David Stamen Copyright Ⓒ David Stamen 2021 romans5.com
“Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 1:3)
It is with this verse in mind that I have set out to write a historical survey of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. This written survey evolved from the notes which formed the basis of eleven audio talks which I gave, and these are also available. The main purpose is to look at some of the fundamental teachings of the Reformed Tradition and contrast them to what the Scriptures teach. However, I thought it would be instructive and illuminating to have a look at the nature of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century as a background to looking at what the reformers taught. The frame of mind of the reformers and how they dealt with what they considered to be the ‘opposition’ to them also helps to highlight where they erred in doctrine.
The question considered in this book will be this:
To what extent was the Reformation just a religious movement – to do only with outward or nominal religion – and to what extent, if any, was it a spiritual movement, where the preaching of the Gospel led to a spiritual ‘awakening’ in communities, with people being brought to genuine repentance and faith, and being genuinely converted and finding salvation in Christ. Did the Reformation of the magisterial reformers only represent a change in religious allegiance in the communities – from Catholic to Reformed – or did it represent a movement that changed people’s hearts by the power of the Gospel that led to their lives being manifestly different.
It may be thought that this cannot easily be assessed. However, Both D’Aubigne and Philip Schaff in their histories of the Reformation speak of the reformers’ work as representing a revival of apostolic Christianity and teaching, the like of which had not been seen since New Testament times. This book seeks to provide a counter-balance to this view.
I shall attempt a historical overview of the 1500 years leading up to the Reformation, but only commenting on those events and periods that are relevant to the purpose of this study.
At issue is the nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Fundamental to our salvation is a clear understanding of why Jesus came to die on the cross. The motivation for writing these things is to bring home to us the nature of the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation. This overview of the history of the Reformation represents just a first step by providing a background to Reformed doctrines. The main aim is to consider the doctrines themselves and contrast them to the teaching of the New Testament, which will be addressed in the second study.
An explanation of terms: The term ‘magisterial’ refers to the reformers of the 16th century, such as Luther and Calvin, who gained their position, authority and power by allowing themselves to be linked with, and come under the supervision and jurisdiction of the secular power – in Germany this was represented by the Princes and in Switzerland by the magistrates of the city council. By doing this, they supplanted the status of the Catholic Church, becoming the new ‘state church’ in the respective regions. Their position was not only safeguarded by the civic authorities, but these authorities, as patrons of the ‘new’ religion’, ensured that no other form of doctrine or practice was allowed in their domains. Hence, because their position and authority derived from the secular power – the ‘magistrates’ – they have become known as the magisterial reformers. And as such, the continued the persecution of any dissenters to their Reformed dogma and practice, just as the Catholic Church had done. The magisterial reformers continued in upholding the notion of ‘Christendom’.
However, there were those who believed that the Reformation of these magisterial reformers did not go far enough in changing things, and sought for a greater severance from Catholic teachings and practices than the magisterial reformers were willing to concede to. The Anabaptists, for example, also believed in the separation of Church and State, which was an unthinkable step for those with a ‘Christendom’ mindset, which the magisterial reformers fiercely clung on to. As a result, the Anabaptists, as well as some others, have become known as the radical reformers. They found themselves outside of the state church system and were therefore cruelly persecuted by the magisterial reformers.
FROM NEW TESTAMENT TIMES TO THE BEGINNING OF THE REFORMATION.
THE GRADUAL EMERGENCE OF AN ECCLESIASTICAL INSTITUTION.
In this historical survey, I want to begin in New Testament times, as this highlights for us certain important truths regarding how quickly believers can fall away from an intimate relationship with the Lord, become legalistic and formal, depart from the truth and allow sin into their midst and into their lives. These things eventually give rise to a dead religion.
The New Testament records are clear about this. Within a few years of churches being established, and during a period where the apostles were still in their midst and teaching among them, churches and individuals descended into false teaching, into formalism and legalism, and into sin. We only need to read what the apostle Paul had to write to the Corinthian and Galatian churches to get a clear picture of some of these things.
Chapters two and three of the book of the Revelation show us how zeal for religious duties and correct doctrine can supplant a believer’s personal intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus, as was the case with the Ephesian church (Rev. 2:4,5). The Lord told them that if they didn’t repent He would take away their candlestick, and we are told that the candlesticks represented the churches. In other words, He was telling them that if they didn’t repent and change, He would not recognise them as His church. Oh yes, they could continue to meet together, but they wouldn’t be representing Him or His church! They would simply be representing dead, outward religion.
Other churches had also got things dangerously wrong. Whether it was a desire for success, or for fame and fortune, or the love of other things, the churches at Sardis and Laodicea chose a way that pleased them and suited them, probably ‘valuing the things of man more than the things of God’ (Mtt. 16:23). This brought them into a perilous condition before God, where Sardis was told it was ‘dead’, and Laodicea was threatened with being rejected totally by the Lord Jesus. (Rev. 3:1,16,17).
