The Protestant Church's Need for Reformation
By David R. Barnhart
Volume 31 Winter 2016 Issue 5
THE POPE CALLS FOR REUNIFICATION OF LUTHERANS AND CATHOLICS
This past October, Pope Francis made a historic trip to Sweden, where he joined some of the world’s most liberal Lutherans for a service in the Lund Cathedral that opened a year-long celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Included among the church leaders was the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. The theme of the Pope’s message was essentially— Come home to Rome! The assembled Lutherans loved the Pope’s message and responded accordingly. More of these ecumenical gatherings will take place in the coming year, but my counsel is this— Don’t participate! They are a betrayal of the biblical principles of the Reformation— Grace alone, Faith alone, Scripture alone and Christ alone.
Some may say— But, is not the unity of the church the essence of Jesus’ prayer in John 17? Yes, it is, but if you read Jesus’ entire prayer care- fully, you will discover that the unity He prayed for was not a man-made unity built on organizational structures but a unity built on the Word of God. “Sanctify them in the truth, Your word is truth,” prayed Jesus (John 17:17).
Apart from God’s truth as revealed in Scriptures, there can be no genuine unity of the church. Only those who believe the truth, love the truth, walk in the truth and obey the truth will ever be united in the one true church for which Christ died.
From the earliest days of the church, Satan has sent false teachers among the believers in an attempt to destroy their faith in Christ. But few times in history has the assault on truth been as great as it is today.
In his message at the Lund Cathedral, Pope Francis praised Martin Luther for bringing back the “centrality of Scripture” to the church. However, what good is there in paying lip service to Luther when neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the liberal Protestant churches represented in that ecumenical assembly base their doctrines and practices on God’s Word? The Roman Catholic Church bases its beliefs and practices on both Scripture and church tradition, not on Scripture alone. As for most Protestant churches, the dust is an inch thick on their Bibles. Thus when it comes to validating doctrines and practices by the Scriptures, they do not even try.
Following the service in Sweden, Pope Francis and the Lutheran World Federation president, Bishop Munib Younan, signed a joint declaration pledging to improve relations between the two church bodies through dialogue, while “working together to heal conflicts, welcome refugees and care for the planet.” The stated goal of their signed agreement is to “bring Catholics and Lutherans together at the communion table.”
Any attempt at union between Lutherans and Catholics will face enormous obstacles, starting with women pastors and bishops in the Lutheran Church of Sweden and elsewhere.
One reporter picked up on this right away, and on the plane ride back to Rome, she asked Pope Francis, “Considering that the Church in Sweden has women as priests and bishops, might the ordination of women be something the Roman Catholic Church will eventually consider?” To which the Pope replied that women will never be allowed to become priests. “Never?” the reporter asked. “Never, never,” the Pontiff replied.
However, women priests may be the least of the problems when it comes to the reunification of Lutherans and Catholics. The head of the Lutheran Church in Sweden is Archbishop Antje Jackelen, a political and religious leftist who has given her support to numerous doctrines and practices directly opposed to Roman Catholic teachings, including the sanctioning of homosexuality, same-sex marriage and abortion. Furthermore, she has stated her belief that the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ is mythological. That’s not a very good start for uniting with a church that teaches Mary had no other children but Jesus, and that she remained a virgin for the remainder of her life after giving birth to Jesus.
Another bishop in Sweden who welcomed Pope Francis with a fond embrace was Eva Brunne, a lesbian who lives with her female partner and the son they had together. Bishop Brunne, a Marxist, gained notoriety in 2015, when she asked that crosses be removed from churches in her diocese, in order that Muslims would not be offended. She further asked churches in her diocese to place markings in and around their facilities that point in the direction of Mecca.
Anyone who has been to Sweden recently knows that a huge influx of Muslim refugees has nearly taken over large portions of the country. Instead of sharing Christ with them, the Lutheran Church in Sweden has announced its plan to fund the construction of a $4.3 million mosque. Here is exhibit “A” of the liberal church’s concept of evangelism and outreach. Martin Luther would turn over in his grave were he able to see what 500 years have done to the church that bears his name.
THE REAL LUTHER
Pope Francis as well as others at the Lund assembly gave high praise to Martin Luther, but the Luther they praised bears little resem- blance to the great Reformer of Wittenberg. For years liberals have tried to reshape Luther into the person they want him to be. They would do well to study the facts of Luther’s history before dragging him into their nefarious schemes.
