The Plain Truth about the Protestant Reformation
QR Code
The Plain Truth about the Protestant Reformation

Chapter XI:

The Bible and the Reformation

   We have examined the basic foundations of the Protestant churches today. We have gone to the source of the "divided Christendom" of our time.
   If there is any one thing that all religionists agree upon, it is in lamenting the fact that the Protestant reformers have bequeathed to us a religious "Babylon" of monstrous proportions. For, as we have seen, nearly every major Protestant denomination must trace its history — directly or indirectly — from the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Until that time, their religious ancestors were all within the pale of the Roman Catholic Church.
   Jesus Christ said: "I will build my Church (Mat. 16:18). We can only imagine His reaction at seeing hundreds of differing churches all laying claim to His name and approbation.
   We wonder what might be the judgment of Christ's faithful Apostle who urged us "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," and was inspired to state: "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph. 4:3-6).
   Needless to say, this unity is not to be found in the Protestant world today. There are many faiths, and many bodies, or churches. All too often, they express the antagonism which Luther felt toward the Swiss reformers: "Yours is a different spirit... We cannot acknowledge you as brethren" (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. VII, p. 645).
   Jesus said: "Ye shall know them by their fruits" (Mat. 7:16). It is an undeniable fact that the "fruit" of the Protestant Reformation is the divided churchianity of our day. We must say at the outset that this is bad fruit.
   Paul tells us that the Spirit of God produces unity — not division. Therefore, we should examine in retrospect to see what the spirit was, and what the motivating factors were, that produced the religious confusion resulting from the Reformation.

Nationalism and Lust

   We have seen how the spirit of nationalism was growing throughout Europe just prior to the Reform movement. The people of Europe were tired of the religious and financial oppressions of Rome.
   Therefore, Luther immediately gained a large following among the German nobles and middle class when he cried: "We were born to be masters.... It is time the glorious, Teutonic people should cease to be the puppet of the Roman pontiff" (Bettenson, Documents, p. 278). And we have seen how the English nobility were wedded to Henry VIII's "reformation" because they had been allowed to seize the wealth of the monastic lands and establishments. But in the latter case, as we have noted, their Parliamentary representatives changed their "religion" three times and "would have voted the establishment of the Mohametan religion" at the monarch's bidding.
   And it was the sexual lust of Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn that very clearly marks the starting point of the English revolt against Rome.
   Of course, there is no doubt that many thousands of the common people in all of these countries sincerely desired not only a release from the tyranny of Rome, but for a restoration of religious truth and religious freedom. But people follow their leaders.
   So the real question is not what might have happened, but what did happen, and what motivated the political and religious leaders of the Reformation.
   "In the end, it was a national system of Reformation that was carried out.... In those countries in which the national and political stimulus was absent or was weak, the religious movement failed" (Plummer, The Continental Reformation, p. 16).
   So we see that the spirit of nationalism was a major factor in helping the Reformation to succeed. It is important to realize that this very exaltation of nations has now resulted in the threat of human annihilation in our time!
   For political, financial, and nationalistic reasons, men revolted against the Church of Rome. They exalted private judgment and reason. And in place of the Roman authority, which was supposed to represent God, they have placed nationalistic authority — and the gods of war!
   It is true that Luther and Calvin had personal religious motivations. As we have described, Luther's mind was tortured with a perpetual sense of guilt. In his extreme emphasis on salvation by faith alone, he was trying desperately to devise some system where the law of God and the justice of God would have no place.
   But Luther's personal spiritual upheaval would have had little effect on Germany or the world had he not appealed to the political and financial instincts of the German princes. And "it is true to say that the motives which led to the Lutheran revolt were to a large extent secular rather than spiritual" (Plummer, p. 9).
   Thus, we may say that the original English revolt was motivated almost entirely by lust and greed. And while the reforms under Luther and Calvin contained an element of religious conviction in the spiritual leaders, they primarily employed the materialistic grievances of the princes and the people as a stimulus to rebel against Rome. It was a spirit of nationalism, which assured the widespread success of these movements.