Another thing that troubled the churches was men who were seeking things for themselves, for their own profit, for their own status and reputation, building their own little ‘empires’. The apostle John writes about the church leader, Diotrephes, who, he says “loves to have the pre-eminence among them, receives us not…neither does he himself receive the brethren, and forbids them that would, and casts them out of the church.” (3 John 9-10). Here we have a clear manifestation of an absolute domineering control that wouldn’t even recognise the authority of the apostles of the Lord! We see here in miniature that which would emerge, within a very few centuries, on a far wider scale through the rise of an institutionalised church which easily allowed itself to be associated and identified with the state power.
And of course, the case of Diotrephes was not an isolated incident. Paul makes this amazing statement when writing about Timothy to the Philippians: “For I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” (Philippians 2:20-21. Italics mine.) Even if, to some extent, this is hyperbole, it nevertheless underscores the reality that there were few men at that time who served the Lord and His people without a self-seeking disposition. Paul even saw this self-seeking nature among the elders of Ephesus, saying that even from among them “shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30. Italics mine.)
The desire for recognition, position, authority, pre-eminence and control seemed to prevail in many men who had gained some kind of position in the church at the time of the apostles. And if this happened when the apostles were still alive and able to counteract by their teaching and interventions the the selfish acts and false teachings of many who sought position and power, how much more would this be the case when there was no such recognised authority among the churches – in other words, after the apostles had departed this earth?
Furthermore, in the early church, it was not only those who gained position and power that led others into deception, but believers themselves were prone to get bored with God’s ways and thus seek for themselves, or be attracted to, preachers who preached to them what they wanted to hear! So within one generation, we see Paul writing to Timothy and saying, “Preach the word; be diligent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they draw to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto myths.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4. Italics mine.)
Within one generation, Paul recognised a tendency among some, if not many believers to depart from the truth and seek something that suits their own desires and ambitions, instead of truly and sacrificially following the Lord Jesus Christ.
All this is not just academic. It is not just a revelation of what happened in the early church of the first century, but reveals features, tendencies and realities that are common to every generation – and how much more so in the absence of apostles who had manifestly been sent by Jesus Himself.
What I am saying is this:
The idea that in the following few centuries ‘the Church’, so-called, could sort itself out and develop into some kind of spiritual Christian network of churches is an idealised fantasy.
What we find instead is the rise of an ecclesiastical hierarchy and the development of a highly organised and institutional ‘Church’, which bore no resemblance to the church we read about in the New Testament.
During the 2nd century we see the creation of another tier of authority through the appointment of ‘bishops’ as distinct from ‘elders’ or ‘overseers’ (which comes from the Greek word that is wrongly translated ‘bishop’) and the growth of a clerical system under the domination of the bishops. Broadbent writes in his book, The Pilgrim Church, that this process “substituted a human organisation and religious forms for the power and working of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Scriptures in the separate churches. This development was gradual.” (Broadbent, Pilgrim Church, p. 9).
When I was at university I studied ‘early church history’, and part of the course meant reading a book called Creeds, Councils and Controversies. And truly, the immediate centuries after the New Testament period were filled with ecclesiastical infighting, mutual accusations of heresy, the setting up of councils, the strivings for dominance and power etc. It didn’t make for edifying reading!
ROME’S RISE TO PRIMACY.
In this early period, along with Rome, a few other cities had claims on the leadership of the ‘Church’. However, it was Rome that grew in importance. We find an indication of this in a writing of Bishop Irenaeus, where he states: “With [the Church of Rome], because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree … and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition.” (Against Heresies, 3:3:2. Italics mine.) This was written in 189, and in 195, Pope Victor I, attempted to issue an excommunication against the churches in Asia Minor in a dispute over the date of Easter! Leading men of the ‘Church’, so called, had already lost their way – had lost the plot.
We can see here how quickly things had degenerated from what we read in the New Testament and how the apostles conducted themselves. The church in Rome was seeing itself as the centre and defender of orthodoxy. By the end of the 2nd century, Rome’s status and primacy was aslo strengthened by the teaching that claimed that the apostle Peter had been designated by Jesus Christ as His representative on earth and as head of the church. Significantly, this theory claimed that Peter’s position would be passed on to his successors!
However, Rome’s primacy was not left without challenge. In the third century, when Pope Stephen I (254–257) tried to claim that he had doctrinal authority over all the Church, it was met with a strong challenge from Cyprian, bishop of Carthage. Nevertheless, Rome’s primacy continued to establish itself over the next two centuries, despite rivalry from the see of Constantinople, which was the capital of the Eastern Empire.
