The 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (Part One)
The Historic Protestant Institutions’ Protest against Rome is Over
The 31st October 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
On this day in 1517, an obscure German monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the castle door in Wittenberg, Germany – and sparked a spiritual, political and social revolution which shook the world. Within weeks the theses had been widely circulated throughout the country and then throughout Europe. Prophesied of in Scripture (Rev. 10), the Reformation was an event which literally altered the course of history and changed the world.
It is not surprising that its 500th anniversary would be observed by Protestant institutions the world over. But the tragedy is that what should be commemorated as the time when, in the Lord’s providence, a massive break was made with the diabolical Roman Papacy, is in fact being commemorated, by many of the historic Protestant institutions, as the time when that very break is being mended! When it should be being commemorated by reminding people of the false doctrines and abominable practices of the Papal system, of why the Reformation occurred, and of the great need to remain forever separate from that iniquitous, idolatrous and utterly antichristian religious system with its headquarters in Rome, many of the Protestant institutions are doing the very opposite. They are actually lamenting the break which occurred; calling it a great tragedy; wishing it had never happened; and doing all in their power to rush back under the wings of “Mother Rome” as fast as their spineless, biblically ignorant leaders will take them!
The remnant of the Lord’s people, true Bible-believing Christians who live “without [outside] the camp” of professing Christendom, whether Papist or false Protestant (Heb. 13:13), separate not only from the Mother Harlot of Rome but from her “daughter” harlots as well (Rev. 17:5), are witnesses to the most momentous religious reversal in all history: the headlong rush, by the “Protestant” institutions which came into being in the sixteenth century and afterwards, to now apologise to Rome for ever breaking away, and to grovel at the feet of the Roman Antichrist, while they cast off every doctrinal and practical barrier standing between them and full and abject surrender to the religious system over which he presides in all his haughtiness and arrogance.
It is true, of course, that many of the blessings which were the fruit of the Reformation are still with us today, to a greater or lesser extent, in various parts of the world. But inasmuch as it gave birth to religious institutions which came to be known as Protestant, and insofar as these once protested against Rome, the Reformation is now over. As far as the historic Protestant religious institutions are concerned – whether Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, Congregational, Methodist, etc. – Rome has won.
The Great Accomplishments of the Reformation
One cannot deny that, for all its faults (and these were of a very serious nature – see below), there were immense blessings which flowed from the Reformation; and to God belongs all the praise for what He accomplished for the good in those momentous times. After five centuries, all true Christians should raise their hearts and voices in worship and thankfulness for these blessings.
Above all others, we must put at the very top of the list of blessings the accurate translation of the Bible into many languages, providing the common man with the priceless treasure of God’s own Word, which led to multitudes being converted to Christ. Nothing compares with this. O what mercy was shown to this sinful world by the Lord most High, in raising up men with the ability to translate the Holy Scriptures into so many languages!
But there were many other blessings as well. There were, in various quarters, many able and gifted preachers raised up to proclaim the true Gospel of Christ and expose the false “gospel” of Popery. There was the breaking of the Papacy’s iron grip over much of Europe, with entire nations throwing off the Papal yoke, and the birth pangs of religious freedom in the western world – which, although it did not immediately come into being in many places where the Reformation had overturned the power of the Papacy, yet it gradually spread and took root as the years went by. There were also many political, social, scientific and technological blessings bestowed on many nations, once they overthrew the yoke of Rome. There was the paving of the way for great and wonderful progress in all kinds of fields, improving the lives of millions worldwide as the centuries went by.
If there had been no Protestant Reformation, the last five centuries would have been no different from the Dark Ages which preceded it. The Papacy would have reigned supreme, spiritual ignorance would have blanketed the world like a shroud, the Bible would have remained an unknown book to the masses, and all that is good in the progress made in science, technology, and so many other fields would never have occurred.
It was a religious and political earthquake, and the world has never been the same since.
Let us look at the effects of the Reformation in just one country, England. In the words of J.C. Ryle, a nineteenth-century Anglican bishop and a true Christian (at a time when there were at least some Anglican leaders who were truly converted, despite the unbiblical errors within Anglicanism):
“I do not pretend to endorse the character of all the agents by whom the English Reformation was carried out, or to approve of everything which they did…. All I do maintain is, that the whole result of the Protestant Reformation was an enormous gain to this country. And I confidently assert that England before the Reformation was as unlike England after the Reformation as black and white, darkness and light, night and day. Facts, stubborn facts, exist to prove the correctness of this assertion.”
“It would be impossible to exaggerate the difference there was between England in 1495 [i.e. prior to the Reformation] and the same England in 1555. In a religious and moral view, the country was turned upside down.”
“Before the Reformation, one leading feature of English religion was dense ignorance. There was among all classes a conspicuous absence of all knowledge of true Christianity. A gross darkness overspread the land, a darkness that might be felt. Not one in a hundred could have told you as much about the gospel as we could now learn from any intelligent Sunday School child…
“Before the Reformation, another leading feature of English religion was superstition of the lowest and most degrading description. Of the extent to which this was carried few, I suspect, have the smallest idea…. The blind led the blind, and both fell into the ditch. In a word, the religion of our ancestors… was little better than an organised system of Virgin Mary worship, saint worship, image worship, relic worship, pilgrimages, almsgivings, formalism, ceremonialism, processions, prostrations, bowings, crossings, fastings, confessions, absolutions, masses, penances and blind obedience to the priests. It was a grand higgledy-piggledy of ignorance and idolatry, and service done to God by deputy.
“Before the Reformation another leading feature of English religion was widespread unholiness and immorality. The lives of the clergy, as a general rule, were simply scandalous, and the moral tone of the laity was naturally at its lowest ebb…. The consequences of shutting up herds of men and women in the prime of life, in monasteries and nunneries, were such that I will not defile my readers’ minds by dwelling upon them.
“I want English people to understand from what the Reformation delivered us. Before we make up our minds to give up Protestantism and receive back Popery and monasticism, let us thoroughly understand what was the state of England when Popery had its own way…. In short, unless a man can disprove the plain historical facts recorded in the pages of Fox, Fuller, Strype, Burnet, Soames, and Blunt, he must either admit that the pre-Reformation times were bad times, or be content to be regarded as a lunatic!”