Violent Methods of the Reformers

   When it came to a showdown, the Protestant reformers were as ready to resort to violence, bloodshed, and persecution as their Roman Catholic adversaries. In any discussion of the methods by which the Reformation triumphed, this fact must be acknowledged.
   We have already seen how Luther won the German princes to his cause. How he used them to fight Catholicism and to persecute those who disagreed with him, is another matter. And the same principle may apply to Zwingli and Calvin, and the political councils under their sway, and to King Henry VIII and his subservient Parliament and nobility.
   Do we remember Luther's raving appeal to the German princes to "smite, strangle, and stab, secretly or publicly" those peasants who had applied the principle of his teachings to their own circumstances? Do we remember that he reversed himself in 1529, and said that Christians were "bound" to resort to arms to defend their Protestant beliefs?
   It is also a fact that Luther approved the persecution and martyrdom of the Anabaptists and other sects who rejected his teachings. Commenting on the beheading of Anabaptists in Saxony, he said that "their courage showed that they were possessed by the devil" (Plummer, p. 174).
   The same treatment was given those who did not go along with the national church system, which was forced upon the English people. Besides the several hundred nobles and commoners who lost their lives through the personal and religious bigotry of Henry VIII, many hundreds of others lost their lives under the reign of his Protestant daughter, Elizabeth.
   Those who refused to acknowledge the religious supremacy of the English monarch were dealt with as if they were guilty of high treason. "Before 1588, twelve hundred Catholics had already fallen victims to the persecution. In England alone, during the last twenty years of Elizabeth's reign, one hundred and forty-two priests were hanged, drawn, and quartered, for their faith. Ninety priests and religious [persons] died in prison, one hundred and five were banished for life, and sixty-two laymen of consideration suffered martyrdom" (Deharbe, A History of Religion, p. 484).
   And it was not just the monarchs who practiced intolerance in England, but the Protestant religious leaders as well. During the reign of young King Edward VI, Archbishop Cranmer persuaded him to sign the death warrant of two Anabaptists, one of them a woman. They were burned at the stake. In relating this, Schaff tells us: "The English Reformers were not behind those of the Continent in the matter of intolerance" (History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII, p. 711).
   After Calvinism was introduced into Scotland, those who professed the Catholic religion were subject to the death penalty, and many paid with their lives for their religious beliefs (Deharbe, p. 485).
   Remember that these people were victims of Protestant persecution!
   By appealing to financial or nationalistic motives, and by getting into and dominating the political power, the leading Protestant reformers were able to force their doctrines on the common people. Before gaining political power, the reformers all insisted upon the inalienable right of every Christian to search the Bible for himself, and to judge its teachings independently (Deharbe, p. 620). But once they were in power, woe be to the Catholic, the Anabaptist, or to any other who continued to insist upon this "inalienable right"!
   As we have seen, it was the same picture under John Calvin's "theocracy" in Geneva, Switzerland. Fisher states: "Not only profaneness and drunkenness, but innocent amusements and the teaching of divergent theological doctrines, were severely punished" (The History of the Christian Church, p. 325). We have already catalogued some of the many hundreds of instances where people were subjected to imprisonment, to public whipping or to the death penalty because of some innocent amusement, or because they disagreed with John Calvin's religious ideas.
   But one instance stands out which was defended by almost all the reformers of that day. It is one that we should especially remember, as an outstanding example of the reasoning of the early reformers, on the subject of religious toleration. It is the martyrdom of Michael Servetus.

The Burning of Michael Servetus

   Servetus was a man about the same age as Calvin. Although he was born in Spain, he practiced medicine in France and is said to have anticipated Harvey's discovery of the circulation of blood. When still a young man, he published a book on the "errors of the Trinity." In it, he disagreed with the common doctrine of God as a Trinity held by Catholics and Protestants alike. His position was similar to that held by those of the Unitarian belief today (Plummer, The Continental Reformation, p. 170).
   For teaching and writing about this doctrine, and also for holding a divergent view on the exact nature of Christ's divinity, he was hated and persecuted by Catholics and Protestants alike.
   Fleeing from the Catholic Inquisition at Vienna, France, he foolishly passed through Protestant Geneva. Someone recognized him and reported his presence to Calvin, who had him arrested and imprisoned (Plummer, p. 172).
   As Servetus' trial began before the Calvin-dominated Council, John Calvin wrote to a fellow reformer: "I hope that the judgment will be sentence of death..." (Plummer, p. 172).
   Plummer continues: "At the trial Calvin acted as prosecutor and had no trouble in causing Servetus to incriminate himself hopelessly.... It is one of the many painful features in the case that it was distinctly to Calvin's interest to get Servetus condemned, for such a triumph would greatly strengthen his position in Geneva. The case dragged on, and, as in the case of Bolsec, there was much correspondence with other authorities, both ecclesiastical and civil, in Switzerland. In the end it seemed to be clear that Calvin's enemies had failed, and that Protestant feeling was in favor of removing such a pest as Servetus from the earth. On October 26, he was sentenced, to be burned alive the next day. Calvin asked for a milder form of death, but his request was refused. Through the clumsiness of the executioner, the agonies of Servetus were prolonged. His last cry was 'Jesus, Thou Son of the Eternal God, have pity on me,' and it has been noticed that 'eternal' is the epithet, not of the Son, but of God. The book for which Servetus was condemned was tied to his neck to be burned with him. It fell off, and was rescued from the flames. It may still be seen, a ghastly memorial of Reformation 'ethics,' in the National Library at Paris."
   "We have always to remember that in putting Servetus to death, neither Calvin nor the Council nor the Swiss Governments whom they consulted, had any jurisdiction whatever. Their action was lynch law of the most revolting kind" (The Continental Reformation, pp. 172-173).
   We notice that even the Protestant historian is forced to acknowledge that one of the two greatest of the Protestant reformers resorted to an illegal "lynch law" procedure in order to destroy a religious antagonist!
   The blunt truth is that this was nothing but "respectable" murder!
   Jesus Christ said: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Mat. 5:44).
   The apostle Paul was inspired to write: "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him..." (Romans 12:19-20).
   In very clearly indicating that the right of civil judging or condemning to death of others in spiritual matters was not given to fallible human beings, Jesus freed the woman taken in adultery (John 8:11). He commanded: "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Mat. 7:1).
   Did John Calvin know these Scriptures? Did he understand these principles which nearly all civilized men have since come to acknowledge?

