What Happened to the Spirit of the Great Reformation?

Jun 19th, 2012 | By | Category: Special Features (click on Article name)

What Happened to the Spirit of the Great Reformation?

 What are the differences between the Catholics and the Protestants now?


Martin Luther nailing the 95 theses to the church door

It is quite manifest that Protestants, listlessly resting in fancied security, have long since ceased to protest; and the masses of them are almost totally unaware of the present perilous position, or the dangers ahead. But if they will carefully take their bearings, they will soon see that much has been lost already, and hence the present vantage ground of the great enemy to true religion and to civil and religious liberty, concerning which Macaulay the historian remarked truly, that “among all the contrivances which have been devised for deceiving and oppressing mankind, it [the Church of Rome] occupies the highest place.”

The underlying principle of the Great Reformation, to which all Protestants look back with pride, was the right of individual judgment in the interpretation of the Scriptures, in opposition to the papal dogma of submission to clerical authority and interpretation. On this very point was the whole issue of the great movement. It was a grand and blessed strike for liberty of conscience, for an open Bible, and the right to believe and obey its teachings regardless of the usurped authority and vain traditions of the self-exalted clergy of Rome. Had not this principle been firmly held by the early Reformers, they never could have effected a reformation, and the wheels of progress would have continued to stick in the mire of papal traditions and perverted interpretation.

Today, the careful observer may note, and it should be noted with alarm, that the very condition of things which led to the great Papal apostasy, against whose errors and bondage our fore-fathers awoke and protested in the sixteenth century, Has, stealthily, yet swiftly, overshadowed Protestantism; and, unchecked, it has nearly wiped out the idea of the right of individual judgment in the study of God’s Word, and bound Protestants as securely as Romanists are bound, to the judgment and religious decrees of a system, instead of leaving faith to the intelligence, study and judgment of each individual.

Their councils, at first harmless if not profitable, began gradually to suggest what each individual should believe, and came finally to decreeing what should be considered orthodox and what should be considered heresy, or in other words deciding what each individual must believe. There the right of private judgment by individual Christians was trampled upon, the “clergy” were put in power as the only and official interpreters of God’s Word.

And the result was, that the Bible took second place to the opinions of the clergy and councils, thus discounting the value of the only true standard of faith.

But as for a clerical class, God does not recognize it as His elect teachers; nor has He chosen many of His teachers from its ranks. The mere claim of any man to be a teacher is no proof that he is one by divine appointment. That false teachers would arise in the church, who would pervert the truth, was foretold. The church, therefore, is not to blindly accept whatever any teacher may set forth, but should prove the teaching of those whom they have reason to believe to be God’s messengers, by the one infallible standard –the Word of God. “If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isa. 8:20.) Thus while the church needs teachers, and cannot understand God’s Word without them, yet the church individually–each by himself and for himself, and himself only–must fill the important office of judge, to decide, according to the infallible standard, God’s Word, whether the teaching be true or false, and whether the claimed teacher is a true teacher by divine appointment.

But in showing that the Scriptures recognize no separate clergy class, but that the entire Church of Christ is the Priesthood, and that they each and all have the same authority to do anything that the Lord and the apostles enjoined, as they find they have the ability, let no one suppose that we urge disorder. It is proper that each congregation should select or elect some of their number, best qualified, for these services. But it should always be remembered that the one who thus serves belongs to no higher class or caste than his brethren who chose him to thus minister or serve. “All ye are brethren, and one is your Master.” Such a servant of the church is no more reverend or sacred than others, though if he be a very faithful and Christ-like servant he should be esteemed very highly “for his work’s sake,” because of loving, faithful service, but for no other reason. (1 Thes. 5:13.) He is not a “clergyman” in God’s sight; for God recognizes no such class, and His Word authorizes no such distinction.

The tendency of Protestants in this respect is to follow the method and practice of Rome. With Papacy, the councils declare the doctrine to be believed; and the people, denied the right of private judgment, are required to believe whatever these councils decree to be the truth. The same tendency is observable in all denominations of Protestantism; and we predict, what is even now suggested by prominent Protestant clergymen, that ere long Protestants will unite in a General Council which will decree and settle what shall, and what shall not, be received as divine truth.

In view of these facts and tendencies, we sound an alarm to all who hold to the original doctrine of the Reformation– the right of individual judgment. You and I cannot hope to stem the current and to prevent what is coming, but we can by the grace of God, imparted through His truth, be overcomers and get the victory over these errors (Rev. 20:4,6), and as overcomers be granted a place in the glorified priesthood of the incoming Millennial age. (See, Rev. 1:6; 5:10.) The words of the Apostle (Acts 2:40) are as applicable now, in the harvest or end of the gospel age, as they were in the harvest or end of this Jewish age: “Save yourselves from the perverse generation!” Let all who are Protestants at heart flee priestcraft, flee clericism, its errors, delusions and false doctrines. Hold to God’s Word and demand a “Thus saith the Lord” for all you accept as your faith.


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