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The Protestant Reformation (1)

This article first appeared in the November 1, 1961 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.38, #3) and was written by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.

Was the Protestant Reformation necessary? Was there, after all, only a relative and no principal difference between the churches of the Reformation and the Roman church? Could not the doctrinal differences between the church of Rome and the Reformers have been settled amicably? This, indeed, was impossible according to the answer of the Romish church itself. This answer was very elaborately and even in minutest detail given by the Council of Trent which met in 1546 and for several years after. 

Indeed, that Council, in its third session, February 1546, first offered a Confession of Faith to which even the Reformers and the churches of the Reformation would have to agree. I quote this Confession here: 

"I believe in one God, Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, and born of the Father before all ages; God of God, light of light, true God of true God; begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father, by whom all things were made: who for us men, and for our salvation, came clown from the heavens, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, he suffered and was buried; and rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures; and he ascended into heaven, sitteth at the right hand of the Father: and again he will come with glory to judge the living and the dead; of whose kingdom there shall be no end : and in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, and the giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified; who spoke by the prophets: and one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen." 

We may be sure, if this had been the Confession of the Roman Church at the time of the Reformation, and if the Council of Trent had faithfully adhered to this; if they faithfully developed the doctrine on the basis of this Confession, there would never have been the Reformation of the sixteenth century. 

But this the Council of Trent did not do. Instead they developed an erroneous doctrine of justification by faith only without works; of the sacraments, including the doctrine of the mass; the doctrine of purgatory; the doctrine of the immaculate conception of the virgin Mary; the doctrine of the worship of the deceased saints and the veneration and worship of images; and the doctrine of indulgences. To all these false doctrines was added that of the infallibility of the pope in 1870. 

Moreover, they express their anathema or curse upon all that do not agree with any or all these heresies. 

That this is true I expect to demonstrate by a few quotations from "The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent." 

As to the doctrine of justification by faith without works, the Roman church takes the Semi-Pelagian position. For it teaches a certain prevenient grace by which they are disposed to convert themselves to their own justification, by which they freely assent to and cooperate with that grace and which grace they may and can also reject. For thus we read in chapter V of the above mentioned Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent: 

"The Synod furthermore declares, that, in adults, the beginning of said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God . . . that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through his quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly inactive while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch he can also reject it; yet he is not able by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in his sight" . . . 

And in Canon IV of the same chapter we read the following: 

"If any one saith, that man's free will, moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive: let him be anathema (accursed)." 

There you have it. 

There is a grace of God that is not irresistible, to which man can assent, with which he can co-operate unto justification, but which he also can refuse and reject. And this means, of course, that, ultimately, it is up to man and not up to God's sovereign grace whether a man shall be justified before God. 

In the seventh session of the Council it speaks of "the most holy Sacraments of the Church, through which all true justice [righteousness, justification, H.H.] either begins or being begun is increased, or being lost is repaired." 

It is well-known that the Romish church attaches more importance to the administration of the sacraments than to the preaching of the Word. With the Reformers and the Protestants that followed them, this is just the reverse. According to them, there are two means of grace: the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. Moreover, the preaching of the Word is first and is the chief means of grace. In fact, the latter are dependent upon the former. One can be saved without the administration of the sacraments if need be, but not without the preaching of the Word. With the Roman church this is different as is already evident from the above mentioned quotation: by the administration of the sacraments the grace of justification is either begun, or increased, or being lost is repaired. 

Moreover, as is also well-known, the Romish church has seven sacraments while the Protestants have only two. The seven sacraments of the Romish church are the following: Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order, and Matrimony. And they, i.e., the Romans, according to the Council of Trent do not hesitate to pronounce the curse upon anyone that does not confess that all seven are truly sacraments. This is expressed in Canon I under the heading "On the Sacraments in General." And I quote: 

"If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord; or that they were more, or less, than seven, to wit, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order and Matrimony; or even that any of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament: let him be anathema." That is: let him be accursed. 

There is more. 

In Canon IV under the same heading, we read: 

"If any one saith that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification; though all the sacraments are not indeed necessary for every individual: let him be anathema." 