Did Calvin Act in Haste or Ignorance?

   The Protestant historians answer: "He easily takes the lead among the systematic expounders of the Reformed system of Christian doctrine... Calvin's theology is based upon a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures" (Schaff, History, Vol. VIII, pp. 260-261).
   Here was a man who really knew the Bible. He wrote learned commentaries upon it, and was thoroughly familiar with the teaching and example of Christ and the inspired New Testament Church.
   Yet he was willing not only to condone, but to directly cause a man to be burned to death for disagreeing with his religious doctrines. In the absolute sense of everything that Jesus Christ taught, stood for, and lived for, John Calvin stands condemned as a murderer!
   But did he mean to be? Was he sincere? Or was it a rash act carried out in the heat of passion?
   To the last question we may answer in the negative. For after plenty of time for mature consideration, John Calvin sought to defend this vile act and justify himself. And, remarkable as it may seem, so did many of the other leading reformers!
   In the year after the burning of Servetus, Calvin dogmatically asserts: "Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt. This is not laid down on human authority; it is God who speaks and prescribes a perpetual rule for his Church" (Schaff, Vol. VIII, p. 791).
   It is a sobering truth that if John Calvin's kind of "perpetual rule" against heretics were carried out today, very few of us would long remain alive!
   Fortunately for his name, Luther was not living to pronounce a judgment in favor of Servetus' burning. Knowing his past record, however, it is almost certain that he would have agreed with Calvin in putting Servetus to death.
   However, Luther's closest associate and advisor, Melanchthon, was quick to express his agreement with Calvin. He later wrote Bullinger, another of the Swiss reformers: "I judge also that the Genevese senate did perfectly right, to put an end to this obstinate man, who could never cease blaspheming. And I wonder at those who disapprove of this severity" (Schaff, Vol. VIII, p. 707).
   Thus, we see that the German reformers agreed with the Swiss in burning to death a man simply because he disagreed with their theological opinions!
   We have asked if Calvin could be sincere in all of this. It is a difficult question, the complete answer to which only God knows. The human mind sometimes plays tricks on us. We often willfully overlook those things, which we don't wish to acknowledge. As we shall soon see, it is evident that both Luther and Calvin did this in the development of their doctrines and in some of their actions as well.
   However, judging from the facts at our disposal, and from contemporary testimony, it appears that Calvin meant to be sincere. Within his own sphere of thinking, Calvin was somehow sincere in feeling that it was right to burn Servetus for religious disagreement, even though he and the other reformers claimed the freedom of the individual conscience in their struggle with Rome.

The Reason for Protestant Violence and Persecutions

   The answer to the killing of Servetus, then, does not lie in rashness later repented of, nor does it lie in a complete lack of sincerity on Calvin's part. But what is the answer?
   The same answer is given, in essence, by many Protestant historians. It is one that every honest student of the Bible and history must acknowledge.
   The answer is that, even long after their separation from Rome and their "conversion" to Protestantism, the early reformers and their followers were still literally saturated with the doctrines, the concepts, and the practices of their "mother" church at Rome. "The reformers inherited the doctrine of persecution from their mother church, and practiced it as far as they had the power. They fought intolerance with intolerance. They differed favorably from their opponents in the degree and extent, but not in the principle, of intolerance" (Schaff, History, Vol VIII, p. 700).
   As we shall see, this frank admission by Schaff reveals why so many of the Protestant doctrines and actions seem so totally inconsistent with their avowed intention of basing everything on "the Bible only."
   We have seen that Martin Luther played politics, condoned bigamy, counseled a lie, encouraged the slaughter of the peasants and the drowning of Anabaptists.
   It has been shown that the English revolt began with the lust of Henry VIII, and that he and Queen Elizabeth and their Protestant theologians all had a part in slaughtering hundreds of Catholic, Anabaptist and, later, Puritan dissenters.
   Now we have reviewed the part that John Calvin and the Swiss reformers played in the persecution and drowning of Anabaptists, in the cruel punishment and execution of their own Genevese citizens for failing to conform in all respects to Calvin's doctrine. Finally, we have described the agreement of nearly all the early Protestant leaders in the famous "lynch law" execution by burning at the stake, which Calvin inflicted upon Michael Servetus for purely religious reasons.
   We have proved that these were "cold-blooded" killings. They were not the result of the passion of the moment. Nor were those responsible afflicted by temporary insanity.
   These crimes in the name of religion were calculated beforehand, and they were still defended by theological argument long after they had occurred!
   We have seen that the real explanation lies in the fact that the early reformers "inherited" much of the doctrine and spirit of their "mother" church. They were as men spiritually drunk — unable to see clearly the real meaning and outcome of their teachings and actions.