What was emerging here was a far cry from the pleadings of the apostle Paul who told the Corinthians, “Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy…” (2 Corinthians 1:24. Italics mine.) The ‘Church’ that had emerged very quickly in those early centuries was one that sought complete control over every church and individual in all matters of dogma and practice.
In those days there was no printing press, let alone social media! In other words, we know little or nothing of other groups of believers or churches that may have dissented from, and seen through the carnal and human ways of an institutional church. The writings of such dissenters have largely perished, and much of what is written comes from the pen of those that opposed them. Personally, I believe there must have been groups of Christians that were meeting in homes in those early centuries, and had no association, and wanted no association with a domineering human institution, calling itself the ‘church’.
At university, I made an extensive study of the Montanist movement, which began in the second century. It was named after its founder Montanus and began in Phrygia, Asia Minor. I was hoping perhaps to find some elements in it that were true to New Testament Christianity, as opposed to the ecclesiastical formalism and the organised control that was emerging across Europe and the Mediterranean. The Montanist movement seemed to be a reaction to such formalism and was more inspirational in nature and had a strong prophetic aspect to it. Montanus had two female adherents, Prisca and Maximilla, who likewise engaged in prophetic utterances and claims to divine revelations. They soon had quite a following and caused considerable concern to the developing ‘organised’ Church. It was claimed that what was being taught and prophesied was unscriptural and not from a divine source. Eventually, the bishops of Asia Minor gathered in synods and finally ‘excommunicated’ the Montanists, probably about 177 CE. There do seem to have been some extreme excesses within this movement, which casts doubts on its orthodoxy, but most of what we know comes from those who opposed them, since the Montanist writings themselves have perished.
As mentioned earlier, we are here confronted with the problem that what we know of dissenting groups or movements outside the still emerging Catholic Church is mostly known by the writings of those who sought to quash them. This largely remains true until the invention of the printing press.
PERSECUTION AND DIVISION.
We of course know that Christian believers suffered persecution under various Roman Emperors. These persecutions and the varying reactions to them by Christians also led to the assertion of authority and primacy of one group of ‘Christians’ over another. There were believers that suffered death and persecution because they had refused, under duress, to offer sacrifices or divine honours to the emperor or to the Roman gods. This was an instrument used by Roman emperors, particularly against Christians, to weed out those citizens who they considered to be treasonous and a danger to the Empire. Moreover, when it suited him, a ruler could blame Christians as a scapegoat for other problems that might occur in the Empire. Generally, Christians were subject to intermittent and sometimes fierce local discrimination in the empire.
In the second half of the third century, under the reigns of Decius and Valerian (Roman Emperors during the period 249 to 260 AD), Roman subjects, including Christians, were compelled to sacrifice to Roman gods or face imprisonment and execution. During this persecution, some clerics denied the faith but were re-instated once the persecution had passed, but this was met with opposition from Novatian. Novation (200-258) was a noted theologian and priest who eventually set himself up with support from his followers as the ‘true’ pope, in opposition to the elected Pope Cornelius. Novatian argued that it was wrong to so quickly and easily re-instate lapsed clergy and believers. This also brought him into conflict with Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage. The clergy in Rome sided with Cyprian that the question should be handled with moderation and balance by a council. Cyprian called Novatian a ‘schismatic’ – someone who threatened the unity of the church, and Cyprian considered schismatics worse than apostates.
Broadbent writes, “Writing of Novatian and those who sympathised with him in their efforts to bring about greater purity in the churches, Cyprian denounces ‘the wickedness of an unlawful ordination made in opposition to the Catholic Church’; he says that those who approved Novatian could not have communion with the Catholic Church because they endeavoured ‘to cut and tear the one body of the Catholic Church’, having committed the impiety of forsaking their Mother, and must return to the Church, seeing that they have acted ‘contrary to Catholic unity’. Cyprian said there are, ‘tares in the wheat, yet we should not withdraw from the Church, but labour to be wheat in it, vessels of gold or silver in the great house.’… Referring to Novatian he asserts, “He who is not in the Church of Christ is not a Christian … there is one Church … and also one episcopate.” (Broadbent, Ibid, p.11)
Cyprian freely uses the term ‘the Catholic Church’ and sees no salvation outside of it. Following the letters of Bishop Cyprian of Carthage, the Church of Rome declared the Novatianists heretical.
Notice here what is considered the greatest of crimes – it is causing division within the ‘Mother Church’. There is only one church, and it is the Roman Church. (A similar, if not identical argument was made by the reformers in the 16th century against Anabaptists and others in excluding and persecuting them.) Notice also the reference to ‘tares and wheat’ in Bishop Cyprian’s writing above. This reference (from Matthew 13) is one that will now constantly be alluded to by the Catholic Church and then, subsequently, in exactly the same way by the Magisterial Reformers in their defence of ‘Christendom’, namely that entity which includes virtually all of the ‘Christianised’ citizens under its jurisdiction. In other words, it was the establishment of a nominal or cultural Christianity, where all the infant-baptized citizens were now automatically considered to be Christians and to represent ‘the Church’.
