Over time, the apostate church slowly drifted further and further from the scriptures in organization, in doctrine, and in worship practices. Along with its doctrinal corruption came moral corruption as well. Certainly not everyone condoned these practices. Within the church itself arose courageous reformers who sought to bring the church back into conformity with the scriptures. Among the first of these reformers was John Wycliffe.
Born around 1320, John Wycliffe, called the “morning star of the Reformation,” spoke out against the monastic system, the sale of indulgences for the forgiveness of sins and the doctrines of baptismal regeneration and transubstantiation. Furthermore, he rejected the Biblical basis of papal authority and insisted on the primacy of Scripture. Wycliffe is best known for translating the first widespread version of an English Bible. Ultimately he was excommunicated. John Wycliffe died in 1384. In 1415, the Council of Constance, not satisfied with his excommunication and death, ordered Wycliffe’s remains dug up, his bones burned, and the ashes cast into the river Swift which flows through Lutterworth, England.
John Huss was born in Bohemia in about 1371. Huss denounced various church abuses, among them the veneration of images and the sale of indulgences. In general he emphasized virtuous living over sacraments. Moreover, Huss held that Church officials ought to exercise spiritual powers only, and not be earthly governors. In 1412, his archbishop excommunicated him for insubordination. He was summoned to the Council of Constance tried, found guilty of teaching that the office of the pope did not exist by Divine command, and burned at the stake on July 6, 1415, even though the Emperor had guaranteed his personal safety even if found guilty.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) is considered the “father of the Reformation.” In 1517, Luther sparked the Reformation when he nailed 95 theses (objections against the church practice of selling indulgences) on the church door at Wittenberg, Germany. Christ, Luther proclaimed, is the sole mediator between God and man. He denied the supremacy of the pope and believed the scriptures are the church’s sole authority. Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X in 1521.
Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), a leader of the Swiss Reformation, charged in sermons that church teachings and practice had diverged widely from the simple Christianity of the New Testament scriptures. He affirmed scriptural authority. Among the practices cited by Zwingli as unscriptural were the adoration of saints and relics, promises of miraculous cures, and church abuses of the indulgence system. He sought the elimination of both the Mass and confession before a priest. Eventually Zwingli taught that devout Christians have need of neither pope nor church.
William Tyndale (c.1494 -1536) was an English reformer who strongly believed that the scriptures should be available to everyone and not kept in the hands of the establishment church. He acted on his belief. Tyndale holds the distinction of being the first man to ever print the New Testament in the English language. He was tried for heresy and treason, and convicted. Tyndale was strangled and burnt at the stake in Brussels, Belgium October 6, 1536.
John Calvin (1506-1564), called the “guiding spirit of the Protestant Reformation,” wrote Institutes of the Christian Religion. He agreed with Luther on many of his criticisms of the apostate church. The scriptures, declared Calvin, is the final authority. Calvin’s doctrines may well be the strongest Reformation influence among protestants today. Those who follow his creed are still called “Calvinists.”
Failures of the Reformation
Accepted Departures from Scripture
These were courageous men, dedicated men who were willing to die for what they believed. And some did. Nevertheless, despite their good intentions and admirable courage, these men failed to reform the church’s organization, doctrine, and worship practices to conform with New Testament teachings about the original church of the first century. The reformers fell short in two respects. They accepted without protest several major departures from the scriptures. Among the unquestioned practices were: infant baptism, baptism by sprinkling, and musical instruments in church worship.
Formed New Creeds
Furthermore, they formed creeds of their own. The apostate church preached salvation by meritorious works. Martin Luther countered with “forgiveness of sin and salvation are effected by God’s grace alone (sola gratia) and are received by faith alone (sola fide) on the part of man”– a teaching in direct conflict with James 2:14: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” and Jesus’ stated criteria for the final judgment in his “Sheep and Goats” narrative. (Matthew 25:34-36)
Apparently Martin Luther had no intention of establishing another church. After his death, however, his followers created the Lutheran Church based upon Luther’s doctrines.