Protestant Contradictions

   While this thesis is not designed or intended to include arguments about the hundreds of differing Protestant doctrines and creeds, we do wish to consider the principles which guided the reformers in coming to their conclusions. Indeed, we have already outlined the basic doctrines upon which the Reformation was based. But now we wish to examine more thoroughly their origins and results, and to examine the essential nature of Protestantism as a whole.
   We remember Chillingworth's claim: "The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is the religion of Protestants." We recall the Protestant affirmation of the Scriptures as "the inspired rule of faith and practice."
   Fisher tells us: "Protestantism, under whatever diversities of form it appeared, and notwithstanding the varieties of character and of opinion which are observed among its leaders, is distinguished as a system of belief by two principles. These are justification by faith alone, and the exclusive authority of the Scriptures" (The Reformation, p. 459).
   Most Protestants have grown up believing these statements are true. What most people do not realize is that Luther, Calvin, and the English reformers rejected entire books of the Bible or else completely negated their real authority. And they forced their interpretations into countless Scriptures where the natural meaning did not conform to their preconceived doctrines.
   We recall that Martin Luther was so oppressed with a continual feeling of guilt that he wanted to overthrow every verse in the Bible, which taught that obedience is required for salvation in addition to faith. He insisted that we are saved by faith alone. Remember that he high-handedly introduced — contrary to Scripture — the word "alone" into Romans 3:28, his only defense being: "It is the will of Dr. Martin Luther that it should be so" (Alzog, Universal Church History, Vol. III, p. 199).
   Especially in regard to his insistence on faith alone and his rejection of countless Scriptures teaching the need for obedience, he was a stubborn, self-willed man.
   The Bible teaches: "Sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4). This is clearly speaking of the spiritual law written by the very finger of God — the Ten Commandments. The inspired James explains this: "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For He that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty" (James 2:10-12).
   What law forbids adultery and killing? Obviously, it is the Ten Commandments to which James refers. And he concludes by telling us to speak and act according to this law.
   To this the words of Jesus Christ agree. For when a young man came to ask Him the way to eternal life, He answered: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments," and He proceeded to name some of the Ten Commandments (Mat. 19:16-19).
   Completely ignoring the direct parallel between the teaching of James and of Jesus Christ, Luther haughtily declared: "Compared with the Epistles of St. Paul, this is in truth an epistle of straw; it contains absolutely nothing to remind one of the style of the Gospel" (Alzog, Vol. III, p. 208). Thus, Luther stubbornly rejected the entire book of James because it did not agree with his doctrines!
   In rejecting the first five books of the Bible, Luther declared: "We have no wish either to see or hear Moses. Let us leave Moses to the Jews, to whom he was given to serve as a Mirror of Saxony; he has nothing in common with Pagans and Christians, and we should take no notice of him" (Alzog, Vol. III, p. 207).
   Since Luther regarded Moses as having to do with God's law — which Luther hated — he wished to have "nothing to do" with Moses' inspired writings!
   But since Paul was Luther's favorite writer, we wonder what his reaction was to Paul's inspired reminder to Timothy: "From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God" (II Tim. 3:15-16). Remember that only the Old Testament Scriptures were written when Timothy was a child.
   And, since Luther stubbornly wished to "take no notice" of Moses, we might remind him of the apostle John's description of the victorious saints of God singing "the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb" (Rev. 15:3). But Luther's own writings promptly answer: "I look upon the revelations of John to be neither Apostolic nor prophetic" (Michelet, Life of Luther, p. 273). He might then add: "Everyone may form his own judgment of this book; as for myself, I feel an aversion to it, and to me this is sufficient reason for rejecting it" (Alzog, Vol. III, p. 208).
   And it is a fact that Martin Luther willfully rejected the authority of any book in the Bible to which he felt an "aversion."
   Now, perhaps, we begin to understand the real meaning of the religious confusion of our time. Modern Protestants have inherited from Martin Luther — acknowledged as the greatest leader of the Reformation — a spirit of self-will and a tendency to reject the all-inclusive authority of God's Word!
   Seeing the foolishness and futility of the Roman Catholic penitential system, Martin Luther had rebelled against the idea of any "works." He had grown up as a Roman Catholic, was trained and schooled as a Catholic priest, and was filled with the Catholic concept of law and works.
   Being, therefore, in a condition that amounted to spiritual drunkenness, he was unable to see clearly the difference between the Bible teaching of obedience to spiritual commandments, and the Jewish and Roman Catholic teaching of subservience to physical "works" and to man-made ecclesiastical laws and traditions.
   Rebelling against obedience to God's law, which we have seen constitutes sin, he wrote to Melanchthon: "Sin, sin mightily, but have all the more confidence in Christ; rejoice more vehemently in Christ, who is the conqueror of sin, of death, and of the world. While we are in this world, we can do no other than sin; we must sin. This life is not the abode of righteousness; no, we merely await here, as St. Peter says, 'new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.'
   "Pray earnestly, for thou art a great sinner."
   "I am now full of the doctrine of the remission of sins. I grant nothing to the law, nor to all the devils. He who can believe in his heart this doctrine, is saved" (Life of Luther, p. 304).
   Harboring a sense of guilt and condemnation anyway, Luther's mind evolved a doctrinal system whereby he could overthrow all law and the rule of God over our lives!
   John Calvin was in much the same position. He had also grown up as a Catholic and was steeped in Catholic doctrines and concepts. Rebelling against the Roman Church as a young man, he accepted Luther's arguments on salvation by faith alone.
   But Calvin went one step farther and developed his own theory of absolute predestination. As we have seen, this theory states: "For all men are not created on an equal footing, but for some eternal Life is preordained, for others eternal damnation" (Bettenson, Documents, p. 302).
   We have already shown that this does violence to the frequent statement in the New Testament: "There is no respect of persons with God" (Rom. 2:11; Acts 10:34; Eph. 6.9). It also contradicts Paul's inspired description of "God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved" (I Tim. 2:4). Is God's will to be thwarted by the reasonings of John Calvin?
   And, of course, we must remember not only the actions but the false doctrines by which Calvin, Luther, and the English reformers tried to justify themselves for imprisoning, publicly whipping, hanging, drowning, or burning alive those who disagreed with their "pure" gospel teachings.

