dances, dialogues, musical
groups, and the like tomfoolery in the worship services, in the place of
preaching. There are also many Protestants who, by this time, agree with Rome that the chief
part of worship is the liturgy and that the Eucharist, not the preaching,
is the chief means of grace. Another evidence of the rejection of God's
Word is the proliferation of unreliable, and even deliberately falsified,
versions of the Bible, e.g., the enormously popular The Living Bible. Old
the Scriptures; now Protestants bury the Word with corrupt versions. In the
end, there is no difference.
Rejection of the Word of God always has consequences;
and Protestant churches suffer these consequences. Protestantism is without
peace. It lacks the blessed assurance of pardon, of eternal life, of the
Fatherly love of God. Neither a "social gospel" nor a
"liberation theology" gives peace with God. The gospel of
salvation by man's willing must ever sing with Rome the sad song that no one can be sure
of his eternal salvation, as the Arminians themselves (proponents of free
will in the 17th century) admitted. Nor can tongues-speaking and doubtful
experience do what the doctrine of justification by faith only did in the
Reformation-era, and still does today: give to the wretchedest
of sinners the confidence that he, even he personally, is God's dear child,
and heir of life eternal. A Protestantism that has rejected a sovereign God
insists that the evils that befall its people are not under God's control,
as though this were a great good, instead of a cry of terror; it has lost
the Reformation's comfort that "all things work together for good to
them who love God" (Rom. 8:28). It is shot through with fears,
anxieties, doubts, and dependencies on drink, drugs, pills, work, and
pleasure. "Oh, Protestantism, if you had known, even you, at least in
this your day, the things which belong unto your peace! but
now they are hid from your eyes."
Protestantism is unholy. On the one hand, it is
devoid of genuine good works: worship of God in spirit and in truth;
Sabbath-observance; submission to State and employer; faithfulness in
marriage and home. On the other hand, it is characterized by bizarre good
works. The pre-Reformation church had its crazy good works: crusades;
pilgrimages; relics; indulgences; and the like. So does Protestantism
today: promoting civil disobedience and revolution at home and abroad;
jumping on the world's bandwagon of feminism; defending abortion;
advocating sexual licence and perversity; and
similar "exercises of piety." It is worldly through and through.
It is not on a pilgrimage; it does not seek the "city which hath
foundations." As for discipline, the church's excommunication of
impenitent heretics and transgressors from the fellowship, it is well-nigh
Let not "evangelical Protestantism" preen itself on its superior holiness. The churches with
a name for orthodoxy and conservatism are full of unbiblically
divorced and remarried persons. The epidemic rages in "evangelical
Protestantism," unchecked. God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). Jesus Christ
explicitly judges the man and woman who remarry after divorce, the original
mate still living, an adulterer and an adulteress (Mark 10:11-12; Luke
16:18). Paul and John exclude the impenitent adulterer from the kingdom of
heaven (I Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 22:15). But "evangelical" pulpits are
silent! "Evangelical" elders are inactive!
"Evangelical" church members either celebrate the adulterous
wedding, or helplessly wring their hands! "Evangelical"
theologians write pious and clever books defending the abomination, so that
no one need have a guilty conscience! This exposes much of
"evangelical" Protestantism's agitation over abortion as
hypocritical. Abortion is the pagan way to rid oneself of an unwanted
child; divorce is the Protestant way to be free of undesired children.
Abortion is the murder of one child; divorce is the murder of the whole
family, and, as a rule, the murder also of the family of the woman, or man,
lusted after. "Evangelical Protestantism" can talk this good
among themselves, or politely decline to talk about it at all. But there
comes a Day when they will talk about it to God, the righteous Judge; and
they will never talk it good to the God who is Himself faithful in the
covenant, even at the cost of the giving up of His own dear Son, and the
God whose purpose with a permanent marriage-institution is a "godly
seed" (Mal. 2:15).