Those who down the centuries would claim that a church should consist of committed, converted believers who were leading holy lives that actually distinguished them from the world, would be met with the argument that ‘we cannot know who really is a Christian and who is not in the church because the Church consists of ‘tares and wheat’. Those who insisted on the ‘purity’ of the church, of members who distinguished themselves through changed and holy lives were castigated as being proud, idealistic, hypocritical and the like. Such groups were persecuted down the centuries by the Roman Catholic Church, and then by the Protestant Reformers, as we shall see later.
This rise of Christendom (or of ‘nominal’ Christianity) under Roman Catholicism was carried on unaltered by the reformers of the 16th century. There was no change in this.
So we have seen that early on the Church in Rome was establishing itself as the centre of orthodoxy and assuming control over all other churches. This bears no resemblance to the church of the New Testament, nor did its leading men bear any resemblance to the way the apostle Paul conducted himself among the churches and who said, “Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith you stand.” (2 Corinthians 1:24). The Roman Church was establishing itself as the one and only Christian ‘denomination’ to whom all others must submit. It is difficult to see how any of this, or the leaders in it, actually represented the Lord’s church.
The Diocletian persecution.
At the beginning of the fourth century, there was another severe persecution of Christians under the reign of Emperor Diocletian, who came to power in 284. This was the last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. In 303, edicts were issued taking away Christians’ legal rights and demanding that they comply with the Empire’s religious practices. Scriptures were to be burnt and Christians banned from meeting together for worship. Later further edicts were issued targeting the clergy and requiring sacrifice to the gods. This persecution varied in intensity across the Empire, but ultimately failed in its purpose and edicts were rescinded in 311.
However, the temporary apostasy of some Christians, and the surrendering of scriptures during the persecution played a major role in the subsequent Donatist controversy, which we will consider shortly.
Constantine was Roman emperor from 306 to 337. Eusebius of Caesarea and other Christian sources record that Constantine experienced a dramatic event in 312 at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, after which Constantine claimed the emperorship in the west, and ‘converted’ to Christianity. Eusebius of Caesarea recounts that Constantine looked up to the sun before the battle and saw a cross of light above it, and with it the Greek words ‘Ἐν Τούτῳ Νίκα’ (‘in this sign, conquer!’). Constantine commanded his troops to adorn their shields with a Christian symbol (the Chi-Rho, X and P overlapping), and thereafter they were victorious.
This was supposed to be an account of Constantine’s conversion. However, in this account it lacks all the features of true conversion, namely, conviction of sin, repentance and faith in a pardoning God.
Constantine immediately declared that Christians and pagans should be allowed to worship freely, and restored property confiscated during previous persecutions and other lost privileges to the Christians. The Edict of Milan in 313, decreed tolerance for Christianity in the Empire.
During the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, Christianity began to transition to be the dominant religion of the Roman Empire, launching the era of the State Church of the Roman Empire, with Constantine becoming the great patron of the Church.
Constantine saw himself as an ‘emperor of the Christian people’, the Christian emperor within the Church. He supported the Church financially, had an extraordinary number of basilicas built, granted privileges (e.g., exemption from certain taxes) to clergy, promoted Christians to high-ranking offices, returned property confiscated during the Great Persecution of Diocletian, and endowed the church with land and other wealth. Before Constantine, being a Christian meant persecution – after Constantine, it would mean promotion.
Broadbent writes, “The prominence of the Bishops and especially of the Metropolitans in the Catholic churches made for ease in communication between the Church and the civil authorities. Constantine himself, while retaining the old imperial dignity of chief priest of Pagan religion, assumed that of arbitrator of the Christian churches. The Church and the State quickly became closely associated, and it was not long before the power of the State was at the disposal of those who had the lead in the Church, to enforce their decisions. Thus the persecuted soon became persecutors.” (Broadbent, Ibid, p. 20. Italics mine)
When reading about these developments, I thought that surely this close association between Church and State, where the two become as one in upholding a Christian religion, will inevitably result in unavoidable tensions between the two. The State power (whoever that may happen to be represented by at any given time in history) can, and will only recognise and support one Christian religion or Church. The emperor, for example, cannot commend to his citizens to choose between differing or rival Christian religions! He cannot sponsor and support rival Christian groups, because he would thus be creating ‘a house divided against itself’. The peace and security of the State depends on the stability of the one ruling political power and this now also means it is dependent on the integrity and unity of the one Christian religion, that is, on the State Religion.