Rejecting or Distorting Scripture

   At least in order to clear their own consciences, the Protestant leaders were forced to distort or reject many passages of Scripture, which did not conform to their doctrinal ideas.
   In defending his view on the "Lord's Supper," Luther argued that the unbroken tradition of the Catholic Church ought to be proof in itself. Luther stated: "To deny such testimony is virtually to condemn not only the holy Christian church as a damned heretic, but even Christ himself, with all his apostles and prophets..." (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. VII, p. 531).
   Schaff proceeds to comment: "A Roman controversialist could not lay more stress on tradition than Luther does in this passage. But tradition, at least from the sixth to the sixteenth century, strongly favors the belief in transubstantiation, and the sacrifice of the mass, both of which he rejected" (Schaff, Vol. III, p. 532).
   Thus, we see that Luther was inconsistent. When the Bible did not provide the answers he wanted, Luther looked to Roman Catholic tradition!
   But when this same tradition taught a doctrine or custom Luther disagreed with — such as transubstantiation — he turned with supposedly righteous indignation back to the Bible again. He wrote: "For that which is asserted without the authority of Scripture or of proven revelation may be held as an opinion, but there is no obligation to believe it.... Transubstantiation... must be considered as an invention of human reasoning, since it is based neither on Scripture nor on sound reasoning" (Bettenson, Documents, p. 280).
   In plain language, Luther was deceiving himself!
   He wanted to think he had the Bible on his side, yet whenever his unsound views of Scripture became apparent, he would run like a child to the arms of his "mother" church — and claim Roman Catholic tradition as his infallible guide.
   Noted Protestant historians are forced to admit that Calvin and Zwingli — as well as Luther — distorted the plain meaning of Scripture to make it fit their own theories! "That principle Calvin took up and carried on; and as Luther found fault with the sacred writers whose utterances failed to fit in with his view of justification, so did Zwingli, and Calvin even more consistently than Zwingli, explain away all that seemed to limit or condition the truth on which they built" (Moore, History of the Reformation, p. 389).
   Again, commenting upon the tendency of the English theologians to follow Luther's interpretations of the Bible, Moore comments: "They cannot, therefore, shut their eyes to the fact that even Luther's devotion to the Bible was so tainted with one-sidedness that it contained in itself the seeds of decay" (Moore, p. 479).
   So we find that the Protestant leaders often used one-sided reasoning to "explain away" any passage in the Bible that did not conform to their doctrines.
   They would reject such Catholic doctrines as transubstantiation and the selling of indulgences by appealing to the Bible. But when they did not agree with what God said in the Bible, they would resort to their own tainted human reason or appeal to the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.
   What is the meaning of this apparent hypocrisy? Was this "the Bible only"? Was this a restoration of the true Church.

