|"A GREAT RETURN TO THE BIBLE" |
by Dr Pence Dacus
(Church History Correspondence Course)
PROTESTANT DIVISION CURBS REFORMATION
"That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:21)
In Lesson 17 we surveyed the causes and principles of the Reformation. We noted that the corruption within the Catholic Church was the primary factor; and combined with the awakening of the Renaissance, the invention of the printing press, plus a growing desire to be independent in religious matters, the world was waiting for someone to "trigger" it off. Leaders came forward -- Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and others. These movements started amazingly enough, at about the some time in many different places all over the European continent. But, they did not go uncontested. The Catholic Church reeled back from shock at the outset, but within a few years, her forces were re-grouped. She set about systematically to recover her lost territory. Protestants perished by the thousands as she regained much of her power. But Protestantism became so solidly entrenched in some areas that there was no possibility of a complete recovery.
However, something began to happen within the framework of Protestantism, something which was not directly the result of Roman Catholic efforts bur something which was and continues to be of great assistance to that cause. It is called denominationalism -- it means to be divided into sects or denominations. There is an old saying "A nation divided against itself cannot stand." There is another saying. "United we stand, divided we fall." Catholicism did not have to defeat the Reformation movement, she could just as easily have waited and let it become divided then move in, thereby applying the old military tactic -- "Divide and conquer."
But the question is: Why? Why did the Reformation efforts fall into this trap and leaders soon find their endeavours going in many different directions? It will be the purpose of this lesson to ponder that question as to WHY and HOW. First, we will give some brief facts about the Protestant denominations.
Lutheran Church The first prominent denomination created after the Reformation had begun was the Lutheran Church. It was established in 1521 under the leadership of Martin Luther and its followers all subscribed to the Augsburg Confession of Faith after 1530. This denomination supports the following doctrines:
* Salvation by faith only.
* That the denominations are all branches of Christ's church.
* That the ten commandments are still binding on men today.
* The mode of baptism is immaterial.
* Infants should be baptized.
* Christian baptism takes the place of Jewish circumcision.
* The literal body and blood of Christ are in the elements of the Lord's Supper.
Church of England - Episcopal Church In 1535, Henry VIII, the King of England, severed the church from the rule of Rome, and established the second denomination in protest to Catholicism. The English Parliament pronounced Henry VIII the official head of the Church of England. It has retained through the years much of the ritual and form of the Roman Church.
This denomination was started in America, in Virginia, and was under the control of the English Bishops until the Revolutionary War. When America gained her freedom it became known as the Episcopal Church, named after the form of church government -- episcopal (ruled by the bishops) which it uses. For a creed the group follows the Thirty-nine Articles of Faith of the Church of England and for a guide to their services they utilize the Book of Common Prayer.
Presbyterian Church This denomination was founded by John Calvin in 1536. It became firmly established in Scotland through the work of John Knox. The denomination is named after the type of church government which it follows, the presbyterial.
It teaches the following:
* Direct operation of the Holy Spirit on the heart of a person.
* Infant baptism.
* Salvation by faith only.
* Mode of baptism is immaterial.
* The Westminister Confession of Faith, formulated in 1643 is the standard creed among most Presbyterian churches.
Baptist Church This group was started in Holland by John Smyth in 1607. They were a group of Separatists who determined in their study of the Scriptures that infant baptism and sprinkling for baptism were not taught in the New Testament. The foundation for this denomination was laid by the Anabaptists, the name meaning to be re-baptized which they required of all Catholic converts. Smyth believed that the pattern for the apostolic church had been lost and wanted to recover that model.
In 1611 another group started in England under the leadership of Thomas Helwys. In 1639, Roger Williams planted another church at Providence, Rhode Island in America. There are no less than 12 divisions among the Baptists today. The Baptists do not claim a formal creed or confession of faith, but they do make use of manuals in which their basic items of faith and rules of conduct are set forth. The two most important manuals are "The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches" by Hiscox and "Church Manual Designed for the Use of Baptist Churches" by Pendleton.
The Baptist doctrine consists of:
* Salvation by faith only.
* Impossibility of apostacy.
* Direct operation of the Holy Spirit in conversion.
* "Closed" communion.
Methodist Church It was founded in England in 1739 by John Wesley who was trying to reform another denomination, the Church of England. Wesley, who lived and died a priest in the Episcopal Church, really did not have in mind the fostering of a new sect, but the end results were its formation.
The Methodist-Episcopal Church was begun in America at the Baltimore Conference in 1784. The conference adopted Wesley's Book of Discipline which reduced the articles of the Episcopal Prayer Book from 39 to 24 and added one for American churches only. Today, the English church is divided into nine subdivisions and the American Methodists have fifteen separate groups.
