A NEW REFORMATION FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
by David R. Barnhart
(Published The Vine and Branches, Issue 4, 2004)
Four hundred and eighty-seven years have past since Martin Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation by nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Luther would be shocked if he could see the deplorable spiritual state of the church that now bears his name. In many ways, the spiritual condition of the whole church today is worse than it was when Luther made his courageous stand for the Word of God. Surely, the church in the 21st century desperately needs a new reformation.
In Luther’s day, the contested issues centered around grace, faith, and the imposition of ecclesiastical authority above Scripture. While these same doctrines still are being challenged, the very essence of Christianity is also being questioned and denied by vast portions of the church—the authority of Scripture, the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ, as well as His deity. Theologians in our day are attempting to convince church members that the Bible is no longer relevant when it comes to deciding issues of doctrine, ethics and personal morality. Sadly, because many church members are biblically illiterate, they are easy prey for those whose intent is to deceive.
THE MODERN CHURCH OF “ANYTHING GOES”
Today theologians and church organizations are rushing to embrace an ecumenical movement that equates other religions with Christianity. Universal salvation for all who believe in anything has become the “politically correct” message of these apostate churches. Ecumenical services that include Christians, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus and host of other religions are all too common, even in small communities.
Unbiblical teachings and the most perverse human behaviors are being sanctioned and tolerated by one church body after another. Who could have imagined even forty years ago that churches would be ordaining practicing homosexuals and conducting ceremonies to bless the unions of same-sex couples? Who could have imagined that practicing homosexuals would be installed as bishops, or that clergy would openly deny the divinity of Christ?
Clergy and liberal theologians, schooled in Bible-denying seminaries, are rewriting the Scriptures to conform with their own perverted opinions. Others have set aside the sacred writings of Scripture in order to proclaim the myths and fantasies of their Satan-inspired beliefs. The gospel of Jesus Christ is being set aside and watered-down in evangelical churches. In order to draw crowds and not offend anyone, a crossless gospel that knows nothing of sin and repentance is being offered up each Sunday as a substitute for the real thing. Such practices are leading multitudes away from biblical Christianity and straight into hell.
Those who espouse false doctrines and countenance the acceptance of sin within the church are instruments of Satan. We are instructed by God’s Word to turn away from them. Their dangerous and unbiblical teachings lead only to death. When is the last time you heard of people being born again after hearing perverted teachings? When is the last time you witnessed a genuine revival breaking out in a Bible-denying church? You never have, and you never will!
IS A NEW REFORMATION POSSIBLE?
What will it take for a new reformation to begin in the 21st century? That is a question worth pondering. Even if everything required to bring about such a reformation were fully understood across the church, how many Christians have the courage and the will necessary to bring it about? Christians who think they can experience reformation and revival while supporting denominations that have embraced immorality and abandoned biblical doctrines are sadly mistaken.
The Scriptures are clear: “Come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord…” (2 Cor. 6:17). “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teachings which you have learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Romans 16:17-18).
SCRIPTURE—THE WATERSHED ISSUE
The Reformation in Luther’s time was grounded upon the inspired, infallible and inerrant Word of God. The whole church of the 21st century is divided between those who believe and accept the Bible as the very Word of God and those who insist that it is a human book filled with myths, half-truths and contradictions. Dr. Francis Schaeffer was right when he called biblical inerrancy “the watershed issue” now confronting the church.
Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and other Reformers believed in the infallibility of Scripture, not in the infallibility of popes or church councils. They accepted at face value what Paul declared: “All Scripture is inspired by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
When Paul visited believers in Berea, “they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and scribes for “teaching the precepts of men as doctrine—neglecting the commandments of God, you hold to the traditions of men” (Mark 7:7-8).
Until and unless Christians return to the Reformation principle of “Scripture alone” in determining their beliefs and practices, and walk in humble obedience to the same, reformation and revival will remain an unrealized experience.
THE GREAT ECUMENICAL DECEPTION
Like Luther, we too must stand on Scripture alone, not on the traditions of man or the traditions of churches. As the Lutheran Confessions affirm, the Bible is the only source by which all doctrines and teachers are to be judged. Christians must return to the Word of God if they desire to be a part of “the one holy Christian and apostolic church.”
Many church leaders today would have us believe that doctrinal differences between Protestants, Roman Catholics and even non-Christian religions no longer exist. Surely this deception is helping to usher in the great harlot church prophesied in the Scriptures.
Let it be stated for the record— not a single doctrine within the Roman Catholic Church that brought about the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century has been rescinded. Indeed, many new doctrines and teachings have been promulgated by popes and councils throughout the years since the Reformation.