The Protestants Followed Rome

   What is the meaning of this apparent hypocrisy? Was this "the Bible only"? Was this a restoration of the true Church? Here is the Protestants' own surprisingly candid admission!
   Speaking of Luther, Fisher states: "In the retention of rites and customs he did not require an explicit authorization from Scripture. Enough that they were not forbidden, and are expedient and useful. His aversion to breaking loose from the essentials of Latin Christianity in matters of doctrine is equally manifest" (History of Christian Doctrine, p. 283). "The Reformers inherited the doctrine of persecution from their mother Church..." (Schaff, Vol. VIII, p. 700). Far more than most people even dream of, the Protestant leaders — and the many churches springing from that movement — have inherited most of their doctrines, their concepts of God and religion, and their traditions from the Roman Catholic Church — their original "mother" church.
   Luther wished to retain many of the rites and customs of "Latin" or Roman Catholic practice, and many of their doctrines as well. In earlier portions of this thesis, we have seen how "some of the old heathen feasts became church festivals" (Hurlbut, The Story of the Christian Church, p. 79). We have noticed how the pagan festivals of Christmas and New Year's originated in the West — at Rome — not with the original Church in and around Palestine (Fisher, History of the Christian Church, p. 119).
   We remember Wharey's statement that by the close of the second century "Christianity began already to wear the garb of heathenism" (Church History, p. 39). And we should consider again, Plummers comment: "And as soon as the revival of letters caused the contents of the New Testament and the teaching of the Fathers to be known, it was seen that what passed for Christianity at the close of the fifteenth century was scarcely recognizable as such, when placed side by side with what we know of Christianity at the close of the Apostolic Age" (The Continental Reformation, p. 11).
   The unanimous verdict of Protestant historians is that the Roman Catholic Church was filled with paganism and iniquity. Many of her rituals and church festivals were borrowed directly from the heathen religions and the ancient cult of sun worship.
   Why is it, then, that the Protestants retained so many of the Roman Catholic doctrines and rituals and religious festivals? Why did they keep professing their unity with the paganized Roman system?
   Part of the answer lies in the fact that they somehow felt that Rome was the only historical descendant of the true New Testament Church of God. Since, without considering it, they were looking only for a big, organized denomination, they felt that Rome had to be the only remnant of the true Church — in spite of her almost total paganism.
   The Protestant historian D'Aubigne voices this common conception: "A mystery of iniquity oppressed the enslaved Church of Christ" (History of the Reformation, p. 20). The reformers, having grown up from little children as Roman Catholics, believed that this general religious system really constituted the true Church of God. But somehow God had permitted it to become "enslaved" in a sink of iniquity.
   Their job, then, the reformers felt, was to purify this foul system. Yet they sought to prove that they had not parted from the "essentials" of the Catholic system.
   Luther said: "No one can deny that we hold, believe, sing, and confess all things in correspondence with the old Church, that we make nothing new therein nor add anything thereto, and in this way we belong to the old Church and are one with it" (Lindsay, A History of the Reformation, Vol. I, p. 468).
   By their own statements, then, it is proved that the Protestants regarded them­selves only as a continuation of the historic Catholic Church, but under a different and "purified" form. Luther himself vehemently affirms their essential oneness with the Catholic Church!
   Speaking of Calvin, Fisher tells us: "He did not deny that the Christian societies acknowledging the Pope are 'churches of Christ'.... He indignantly denies that he has withdrawn from the Church" (History of Christian Doctrine, p. 304).
   Schaff tells us that it is speaking of the visible, or historic Catholic Church that Calvin writes: "As our present design is to treat of the visible Church, we may learn even from her the title of mother, how useful and even necessary it is for us to know her" (Schaff, Vol. VIII, p. 450).
   The insistence of the Protestant leaders — on their basic unity with the Catholic Church, and their identification of her as their "mother" church is most significant!