* The church is to be governed by a general conference which controls it.
* Salvation by faith only. (See Article IX in the Methodist Discipline.)
* Direct operation of the Holy Spirit.
* Mode of baptism is immaterial.
* The Lord's Supper is a sacrament.
* The church has many branches of which the Methodist Church is one branch.
Brief Summary: These are but five of the denominations that have started since 1521. Today there are over 250. Why? First, let us examine the background and attitudes of the reformers.
Why Did It Begin?
Let It Be Remembered:
* Most of the early Protestant leaders were former priests of the Roman Catholic Church. They broke relations with it because of the moral break-down in it, and encouraged a reformation of at least SOME OF THE PRINCIPLES OF CHRISTIANITY. (Maynard, p. 34). They had been born, baptized, confirmed and educated in the Catholic Church. While it would certainly not justify any error which was taught by these men it should assuredly be pointed out that it is difficult to overcome a lifetime of influence in a short while. When considered from this viewpoint it is amazing to behold how much truth was discovered by them.
* Luther, himself, never planned a separation from the Catholic Church nor a Protestant Reformation; however, his rebellion sparked an investigation by the public which brought about Protestantism. Once Luther said, "I would regard the pope as Pope, but they want me to regard him as God." He did not oppose the organization, but only the extremes to which it had gone. (Maynard, p. 45).
* There is a tendency for the pendulum to swing from one extreme to another, as is apparent in Luther's swing from the works only plan of salvation of Catholicism to a faith only scheme of redemption. Because of the position which he took on salvation by faith alone, he rejected the book of James since he believed it to be opposed to Paul's teaching on faith in the book of Romans. As has already been noted in Lesson 17 in connection with Calvin's doctrine about God's grace, this is the origin of much false doctrine. Perhaps these men were too close to the problem to see it, but they cannot be absolved of responsibility for the results. When Luther started out with the assumption that salvation is by faith only, he immediately saw a conflict between Paul's doctrine in the Roman letter and James' teaching (discussed more fully in Lesson 19). He was forced to follow it to its logical conclusion. Which book would he cast aside to preserve his doctrine, Romans or James? James 2:24 clearly condemned the false doctrine so the book of James was labeled "a straw epistle" and rejected. Invariably men find themselves in conflict with truth when false doctrine is asserted
-- the reason being that truth and error are incompatible. Why are not men today as honest as Luther was? Luther invented the doctrine, saw the contradiction between it and James 2:24 so he cast that book out of the Bible. Denomination after denomination today teaches the identical doctrine of Luther, salvation by faith only, and are content to let the Bible condemn what they teach. Is there any difference in this and what Catholicism has done for centuries? Yes Catholicism has not claimed to be following the Bible. They cannot be condemned for hypocrisy. When they take a position, they follow it all the way to its logical conclusion, even if it means baptizing babies that are born dead and miscarriages. (See Lesson 15.) The denominations on the other hand make the claim and ignore the inconsistency of their position. Is this a part of the answer to the problem of denominationalism?
Thus, we note that the background, circumstances and intentions of those who took the lead in the Reformation was such that their purpose was in final form thwarted. Although some of them clearly had it in mind, these factors made it impossible for them to go all the way back to simple New Testament Christianity. What were the patterns of thinking and attitudes which forced them into denominational molds?
* Granted, they recognized the authority of the Bible over the opinions and traditions of men, yet few of them regarded the Bible as sole authority in all matters of faith and practice. Many accepted the basic moral and religious truths of the Bible but still regarded its outward forms as matters of history, thus they were right back into Roman Catholicism before they were ever out of it.
* Some of the reformers took the position that they would retain all the forms and doctrines of the Catholic Church, not expressly forbidden in the Bible. Luther is an example of this type of thinking. Because of this many denominations came into existence with different forms of worship and belief, some of which were only reactionary to Catholicism. Why? Because the silence of the Scriptures was not respected. Someone has rightly said, "It's not what the Bible says that divides us, but what it doesn't say." Luther and Zwingli were miles apart in this matter which is one of the reasons for their disagreements over the Lord's Supper. Zwingli respected the silence of the Bible. Luther did not. We shall study this point later in Lesson 22, the Restoration Movement, to see why it is so important.
* Some scholars studied the Bible mainly to discover proof texts for conclusions already drawn. Their purpose was not so much to get the meaning out of the Scriptures as to insert human ideas into them. Luther and Calvin, both while certainly to be commended for their great courage in trying to reform Catholicism in the face of opposition, nevertheless, stumbled at this point. When Luther settled on salvation by faith only and Calvin leaned on salvation by God's grace only, they took positions which forced them into this kind of study. Their chief concern, then, became: "How can I protect my doctrine?" Their only concern should have been: "What is God's doctrine in the matter?"