On October 31, 1517 [All Saint’s Eve, not Halloween] Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, outlining points of disagreement with doctrinal positions held by the Roman Catholic Church that he wanted to discuss. Luther also wrote assorted books and papers regarding his disagreements with various teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. The invention of the printing press helped to carry Luther’s writings far and wide.
One of Luther’s main concerns was the selling of indulgences that claimed to free souls from the pains of purgatory. As a parish pastor in Wittenberg, Luther confronted a fellow priest, John Tetzel, who was selling indulgences to raise funds for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Tetzel used a catchy little slogan that infuriated Luther: “Whenever a coin drops into the chest, a soul flies up to heavenly rest.”
In 1521, Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther. Later that same year, the Reformer was summoned to appear before church officials and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms. Without being given an opportunity to defend his positions, Luther was asked by church officials to recant all his writings. Luther asked for time to consider their demands. The next day he returned to assembled dignitaries and declared: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contra- dicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”
Church officials wanted Luther jailed or executed on the spot as a heretic, but the Emperor had promised him safe passage, so he was set free. With a death sentence on his head, Luther was secretly whisked away by friends to the Wartburg Castle near Eisenach, where he translated the Bible into the German language and continued leading the Reformation. For the rest of his life, Luther was protected by Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, and other German princes.
WHAT WAS, STILL IS
Over the past 499 years, few changes have been made by the Roman Catholic Church to their doctrines and practices that brought about the Reformation. In fact, the Council of Trent, which met between 1545 and 1563, reaffirmed Catholic dogma and condemned the teaching of Luther and the Reformers. In 1962, Pope John the XXIII reaffirmed the Council of Trent’s decisions regarding Roman Catholic doctrines. As someone once wrote about John the XXIII’s decision, “What was, still is.” Now, as if by magic, we are expected to believe that disagreements the Reformers had with Rome have been changed.
Consider, for example, the Roman Catholic Church still holds to the doctrines of purgatory and the Sacrament of Penance. Both doctrines incorporate the belief that believers must enter into cooperation with God when it comes to justification by faith by participating in the punishments for sins they have committed. Because sinners are unable to render full satisfaction for their specific sins in this life, the Roman Church created purgatory where unfulfilled penalties could be satisfied. Every day Roman Catholics still give money to have masses said for loved ones, in order that their stay in purgatory may be shortened. One can hardly balance these beliefs that contradict both Scripture and the doctrines of the Reformation
Grace alone, Faith alone, Christ alone and Scripture alone!
IN 2017, IT’S THE PROTESTANT CHURCH THAT IS IN THE GREATEST NEED OF REFORMATION!
It goes without saying that the Roman Catholic Church is still in great need of reformation. But the evidence shows that the need for reformation in the Protestant churches is even greater. While one could make a strong case that the Roman Catholic Church has remained rather steady over the past five centuries when it comes to the preservation of its cherished doctrines, beliefs and practices, the same cannot be said for liberal Protestant churches in the United States, Europe, Scandinavia and elsewhere. The vast majority of Protestant churches in 2017 no longer hold to the basic biblical doctrines of the Reformation. Instead, they have “accumulated for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desire...” (2 Timothy 4:3).
The Roman Catholic Church has retained its opposition to abortion and homosexuality. That certainly cannot be said for countless mainline Protestant churches that now support abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage and all manner of deviant sexual behaviors. The ELCA, for example, funds abortions for its clergy and lay workers through its health-care program, a health-care program that is paid for through the offerings of its members.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and its counterpart in Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), are leading the parade in this unprecedented shift from truth. Together, they have led millions away from the foundational doctrines of the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions. Both church bodies have deliberately abandoned the most basic of all Reformation teachings— that the Bible is the divinely inspired, infallible and inerrant Word of God.
Today there is not one seminary professor in any ELCA seminary that believes, let alone teaches, that the Bible is the “only source and norm by which all teachings and teachers are to be judged.” Liberal church leaders and teachers fully understand that when the full authority of Scripture is denied, the door opens to whatever beliefs or practices the leaders desire their churches to follow. In order for liberal clergy and theologians to infiltrate the church with their demonic agenda, they first had to get rid of all teachings regarding biblical authority.
Even before the ELCA came into existence, the first doctrine to be jettisoned was the inspiration and inerrancy of Holy Scripture. This doctrine was mandated as an “unalterable” article of the constitution of the American Lutheran Church, one of the predecessor bodies that formed the ELCA. Thus, the ELCA was built on the shifting sands of human opinions, not on Scripture, and it has operated on human opinions ever since. Today in the ELCA, church assemblies get to decide by majority vote what is and what is not correct doctrine.