God Identifies the Catholic Church

   In the early editions of Martin Luther's translation of the New Testament, there are many illustrations picturing the "Whore of Babylon" as the Roman Catholic Church. In describing this widely understood interpretation, Bainton tells us: "Fallen Babylon is plainly Rome" (Here I Stand, p. 258).
   Countless Protestant books, pamphlets, and tracts make that same identification today. They brand the Roman Catholic Church as the "great Whore" of Revelation 17.
   But, it must be admitted, most of the more conservative Protestant denominational writers have stopped making this identification. After those first editions of the Bible, and pamphlets and tracts, they suddenly came to the embarrassing realization that they were telling on themselves!
   For in one of the most easily understood passages in this inspired prophetic Book, God describes a great false religious system which was to arise, and labels it "Babylon the Great" (Rev. 17:1-6).
   In a typical sense, the Bible clearly identifies a "woman" with a church. In II Corinthians 11:2 and in Ephesians 5:23, Paul describes the true Church as being in the position of a wife.
   Another reference to this identification is the well-known prophecy concerning the true Church of God found in Revelation 12. Remember that Jesus spoke of His Church as the "little flock." He taught that it was to be scattered and persecuted (Mat. 10:16-23; John 15:18-20).
   The Church of Revelation 12 is pictured as being small and weak of itself. It is pictured as having to flee into the wilderness during the Middle Ages (Rev. 12:5-6). Certainly this picture is exactly the opposite of the dominant, worldly, historical Catholic Church!
   This is the Church the reformers should have united with, but did not. They could not because they reject the authority of God's law! For the true Church is here pictured as a small "remnant" of believers "which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (verse 17).
   In Revelation 19:7-9 the true Church is again pictured as a woman — the bride of Christ. She is arrayed in clean, white linen, which typifies "the righteousness of saints" (verse 8).
   Returning to Revelation 17, we see that the woman pictured here is a fallen woman — a "great whore." She sits upon "many waters." In verse 15, the prophecy itself identifies these waters as "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues."
   This fallen church, then, is a great church — ruling over many nations and peoples. She is accused of having "committed fornication" with the kings of the earth. Spiritually, that could only mean that she is guilty of mixing in the politics and wars of this world.
   Christ said that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). James speaks of those who participate in the material lusts and wars of this world as spiritual "adulterers" (James 4:1-4).
   The prophecy now becomes plain! This apostate church is condemned because she has played politics and participated in the warfare of this world.
   This fallen woman, or church, is arrayed in purple and scarlet colors. The purple symbolizes royal power and dignity. The scarlet signifies her spiritual whoredom!
   She is a wealthy church "decked with gold and precious stones and pearls" (verse 4). And, John writes: "I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration" (verse 6).
   This church cruelly persecuted and martyred many of God's saints. But her wealth, her power, and her royal majesty inspired a sense of awe even in John! Later, God reveals: "The woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth" (verse 18).

The Prophecy Fulfilled

   All of these descriptions apply perfectly to the Roman Catholic Church! This is the church that has persecuted God's scattered people down through the ages. This is the church, which has had its own army, and has actively participated in the wars and politics of this world!
   Only the capital of Catholic "Christendom" at Rome could truly be called a "great city" which has ruled over the kings of this world. There is no mistaking this identification!
   Alexander Hislop, in his remarkable book, The Two Babylons, states: "There never has been any difficulty in the mind of any enlightened Protestant in identifying the woman 'sitting on seven mountains,' and having on her forehead the name written, 'Mystery, Babylon the Great,' with the Roman apostasy (Hislop, p. 1).
   He tells us: "It has been known all along that Popery was baptized Paganism, but God is now making it manifest that the Paganism which Rome has baptized is, in all it's essential elements, the very Paganism which prevailed in the ancient literal Babylon, when Jehovah opened before Cyrus the two-leaved gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron" (Hislop, p. 2).
   In this most enlightening work, Hislop proceeds to prove that indeed the Roman Catholic Church adopted the philosophies, the traditions, and the church festivals of the ancient pagans. Roman Catholicism is nothing more than baptized paganism!
   Hislop states that "Rome is in very deed the Babylon of the Apocalypse; that the essential character of her system, the grand object of her worship, her festivals, her doctrine and discipline, her rites and ceremonies, her priesthood, and their orders, have all been derived from ancient Babylon" (The Two Babylons, p. 3).
   No wonder God calls this system "Mystery, Babylon the Great"! The Roman Catholic system contains the very same doctrines, rituals and pagan religious holidays as the ancient, heathen city of Babylon — so often used to typify sin.
   But thus far we have left out two important points. The first is that in describing this great false church, John states; "The inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication" (Rev. 17:2). Hislop reveals that in the original Babylonian religion, the worshippers were literally made drunk so that they would favorably receive the pagan "mysteries" (Hislop, p. 5).
   This indicates that, as this entire chapter is speaking spiritually, the worshippers of Rome are made spiritually drunk so that they cannot see spiritual truths clearly. God says: "For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." (Rev. 18:3)
   These poisonous teachings and false concepts have crept into every civilized nation on earth. The peoples of the earth have become spiritually drunk on these false doctrines! When people approach the Bible and spiritual truths they become mixed-up, confused and divided.
   "Babylon" literally means confusion. It is great confusion! It is "Babylon the Great"!
   And doesn't this typify what we have seen of the Protestant reformers — arguing, bickering, divided even among themselves? And doesn't this describe the mixed-up, self-contradictory course taken by Luther, Calvin, and the other reformers?
   The reformers were actually rebelling against only a small part of the Roman Catholic teachings. And they were as men spiritually drunk — not knowing where they wanted to go, or how they get there — still guided and misled by a background of paganized Roman doctrines and concepts. And, as we have seen, when they came out of the Roman Catholic Church they brought most of her teachings and traditions right along with them.