It is now not only the State religion, but also the State’s religion, with the Emperor overseeing and ensuring the unity of the Church, for this is now linked to the peace and security of the State. Offence against the State Religion is now an offence against the State, the political power, itself. The nature of this union between church and state would have far-reaching consequences for more than 1000 years. On the one hand, it provides the opportunity and the means for the so-called Church to banish, persecute, imprison, torture and kill all those dissenters who also call themselves Christians, but disagree with, and depart from the State church’s dogma and practice. On the other hand, to continue to win such support from the State, the Church itself must in some measure concede authority and control to the State. As I mentioned, this tension, this arrangement, would result in the distinction that would be made between what would be called the Magisterial Reformation and the Radical Reformation.
Some have called this arrangement between church and state the Constantinian or sacrilist model. It was the arrangement that the Roman Catholic Church totally bought into, exploited and submitted to. It was also the arrangement that the Protestant reformers of the 16th century totally embraced and perpetuated, using the forces of the state power to banish, persecute, imprison and kill all dissenters to Reformed dogma and practice. The brutal persecution of ‘nonconformist’ Christian believers continued under the Protestant reformers as it had done under the Roman Catholic Church. There was no change.
CONSTANTINE AND WHO RULES THE ‘CHURCH’.
Returning to the rule of Constantine, what we would see in this arrangement is that when push came to shove, real power lay with the state and not the church. For the sake of the unity and peace of the Empire, Constantine took responsibility for maintaining and ensuring the peace and unity of the church.
When first informed of the unrest in Alexandria due to the Arian theological disputes, he was ‘greatly troubled’ and, ‘rebuked’ both Arius and Bishop Alexander for originating the disturbance and allowing it to become public. (Sozomen, The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book 1, Ch. 16). Constantine, in a letter to the Nicomedians, wrote the following:
“Should any of the bishops unadvisedly excite tumult, his audacity shall be restrained by the minister of God, that is, by my executive” (Theodoret. Lib. 1 c. 20. Italics mine). If the Emperor was financing and supporting Religion, he took it upon himself to ensure peace and tranquillity in the Church just as he did in the political realm. The clerics did not always take kindly to this when they felt the Emperor was actually making decisions that were the prerogative of the Church. But this was an inbuilt tension that would never really be resolved. How far can you ‘push’ the power that was responsible for your very existence?
Calvin put a more innocuous interpretation of this in his Institutes. He writes:
“…Romish clergy. They deem it unworthy of them to answer before a civil judge in personal causes; and consider both the liberty and dignity of the Church to consist in exemption from ordinary tribunals and laws. But the ancient bishops, who otherwise were most resolute in asserting the rights of the Church, did not think it any injury to themselves and their order to act as subjects. Pious emperors also, as often as there was occasion, summoned clergy to their tribunals, and met with no opposition. For Constantine, in a letter to the Nicomedians, thus speaks: ‘Should any of the bishops unadvisedly excite tumult, his audacity shall be restrained by the minister of God, that is, by my executive.’” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. 4, Ch. 8. P. 15)
It was precisely because the ‘ancient bishops’ did not want to incur ‘injury’ from the Emperor that they answered to his summons! It is this scenario and arrangement that would cause John Calvin himself so much heartache, frustration, exasperation and nervous exhaustion during his time in Geneva. Most of his years in Geneva were spent in constant conflict and struggles with the councils and syndics (magistrates) of Geneva as each tried to assert their own authority over the other in important matters regarding the running of the church. The ‘Constantinian’ arrangement that gave Calvin his position and authority in Geneva (the civic authority) was the same power that would clip his ecclesiastical wings when it deemed he had ‘overstepped’ the mark.
We see Constantine’s oversight and direction of the Church in the matter of the Council of Nicaea. Constantine organised a local church council to deal with issues that were troubling church unity, but when that failed, he called a special Council to be held at Nicaea. The Council of Nicaea was convened by Constantine upon the recommendations of a synod in 325 AD – this was the first empire-wide (ecumenical) meeting of church leaders to discuss various doctrinal controversies and to arrive at a consensus. It resulted in a formulation of Christian doctrine concerning a whole number of doctrinal and ecclesiastical issues.
What we can also note here is that there was already a unified body of churches that was ready and willing to be thus absorbed into, and united with the great secular power. That this organised body of churches could so easily feel themselves at home and comfortable with such an arrangement, in itself speaks volumes about their spiritual condition. They might have had a reputation for being spiritually ‘alive’ (Rev. 3:1), but then the standards and values of the Lord are very different to man’s. The way has been prepared for the creation of ‘Christendom’ – the ‘Christianisation’ of society; the creation of nominal Christianity.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE STATE CHURCH.
The Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity in AD 380. The edict was issued in the name of Gratian, Valentinian II, and Theodosius 1, and it stated:
“It is Our Will that all people who are ruled by the administration of Our Clemency shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans, as the religion which he introduced makes clear even unto this day. It is evident that this is the religion that is followed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, bishop of Alexandria….We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of Catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative.” (Codex Theodosianus, XVI.i.2. Italics mine).
Theodosius 1 (Roman emperor from 379 to 395) also issued decrees that effectively made Nicene Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire. In 393, he banned the pagan rituals of the Olympic Games. He issued decrees against Roman paganism, Hellenistic religion, and Arianism.
The Emperor now becomes, as it were, the defender of the faith, and was ready to use all the power and might at his disposal to quell and crush any religious dissent. As we can see from the quote above, the Emperor would actually see himself as God’s instrument of vengeance upon those who would seek to cause division in the church. And as the Pharisees connived with the Roman authorities, represented by Pontius Pilate, to arrest and kill Jesus Christ, so both the Catholic Church and later the Protestant Reformers would use the physical force which was at the disposal of secular power to persecute and kill dissenting believers. This feature of ruthless dictatorial rule made it self-evident that Christendom and those that aligned themselves to it had nothing to do with Christ or His Church. One just had to read the New Testament to realise that the truth of this.
FORMALISATION OF THE CHURCH BY THE 4TH CENTURY.
Below are two quotes which reflect the increased formalism and further departure from New Testament Christianity that the Church was undergoing.
“When in the fourth century Christianity was granted the status of a legal religion, the Christian celebrations took on a more formal appearance and were embellished by the use of vestments, lights and incense. Extempore prayers by the presider gave way to texts previously approved by synods of bishops as a guarantee of the orthodoxy of the content, leading to the formation of liturgical forms or ‘rites’ generally associated with influential episcopal sees.” (Bradshaw and Johnson, 2012, pp. 70,71. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_in_the_Catholic_Church ).
“Eventually, pictures, images, and icons began to be valued. Churches were built to receive relics or to commemorate the death of martyrs. The meetings of the disciples of the Lord, in simple houses and rooms, changed to the gathering of all in a given location, willing or unwilling, believers or not, in consecrated buildings dedicated to the Virgin or one of the saints, filled with images, pictures, and relics, which became objects of worship. Prayer was diverted from God to the Virgin and the saints, and the idolatry of Paganism was reproduced in the gross superstitions that grew up around the images, the priests, and the forms of religion.” (Broadbent, Pilgrim Church, p.43).
THE DONATIST AFFAIR.
Christianity grew much more rapidly in Africa than in any other western province, and by the 3rd century it was strongly represented in Carthage and other Tunisian towns. I have already previously mentioned that there were groups of Christians emphasised and insisted on the purity of the church, namely, that it was to be a communion of committed believers who distinguished themselves from the unrighteous lives of unbelievers. This was to a significant extent true of Christians in North Africa. In particular, holiness of life was regarded as essential in validating the ministry of the priest. Where the priest was lacking in this respect – in holiness and uprightness of life – he was considered unfit to administer the sacraments. They believed that when the Church lost its holiness, it ceased to be the Church. We shall see how the now ‘institutionalised’ Roman Church would become a relentless adversary of this outlook – and later the Church of the Reformaton.
During the Diocletian persecution some believers held fast to their faith and refused to hand over the Scriptures or to make sacrifice to the gods. Consequently, they suffered for their faith. However, there were those who did surrender the scriptures, in effect, denying their faith, and among these were clerics, as well. When the persecution ended, Christians who had reneged on their faith were called ‘traditores’, meaning ‘those who handed (the holy scriptures) over’ to the Roman authorities.
Division and trouble arose when in 311 Felix of Aptungi, an alleged traditor, consecrated Caecilian as a new bishop of Carthage. But many did not recognise this appointment as Caecilian allowed himself to be consecrated by a traditor bishop – or you could say a ‘traitor’ bishop.
Donatus was a Christian leader in North Africa at this time and he led the campaign against the easy re-instatement of those who had denied the faith. The churches in numerous communities, especially in Numidia, followed Donatus and claimed that they alone constituted the true church of the martyrs, who were greatly esteemed among African Christians. This dispute about the nature of the church resulted in a split on the part of the Donatists, as they were called, from the Catholic Church. In 313, in an attempt to resolve the schism, the Donatists appealed to Constantine to determine which group was entitled to imperial recognition.
We note here how already the lines between Church and State were being blurred – who should decide in such matters? The Church or the State? It was the one who had the greater power. The Emperor cannot be seen to be funding two rival churches. Division in the Church was equated to division and instability within the Empire. It was a threat to the State and to society itself. This would be the axiom down the centuries, used by Catholics and Protestants alike.