Numerous Protestant denominations have taken the same road, until today, it is increasingly difficult to find a church that still holds to biblical Christianity. With the full authority of Scripture jettisoned, doctrines such as the virgin birth of Christ, His miracles and even His bodily resur- rection have become optional for clergy and laity alike.
Many Protestant clergy today deny Christ’s atonement on the cross for the sins of the world. Furthermore, they have adopted the unbiblical doctrine of universal salvation. It teaches that everyone will be saved regardless of faith in Christ. In numerous Protestant churches, non-believers, atheists and people of other religions are being invited to participate in Holy Communion. Some clergy and theo- logians teach that there is salvation through other religions because, according to them, preaching salvation through Christ alone is an act of intolerance. Even goddess worship is practiced today within the ELCA and other Protestant churches without a word of reprimand from its leadership.
The most damning aspect of the Protestant church’s rejection of the biblical teachings of the Reformation is the fact that millions are going out into eternity without a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Doctrines do matter, especially as they relate to salvation. Many of the leaders of these churches are themselves lost. They are, as Christ described them— “the blind leading the blind.” Protestant churches today stand in need of a reformation every bit as much as did the Roman Catholic Church in 1517, even more so in many ways!
THE FAITHFUL REMNANT CHURCH
The rise of a one-world religion and the apostate church is taking place before our eyes, but there are few who are able see it. Biblical ignorance reigns today in far too many quarters of the church. Every Christian is being impacted by the rise of the apostate church, whether they know it or not. Christ expects more of us. He expects all believers to faithfully stand against false teachings and deceptions until He returns for His church. One has only to read Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation to fully realize what is at stake in these last days.
Thankfully, there are Christians and churches throughout the world that have not abandoned the biblical principles of the Reformation. They love the Lord and His Word, and they are holding the blood-bought ground. We’ve watched with joy over the past number of years as thousands of congregations and millions of believers have refused to be part of the apostasy found in the mainline church and have withdrawn in accordance with Scripture’s command. In this regard, a new reformation is taking place that is preserving the remnant church. Sadly, however, far too many Chris- tians and congregations have not yet followed in their steps.
Our world desperately needs living churches that will stay on message by proclaiming the true gospel of Christ and by preaching the whole counsel of God. We also need churches that will effectively apply His Word and truth to people’s lives. If we are to see revival and reformation in our churches and healing for our land, Christians must place their personal lives and resources on the altar of sacrifice.
IT’S TIME FOR A NEW REFORMATION
As Christians living in the midst of so much apostasy and evil, what does God expect of us? In today’s Christ-less culture with so many Christ-less churches, believers must make Christ’s burden for a lost and dying world their own! Revival and reformation will not happen merely because we wish for it, hope for it, or even pray for it. We must desire it and yield up our own lives as “living sacrifices which is our reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).
- First and foremost, we must dare to become reformers ourselves! The Bible instructs us “...to speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Being a reformer is not a negative act. It is, by far, the most loving thing anyone can do for Christ’s kingdom.
- We need to go to our knees, repent of our sins and the sins of our nation, and we must turn from our wicked ways. It’s time to get serious with God by calling sin for what it is—SIN!
- We need to cry out to God for a fresh anointing of His Spirit and power. “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:11-14).
- We must desire revival in our personal lives and seek the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit blowing across our lives. To that end we should fervently pray without ceasing. Consider these words of Andrew Murray: “There is often great confusion as to the will of God. People think that what God wills must inevitably take place. This is not the case. God wills a great deal of blessing to His people which never comes to them. He wills it most earnestly, but they do not will it. Hence it cannot come to them.” (From With Christ in the School of Prayer.)
- We must ask God for grace and strength to stand for truth wherever truth is being attacked. God’s truth matters. Every believer should be engaged in spiritual warfare. There is no victor’s crown without first the battle!
- Christians who attend churches that are preaching or tolerate false doctrines should obey Paul’s directive to “Come out from among them...” (2 Corinthians 6:14- 18). Furthermore, as Christians we should stop financially supporting churches and organizations that are not upholding the principles and truths as set forth in God’s Word. Why should we feed Satan’s war machine?
- We need to help people to understand the essence of the gospel— Christ brings us not only into a living relationship with God, He also brings us into a living relationship with one another. As we have been forgiven, so we must forgive others. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).