Church of God, New World Ministries

The Protestant Reformation - Part Nine

Startling though it seems, most of us have never really proved why we believe the things we do, especially those things about God and eternity! Why is this so?

It is because of a quirk of human nature which makes us tend to assume that whatever our parents, friends and associates tells us is completely true. And, once we have carelessly accepted from them various ideas and beliefs, we hate to change or to consider that we may be wrong!

Thus the plain facts of history brought out in these articles seem shocking to many who have previously assumed that what is called ”Christianity” today is in truth the religion taught by Jesus Christ and His apostles.  But this is decidedly not the case! We can now say that the Biblical and historical proof of this statement has been abundantly demonstrated in these series of articles. It is something every sincere person must face squarely! Let us not blind our eyes to the meaning of TRUTH!

In this series, we have seen from authentic history that pagan ceremonies and traditions were introduced wholesale into the professing Christian church soon after the death of the original apostles. It has been demonstrated that heathen philosophies and beliefs came in also at this time.

We have discussed the spiritual corruption and depravity of the visible church during the “Dark Ages.” Examining Luther’s rebellion against this system, we found that at the same time he rebelled against all the authoritative commands of God and His Word. Having an aversion to the stress James puts on the need to obey God’s law, Luther called this inspired book “an epistle of straw.” 

We have seen how Luther relied on the political power of the German princes to see him through, and how this caused him to condone bigamy and counsel “a good strong lie” in order to keep in their political favor.

We saw how the sexual lust and greed for power caused Henry VIII to bring about the English Revolt, a movement that cannot honestly be styled a religious movement at all in the true sense of the word.

Often, we have asked the sobering question: Was the Reformation inspired and guided by God’s Holy Spirit? Did it actually lead men to return to the belief and practice of Jesus and the apostles?

Remember Jesus warning: “Beware of false prophets” (Matt. 7:15). He said: “Ye shall know them by their fruits (v. 16).Surely the “fruits” of the Protestant reformers contain a tremendous lot which is not good. Their motives, methods and results were not by any measure those of Jesus and His apostles!

After having given the facts from authentic history throughout this series, let us now probe the motives and methods of the Protestant reformers in the light of the book they profess to believe, the Holy Bible.

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 16th 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 (Matt. 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 apostles 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. 4:5-6).

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).

Christ said: “Ye shall know them by their fruit” (Matt. 7:16). It is an undesirable 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.

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 success. 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 wars!

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.

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, 142 priests were hanged, drawn, and quartered for their faith, 90 priests and religious (persons) died in prison, 105 were banished for life, and 62 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.

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 Protestant alike. His position was similar to that held by those of the Unitarian belief today (Plummer, The Continental Reformation, p. 170).

For the 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 the 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 Government 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” (Matt. 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” (Rom. 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 (condemn) not, that ye be not judged (condemned)” (Matt. 7:1).

Did John Calvin know these Scriptures? Did he understand these principles which nearly all civilized men have since come to acknowledge?

The Protestant historians answered: “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 examples 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 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 favorable from their opponents in the degree and extent, but agreed 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 on 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, Anabaptists 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 respect 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.

In our next article, we propose to reveal the actual purpose behind the Protestant movement, and the startling reason behind the religious confusion and spiritual drunkenness bequeathed to our generation.

The facts contained in this series have a direct bearing on your life and your future! Ask God for an open mind. Don’t miss reading and studying the final article of this vital series.

 
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