The schism developed into a situation where there were two rival bishops – one Catholic and the other Donatist. Constantine called for arbitration, and the bishop of Rome led the argument against the Donatists and his view prevailed. However, the Donatists appealed against this decision, so Constantine summoned a council of bishops, which, in 314, again sided with Rome against the Donatists. As a result, in 316 Constantine validated the recognition of the newly-consecrated bishop, whose appointment the Donatists had opposed.
Constantine tried to persuade the Donatists to come back into the fold of the Catholic Church. But those attempts failed and he eventually resorted to force. Some Donatists were killed when their churches were confiscated, the victims being honoured as martyrs.
However, coercive measures by the imperial authorities failed to curtail the expansion of Donatism in North Africa. In 321, Constantine was forced to change tack, which resulted in him granting the Donatists full liberty of faith and worship. At the same time, he urged the Catholic Church to patience and indulgence. However, such qualities were in short supply.
Here is another feature that would repeat itself down the centuries. The secular authority, though powerful, was nevertheless guided in the end by prudence and pragmatism. The Donatists in North Africa were so numerous and popular, particularly among the poorer classes, that an attempt to suppress and eradicate them only led to an unacceptable degree of social instability in the region. Constantine recognised that the ‘greater good’ for the Empire was to be found in allowing the Donatists their freedom rather than inflicting persecution on them – irrespective of what the Catholic Church felt or wanted!
Julian the Apostate: 361 to 363.
Emperor Julian was called Julian the Apostate because when he became Emperor in 361, he rejected Christianity, and it was then that the Donatists began to flourish again in Africa and represented the majority Christian party for the next 30 years. However, his reign only lasted 2 years.
AUGUSTINE (354 – 430).
As far as our story is concerned, it was Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (in North Africa) who now appears on the scene and takes up the fight against the Donatists, and the struggle against them took up much of his time. He had been made Bishop shortly after 395. At this time, the Donatists were more numerous than the Catholics in parts of North Africa. As we shall see with the reformers of the 16th century, this combat with ‘seperatists’ (the Donatists) influenced his theology, in other words, in response to their teachings, Augustine had to develop a theology that countered it.
The Donatists couldn’t be won over by persuasion – though Augustine did try that through numerous writings. So Augustine evolved a theory that supported the right of Christian rulers to use force against heretics and those who cause division within the Church. In this way, Augustine could justify the use of the political and legal power of the Roman Empire to suppress the Donatist church – or any schismatic. This would be the stance that the Magisterial Reformers not only aligned themselves to, but also rigorously applied to stamp out the Anabaptists and other dissenters.
In 411 an imperial commission summoned a conference in Carthage to bring the schism between the Catholic and Donatist parties to an end. This was presided over by Augustine’s friend, the imperial tribune Marcellinus. The conference, which was designed to settle matters once and for all, was attended by 286 Catholic bishops and 279 Donatist bishops. This council decided against the Donatists and for the Catholics. In 412 and 414 severe laws denied the Donatists civil and ecclesiastical rights.
An important issue that has already been touched upon appears here again. The validity of sacraments administered by priests and bishops who had been traditors was denied by the Donatists. However, according to Augustine, a sacrament was from God and ex opere operato (Latin for “from the work carried out”). ‘It is Christ who baptizes.’ A priest or bishop in a state of sin could continue to administer sacraments, because the validity of the sacrament lay not in the spiritual condition of the priest, but in the God-ordained ministry itself. However, the Donatists believed that a ‘repentant’ apostate priest could no longer consecrate the Eucharist.
The failure of the above conference led to the re-imposition of strict imperial laws and persecution against the Donatists. Augustine, who had for years tried to win the Donatists over by persuasion, now began to advocate the use of force against them, in order to bring them back into the fold of the Catholic Church. In support of this stance, he appealed to the command in the parable of the Great Supper in Luke 24:23 to “compel them to come in.” In other words, those who keep themselves outside the ‘Church’ should have force used against them to ‘bring them back in’. His interpretation of this text no doubt suited his ends, but it displays complete disregard for the meaning of the passage and disrespect for the Scriptures themselves.
Augustine and the nature of the church.
We have already noted that the Donatists maintained the idea of pure Church with committed believers. However, in his letters to them, Augustine sought to show the Donatists that the Church is a mixed society which consists of the godly and the ungodly, and that the Church does not consist of saints alone. As we have seen earlier, Augustine uses Matthew 13:30 to maintain that the visible church consists of ‘wheat’ and ‘tares’. It is this interpretation of the Church that provided the Catholic Church (and later the reformers) with the justification of creating and maintaining ‘Christendom’ – the Christianisation of the whole of society.