Brief Summary: Consequently, it was this loose and casual attitude toward the Scriptures which proved to be the problem. Results -- Denominationalism and Division.
How Did It Begin?
Crystallization of Doctrine The initial reform movement had a great uniting effect as everyone struggled against the Roman Catholic powers. But, as the Reformation continued, and new leaders with the same kind of ability and power failed to emerge, the followers of these great men began to shape, mold and crystallize their doctrines in order to prevent further division after they had passed on. The results? Those working together toward a common cause soon found themselves opposing one another and again bound in by authoritative systems and ecclesiastical machinery (Maynard, p. 45). This was within 100 years of the time the reform had begun.
Creeds The Lutheran denomination, while actually retaining much of the doctrine of the Roman Church, wrote and adopted a special creed for themselves in 1530, the Augsburg Confession for Faith. With this yardstick every member of the Lutheran Church was to be measured; those not fitting the measurements were rejected. When this happened the search for truth came to a grinding halt and the inertia of ecclesiastical compromise set in. The day that Confession of Faith was written and accepted, the Reformation practically ceased for them -- and thus it has been with all groups who have adopted human creeds instead of the Bible. The lesson we learned in Lesson 14 still applies. The Bible plus or minus anything is too much or too little. The Bible only is the answer.
Consider: What is the difference? When authoritative legislative bodies are formed to make laws in matters of faith and practice how does this differ from Roman Catholicism except in scale. If one group writes and binds a creed or confession of faith upon itself, and refuses to admit anyone who does not meet the requirements of the creed, wherein does it differ from Catholicism?
The results speak for themselves. Take for example, the Methodist denomination which adheres to the Methodist Discipline. In the 1908 edition of this book the ritual for the baptism of infants begins with these words: "Dearly beloved, forasmuch as all men are conceived and born in sin..." The 1940 edition of the same Discipline begins the same ritual with, "Dearly beloved, forasmuch as all men are heirs of eternal life ..." In the 1940 edition, it is also stated: "We have, therefore expected that the Discipline would be administered, not merely as a legal document, but as a revelation of the Holy Spirit working in and through our people. The article in which the statement was made is signed by the president, the vice-president and the secretary of Bishops.
* If we believe the Methodist Discipline is a revelation of the Holy Spirit, how can we also believe the Bible's claim for it's inspiration in II Tim. 3:16-17?
* If the Methodist Discipline is a revelation of the Holy Spirit, why is it necessary for men to keep changing it? Does the Holy Spirit change His mind from time to time? (Cox, p. 72).
Names In addition to the many written creeds which were adopted and which continued to divide and sectarianize groups of people as each new denomination, or sect sprang up, many new names were invented by which these groups came to be recognized. Oftentimes, this was done in spite of the efforts or desires of the men who led the reforms. For example, Martin Luther said, regarding his name, "I pray you leave my name alone and not to call yourselves Lutherans, but Christians. Who is Luther? My doctrine is not mine. I have not been crucified for any one ... How does it then benefit me, a miserable bag of dust and ashes, to give my name to the children of Christ? Cease, my dear friends, to cling to these party names and distinctions; away with all of them; and let us call ourselves only Christians, after Him from whom our doctrine comes" (Life of Luther, by Michelet, p. 262). THE PLEAS OF THE FOUNDER FELL ON DEAF EARS, as seen by the existence of a denomination wherein the people prefer to be called Lutherans, a name unauthorized by Christ. This reminds us of the church of Christ in Corinth, read I Cor. 1:10-13. The tendency of men has been the same through the ages -- exalting men above Christ, the Saviour.
Concluding Remarks: The Augsburg Confession of Faith of the Lutheran Church was only the beginning. In succession, other creeds, confessions of faith, prayer books, manuals, disciplines, catechisms, etc. have been introduced and accepted, all of which has a consolidating effect, but of course only for those who choose to abide by the stipulations of these man-made documents. Consequently, the delimiting factor of the creeds themselves caused a series of constrictions. Each constriction, bound as it was by the creed which brought it about, produced a system completely foreign to the simple pattern for Christianity prescribed in the New Testament. These constrictions (divisions, denominations, sects) are just as opposed to the teaching of Christ and his apostles as the Roman Church. The importance of this factor cannot be over-emphasized. This is why RESTORATION is necessary.
Conclusion: It was these things -- THE CREEDS and THE NAMES -- which drew the lines and THWARTED THE REFORMATION. However, THE LOOSE ATTITUDE the people adopted TOWARD THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE was the thing that ALLOWED IT TO HAPPEN.
Carrell, William, Bible Correspondence Course
Cox, John D., Church History
Maynard, Zeke, The Church of Christ
Thompson, L.G., Churches of Today
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