The last part of this Canon reveals clearly that the Council itself felt that the sacraments, not all of them, at least, were not necessary unto salvation. For how could that possibly be said, for instance, of matrimony? Nevertheless, the Council of Trent, and the whole Romish church maintain that the sacraments are necessary unto salvation. Faith alone is not sufficient unto justification and without justification salvation is impossible. 

This the Reformers and all the Protestants deny. 

And if we remember that the Roman church never changes and will change, because what the church officially and, since 1570, the pope express is infallible, it is very evident that the Reformation was strictly necessary. 

I will quote one more of these Canons under the same heading: 

"If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace which they signify; or that they do not confer that grace on those who do not place an obstacle thereunto; as though they were merely outward signs of grace or justice received through faith, and certain marks of the Christian profession, whereby believers are distinguished amongst men from unbelievers: let him be anathema." 

Also to this the Reformers would and could never agree, even though Luther insisted, while denying the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation, with regard to the Lord's Supper, that the body and blood of Christ was present in and under the signs of the bread and wine. For in the above quoted Canon it is literally stated the signs, particularly in baptism and the Lord's Supper, contain and confer the grace signified by the signs. To the Reformers and to the Protestant Churches the signs did not contain the grace signified, nor were they mere signs, but they were also seals whereby God confirmed to the believer the oath of the promise of the covenant. 

I will not enumerate all the heresies that are maintained by the Romish church as they are expressed in the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. This would require too much space. And this is also unnecessary for the purpose I have in mind, namely, to prove that the Reformation of the sixteenth century was strictly necessary and was not relative but concerned such fundamental errors on the part of what then called itself the church that it might well be called the false church. 

Nevertheless, I must surely call attention to the error of "Transubstantiation" and, in connection with this, to the popish mass. 

By the doctrine of transubstantiation, as we know, is meant the theory that the signs of the Lord's Supper are changed into the very body and blood and soul of Christ. 

The Heidelberg Catechism describes this error very fully and correctly in question and answer 80: 

"What difference is there between the Lord's Supper and the popish mass? 

"The Lord's Supper testifies to us, that we have a full pardon of all sin by the only sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which he himself has once accomplished on the cross; and that we by the Holy Ghost are engrafted into Christ, who according to his human nature is now not on earth, but in heaven on the right hand of God his Father, and will there be worshipped by us:—but the mass teaches, that the living and dead have not the pardon of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is also daily offered for them by the priests; and further, that Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine, and therefore is to be worshipped in them; so that the mass, at bottom, is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry." 

As to the theory of transubstantiation, of this the Catechism also speaks in Lord's Day XXIX, which the reader may look up in his own Psalter. 

But is not the language of the Catechism too strong? 

Can it really be said that the mass is nothing else, at bottom, than an accursed idolatry? Do the Romish people really worship the signs of bread and wine in the Lord's Supper? 

The answer is: they do, according to their own Confession. 

But about this we will, the Lord willing, write in our next issue. 

Last modified on 04 October 2017
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Hoeksema, Herman

Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) was born in Groningen, the Netherlands on March 13, 1886 and passed away in Grand Rapids, MI on September 2, 1965. He attended the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church and was ordained into the minitry in September of 1915.

"H.H." is considered one of the founding "fathers" of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America.  He and his consistory (Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI) were suspended and deposed from their offices in 1924-1925 because of their opposition to the "Three Points of Common Grace" adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in the Synod of Kalamazoo, MI in 1924.  He, together with Rev. George M. Ophoff, Rev. H. Danhof and their consistories continued in office in the "Protesting Christian Reformed Church" which shortly thereafter were named the "Protestant Reformed Churches in America."

Herman Hoeksema served as pastor in the 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI (1915-1920), Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1920-1924), and First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1924-1964), He taught in the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches from its founding and retired in 1964.

For an enlarged biography, see: Herman Hoeksema: Theologian and Reformer

Notes: You may also find many sermons of "H.H." at the RFPA website. And you may find copies in print of an entire set of "H.H.'s" catechism sermons here.

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