The Protestant Movement Identified

   Now we should be able to understand clearly the full name and description of this whole apostate system!
   It is given in Revelation 17:5: " And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth."
   The corrupt Roman "mother" church has given birth to harlot daughters! If the clear, consistent principles of Scriptural identification are to be honestly applied, the Protestant churches are "harlot daughters" of a paganized, apostate Rome!
   They came out of her in protest. But, as we have clearly seen, they retained most of her pagan doctrines and concepts. They are still following Rome's example of mixing in the politics and wars of this world. And we have seen abundant Protestant testimony that they recognize her as their "mother" church!
   One Protestant historian comments on Luther: "He started out to inaugurate a Church composed of those who had faith and spiritual vision, and who revealed an ability and power to proclaim the Word of God. But, in reality, he left in full operation a large relic of the ancient creeds, an extensive 'rump' of superstition, tradition, and magic, and a heavy inheritance of external authority" (Jones, The Church's Debt to Heretics, p. 228).
   As Dr. Jones clearly implies, the Protestants still retain many pagan doctrines and traditions, which they inherited from Rome. We have observed that some of these false traditions involve the pagan holidays, which the early Catholics adopted and gave Christian sounding names. We ought to look into these things!
   The Protestant churches stand clearly identified by God Almighty as the "harlot daughters" of apostate Rome!
   Speaking of this entire Babylonish system, God commands: "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (Rev. 18:4).
   The question is whether or not we will obey our Maker!

The Real Meaning of the Reformation

   In evaluating the real meaning of the Protestant Reformation, we must bear in mind God's purpose — not merely the purposes and standards of mortal men.
   We are forced to conclude that the Reformation certainly did not lead men to "the Bible only" as Chillingworth would have us believe. And, even in essence, the Reformation did not return men to "the faith once delivered" (Jude 3).
   Even on some of the side issues of public morality, the reformers were very grievously disappointed at the first fruits of their labours. "Such catastrophes as the Peasants' War and the monstrous behaviour of the wilder Anabaptists, to say nothing of the bitter controversies among the Protestants themselves, were disquieting enough, without adding to the account any deterioration, real or supposed, in the morality of private individuals" (Plummer, The Continental Reformation, p. 184).
   In spiritual drunkenness, groping their way out of apostate Rome, the reformers were not guided by the same Spirit of God that empowered the original apostles to change men's lives. We must remember that they were only transferring authority to themselves within the same pagan system. Naturally, the spiritual "fruits" do not compare with inspired, apostolic Christianity.
   "To a large extent the true way of stating the case is not that the teaching of the Reformers had made men worse, but, that it had failed to make them better. And it is here that the parallel between the Reformation and the first preaching of the Gospel breaks down" (Plummer, p. 189).
   However, although they completely failed to restore the true religion of Jesus Christ, we may correctly say that Luther and the other reformers were used to accomplish at least two very worthwhile purposes. First, they freed men from the binding authority of the Catholic Church, and the superstitious fear under which they were continually held (Plummer, p. 136). And, secondly, misdirected as it sometimes was, they did give all men more real encouragement to read the Bible for themselves.
   Even in the accomplishment of these two purposes, they were often aided by outside forces. The most potent of these was the Renaissance, which was already beginning to stir men to think for themselves even before the Reformation proper began, and the growth of nationalism, which was a powerful aid in breaking down any universal church authority.
   We must acknowledge that in freeing men's minds from some error, the reformers added much error of their own devising. They did not turn men to the truth. Rather, they turned them to independent, self-willed human reason.
   This has multiplied the already existing religious confusion. As we stated at the beginning of this thesis, the Protestant Reformation has spawned a veritable "Babylon" of religious denominations, sects, and religious movements.
   This is not the "unity of the Spirit." This is not the one true Church Jesus Christ said He would build (Mat. 16:18).
   Perhaps the only reason that Almighty God has allowed such confusion to exist in this age is so that the true Church of Revelation 12, Jesus' "little flock," may be permitted to carry the real message of Christ to the world just before He comes again.
   For Jesus, the Son of God, said: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Mat. 24:14).
   Meanwhile, God tells us that we should strive to recapture "the faith once delivered:' We should live "by every word of God."
   And in His Word, God describes this apostate, divided Catholic-Protestant religious system as "Babylon the Great." He commands us: "Come out of her" (Rev. 18:4).

Previous      Chapter XI      Next
Publication Date: May 1956
Back To Top