As for other world religions, let it be stated that the whole of the Old and New Testaments refutes any notion that the God of the Bible will co-exist with gods of other religions. There is but one true God. He is the God of the Bible. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The ecumenical movement today calls upon everyone to lay aside doctrines and come together in Jesus. But under which Jesus are we to unite? Is it the Jesus Christ of the New Testament whose atonement covers all our sins, without any merit on our part? Or is it the Jesus whose atonement still requires our personal works and sufferings to achieve our salvation? Shall we all come together under the banner of the apostate church’s Jesus who denies sin, judgment and hell?
If we are willing to close our eyes to revealed truth in the written Word of God, if we are willing to compromise foundational doctrines, then a unbiblical type of Christian unity will not be far off. But if we want to be unified in the truth, we must search the Scriptures and obey God’s every Word. We must not be part of the great ecumenical deception that seeks to unite all Christians by blending truth and error. Paul warns us, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8).
According to the Bible, true Christian unity already exists among those who embrace and obey God’s Word. Jesus prayed, “Father, sanctify them in the truth, thy Word is truth” (John 17:17).
Each year it seems that fewer Protestant churches celebrate Reformation Day. Instead, observances are often marked by ecumenical services and apologies for the divisions caused by our forefathers. At a symposium sponsored by Concordia College (ELCA) Moorhead, Minnesota, October 31-November 2, 2004, Roman Catholics and Lutherans gathered under the theme “The Future of the Reformation Tradition.” According to a press release, “the presenters agreed that whatever the future brings, the past is mostly past.” The Rev. Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, said he believes Martin Luther prayed for the day when Lutherans and Catholics would again be united.” Bishop Victor Balke, head of the Catholic Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, stated: “Really, it was a matter of language the churches used and not truth.”
It is a sad day, indeed, when Lutheran leaders feel that they must apologize for the Reformers’ courageous stand on the Word of God. The Protestant Reformation was neither a contrived conspiracy nor an accident of history. It came about as men and women of God were moved by the Holy Spirit to stand upon and proclaim Scripture’s foundational truths—Grace alone, Faith alone, and Scripture alone.
A reformation in the 21st century is possible if we Christians will find our voices and reaffirm our glorious heritage of faith and stand where our forefathers stood—upon the unalterable Word of God
BACK TO THE BIBLE
The Bible stands, regardless of all efforts to discredit its truth. God’s Word is a personal Word, a practical Word, and a powerful Word. The Bible is our guide for all of life and even eternity. It is a book of comfort for the broken in heart, a book of hope for those in despair. God’s Word convicts of sin and leads the repentant sinner to heaven by the road of Calvary. Only through the inspired Word of God will the church ever find the pathway to revival and reformation.
BACK TO PRAYER
We have our instructions from the Lord of the Church to “hold on to what we have” (Rev. 2:25). It is not easy to “hold on” when the vast majority around us are joining hearts and voices with the enemy of men’s souls. It is not easy to hold on when we find ourselves the objects of ridicule for believing what the Church has declared for nearly 2000 years. But hold on we must.
“Holding on” is not something we do in our own strength but in the power of God’s Spirit who indwells every believer. Hold on through prayer! When your denomination, pastor or congregation will not heed your pleas to walk in the counsel of God’s Word, take it to the Lord in prayer. You can not hold on by looking to man for approval. You cannot hold on by looking to man-made institutions for security. Prayer is not merely talking to God, it involves listening to His Word and living in obedience to His commands. True prayer lays hold of God’s commands and unbreakable promises.
Church members, pray for your pastor! Pray daily that God will strengthen and bless his ministry. Pray that God will guard him from discouragement. Pray that God will grant him power to preach the Word of God with boldness.
BACK TO GODLY LIVING
It never ceases to amaze me when people set out to pray for revival but make no effort to see that their lives are purified from sin. God may use a broken vessel, but He will not use a “dirty” vessel (Matt. 23:23-28). Sin and spiritual decay in America’s churches are the primary reasons revival tarries. Only as we humble ourselves, pray and turn from our wicked ways will the power of God fall upon us. We must be willing to cast out of our lives and our churches all that is contrary and offensive to God if we expect to experience revival and reformation.
Our Lord still walks in the midst of His church. He loves and cares for each one of us beyond all measure. And we must love Him too. Our love for God is forever connected with our obedience to His Word. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Across our land, Christians are obeying the voice of the Holy Spirit and separating themselves from church bodies that no longer heed the Word of God. Congregations, laity and pastors are separating themselves from denominations that have walked away from the Truth. In doing so, they are finding new life and freedom in the Spirit of God. This is part of the revival and reformation in the 21st century for which we have been praying. Will you be a part of it? End.