John Calvin taught that babies are born with sin inherited from their parents because all the human race fell in Adam’s sin. Ezekiel 18:20 directly contradicts Calvin saying children inherit neither good nor evil from their parents. “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.”
Jesus went so far as to say we must become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) And, in case anyone missed his point, he restates the message: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)
Do you believe Jesus is saying we should become naive, gullible, and childish like a child? or innocent of sin like a child? The former doesn’t make sense, so we must conclude Jesus is saying children are innocent and are not burdened with sins from their fathers and mothers.
Unconditional election — meaning some are predestined for heaven, others for hell is a second cardinal concept of Calvin. What is our situation? Does God arbitrarily and unconditionally bound us for either heaven or hell? or do our actions determine our destination?
Here are the biblical quotes on predestination:
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)
“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11)
Here are a few Bible quotes which lead us to believe our actions determine our destination:
“Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:8-9)
“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35)
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'” (Matthew 25:34-36)
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'” (Matthew 25:41-43)
There are a few problems with predestination. Common sense rejects it. Why should we make the effort to practice Christianity or even decency if we are already predestined to heaven or hell? Eat, drink, and be merry is our only reasonable course.
When you get down to the real nitty-gritty of Calvinism, you find a god who intentionally created most people to burn in hell, without hope, without a prayer for any other outcome. That is their destiny. Isn’t the god of Calvinism the very definition of an evil fiend? Why would anyone want to worship a “god” of that sort?
It may sound strange, but predestination and self-determination are in a way, compatible. How so? Remember, with God there is no past, present, and future — just one eternal Now. He knows the choices each of us will make before we make them. He doesn’t force us to “feed the hungry,” “invite in the stranger,” or “clothe those who need clothing.” He simply sees us doing it. Since God already knows the outcome, our situation may be called “predestined.”
Check the Bible verses for yourself. A careful reading of words of Jesus, Peter, and the writer of Hebrews make one unequivocal point: God allows us to determine our own destiny. Those self-determination statements are very much in agreement with the rest of the scriptures.
Calvinists teach Christ died only for the elect.
John 3:16 disagrees: “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Paul adds: “God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
If further clarification is needed: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)
“Whoever,” “all men,” and “whole world” sounds inclusive, doesn’t it?
John Calvin believed people are totally depraved, so much so that they cannot invite nor reject God’s grace. So God must send his Spirit directly into the hearts of the elect to cause them to believe. However, Romans 10:17 says: Faith comes by hearing the message, not by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit. In the numerous conversions recorded in Acts, the message was always conveyed by preaching. (Acts 2:37,40,41; 11:14; 16:30-34; 18:8)
Perseverance of the Saints
Another basic tenant of Calvinism is: “The elect cannot fall from grace, but will persevere and ultimately be saved regardless how they live.” This doctrine is commonly called: “Once saved, always saved.”
Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the writer of Hebrews all say the opposite.
In explaining the Parable of the Sower, Jesus tells us: “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” (Matthew 13:20-21)
Peter: “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.'” (2 Peter 2:20-22)
Paul: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12)
Paul: “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)
The writer of Hebrews: “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” (Hebrews 4:1)
The writer of Hebrews: “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11)
The writer of Hebrews: “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Hebrews 6:4-6)
Formed New Divisions
The unfortunate result of these reformers was not a return to New testament Christianity as taught by Peter, Paul, John, and James. Instead they gave birth to new divisions or denominations, each with its own creed, confession of faith, organization, and practices.
Jesus prayed for unity among his followers: “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me–so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11) Denominations continue to divide Christianity and thwart Jesus’ appeal for unity.
Question to Consider: Do you think a church in the twenty-first century should discard its denominationalism, and become like Christ’s original church in organization, doctrine, and worship practices just as described in the New Testament?
Quote of the Day: “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.” Saint Augustine (354-430) Christian church father, philosopher, bishop
Note: All Scripture References are taken from the New International Version