Why has so much of the Protestant church-world come
to reject the Word of God? In part, it is the work of the Devil, the
Church's "ancient foe," whose craft was evident from the very
beginning in that he attacked God's Word: "Yea,
hath God said?" (Gen. 3:1). In part, it is due to the spirit of
Antichrist, which is already in the world and which makes ready the way for
the Man of Sin by bringing about a great falling away in the churches (II
Thess. 2). In part, it is the havoc worked by false teachers—pastors in the
churches; theologians in the seminaries; and teachers in the schools,
especially the nominally Christian colleges and universities: "...
there shall be false teachers among you, who privily
shall bring in damnable heresies ... and many shall follow their pernicious
ways ..." (II Peter 2:1-2).
But none of this could succeed apart from men's
unbelief concerning the Word of God. Men doubt the truth, power,
sufficiency, and worth of the Word. They doubt whether the Word is able to
gather, defend, and preserve the Church. They doubt whether the Word will
keep the children and youth. They doubt whether the Word can comfort the
distressed. They doubt whether the Word can stand the test of science. They
doubt whether learned men will approve the Word's teachings—creation, total
depravity, predestination, the unbreakable marriage-covenant. They doubt
whether the Word is relevant for modern man. So they give up on the Word of
God's Word is truth! God's Word is holy! God's Word
is almighty! God's Word is precious! God's Word is the only power unto
salvation! God's Word is the only light in the darkness of earthly life!
God's Word judges everybody and everything, and is judged by no one and
nothing! God's Word is pregnant with significance, giving meaning to all
things; without the Word, modern man, with all his vain life, is
irrelevant. God's Word abides! It abides, unscathed, in spite of all
attacks upon it! It abides, when the fashion of this world passes away and
the wisdom of this world dissipates like smoke! So also do they abide, who
reverence the Word of God, and trust it with a child-like faith—the true Church of God in the world.
Let every son and daughter of the Reformation in a
church that stubbornly corrupts or abandons the gospel recovered by the
Reformation "come out of her" (Rev. 18:4), and join himself, or
herself, to a church that does clearly display the marks of the true
church—the pure preaching of the Word, the pure administration of the
sacraments, and the proper exercise of discipline—or institute the church
anew. It is ironic that men and women who praise the Reformation refuse to
take the action that was essential to the Reformation, namely, separation
from a hopelessly corrupt church, and go on depriving themselves and their
families of the very thing that the Reformation aimed at, namely, a sound,
faithful church, in which God is worshipped rightly and saints are edified
by the pure Word of God. It is as though slaves were to extol the
emancipation proclamation that set them free, while choosing to remain in
bondage, and a grievous bondage at that.
Let every Protestant saint within a church that is
faithfully proclaiming the Reformation-gospel praise God for His goodness;
love that church; and give himself to her support,
for the truth's sake.
As for us in the Protestant Reformed Churches in America,
let us thank God for what He gives us in these churches: the pure gospel of
His grace, in His Son, Jesus the Christ. We must be thankful, for in giving
us the truth God has given us His all. We must be humble, for we have
nothing, and are nothing, that has not been given, out of mere grace. We
must be faithful, in safeguarding the treasure that has come to us by the
Reformation. We must be active in confessing and proclaiming it to others.
In all this, we must be constantly reforming, for we have not yet attained,
neither are we yet perfect. Speaking the truth in love, we are to
"grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ"
We should more thoroughly acquaint ourselves with the
treasures of the Reformation, by reading Luther's three, great Reformation
treatises—"An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility," "The
Babylonian Captivity of the Church," and "The Freedom of a
Christian," as well as his The Bondage of the Will, and
Calvin's Institutes, "A Treatise of
the Eternal Predestination of God," and "A
Defense of the Secret Providence of God;"
by studying the creeds of the Reformation; and, above all, by reading and
studying the Holy Scriptures themselves, for they "are able to make
thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (II
And let us pray! Let us pray for God's Church today,
that she be called out of the darkness of ignorance and the lie into the
light of the knowledge of God in truth. Let us pray for ourselves, that God
not plague us with the worst of all plagues —a famine of the Word, but that
He fill us with the Spirit of Christ, who guides us into all truth, as the
Son of God has promised (John 16:13).