In consequence of this teaching, Augustine claimed that the Donatists had put themselves outside of the one true universal Church, and that they were not a pure church at all but apostate, because they had forsaken the ‘mother’ church. Augustine also claimed that baptism administered by a sinner was no different than baptism offered by a saint because it was Christ’s ministry, not man’s. (This was also adamantly affirmed by Martin Luther and other reformers in their disputes with the Anabaptists.) Augustine goes on to say that baptism was effective only within the unity of the Church. Since the Church is the place of the Holy Spirit, in which sins are forgiven, the Donatists, who were outside the Church, lacked the Holy Spirit and thus could not be saved.
In his reactions and writings to the Donatist schism, Augustine developed his doctrine of the church. He taught that there is one universal Church in the world. For him, this was the Catholic Church. Furthermore, Augustine maintained that the church visible will, according to the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:24-30, be made up of the godly and the ungodly until the end of the world. Augustine insisted that there could be no salvation outside the Catholic Church.
Augustine supporting violence.
Earlier in his career, Augustine was not in favour of schismatics being violently coerced into communion with the Catholic Church by the force of secular power, but he developed exactly such an outlook and teaching in his controversies with the Donatists. (This is exactly the path that Luther and Calvin themselves went down in their fight against dissenters. They perceived that the scriptures taught no such thing, but in trying to eradicate ‘heresy’ from their regions, they resorted to the expediency of using the brute physical force of the secular power to put down dissenters, using such arguments as were developed in the first few centuries by the emerging Catholic Church.)
Indeed, Augustine became increasingly supportive of intervention by the state in view of the Donatists’ determined resistance against the Church’s efforts to unite them with itself, and particularly since some among the Donatists, called the Circumcellions, reacted with violence against Catholics.
The Donatist bishop Petilian complained to Augustine that Catholics were persecuting them. He pointed out that the only victory for Donatists was to be killed or to escape. He asked how Augustine could justify this killing because Jesus never killed anyone. Augustine replied by suggesting that Christian love meant ecclesiastical unity. He advocated the use of force against the Donatists, asking “Why . . . should not the Church use force in compelling her lost sons to return, if the lost sons compelled others to their destruction?” (Saint Augustine 354- 430 Of the Correction of the Donatists, Trans. by J. R. King, Ch. 6). Again, this was an argument used by the 16th century reformers.
Petilian angrily replied that love does not punish people nor incite emperors to take away the lives or to plunder the possessions of individual citizens. However, Augustine countered that Christ punished people when he expelled the merchants from the temple with a whip!
Vincentius was an old friend of Augustine from Carthage who eventually became a Donatist. He was shocked that Augustine supported the use of the state power to force Donatists back into the Catholic Church. In his letter to Vincentius, Augustine used the New Testament parable of the Great Banquet to justify using force against the Donatists: “You are of the opinion that no one should be compelled to follow righteousness; and yet you read that the householder said to his servants, ‘Whomsoever ye shall find, compel them to come in….’ We have no hesitation in finding fault with you, who think that we are criminal in bringing any complaint before a Christian emperor against the enemies of our communion.
“Truly, if past events recorded in the prophetic books were figures of the future, there was given under King Nebuchadnezzar a figure both of the time which the Church had under the apostles, and of that which she has now. In the age of the apostles and martyrs, that was fulfilled which was prefigured when the aforesaid king compelled pious and just men to bow down to his image, and cast into the flames all who refused. Now, however, is fulfilled that which was prefigured soon after in the same king, when, being converted to the worship of the true God, he made a decree throughout his empire, that whosoever should speak against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, should suffer the penalty which their crime deserved. The earlier time of that king represented the former age of emperors who did not believe in Christ, at whose hands the Christians suffered because of the wicked; but the later time of that king represented the age of the successors to the imperial throne, now believing in Christ, at whose hands the wicked suffer because of the Christians.” (The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustin, P.Schaff, p. 550,551, Letter of St. Augustine To Vincentius, Letter 93, Ch. 3, P. 9. Italics mine).
From Augustine’s words, we see that he cared nothing for the context and correct interpretation of the passages he was quoting from. Those passages that seemed to suit his purpose were simply abused to make them fit his own outlook. He quotes Scriptures in order to justify violence against dissenters. And in his attempt to justify the dictatorial rule of the Church through state power, he gives his incredible interpretation from the passage above in the book of Daniel. He goes on to say,
“We see not a few men here and there, but many cities, once Donatist, now Catholic, vehemently detesting the diabolical schism, and ardently loving the unity of the Church; and these became Catholic under the influence of that fear which is to you so offensive by the laws of emperors.”
Augustine believed that the threat and use of violence against dissenters was a blessing in that it brought back into the fold of the Church those who otherwise were destined to eternal perdition. It is a remarkable misuse of scripture, and went towards establishing a so-called biblical basis for the persecution, imprisonment, torture and death of dissenters for many hundreds of years to come. Augustine’s writings against, and treatment of the Donatists would be quoted by the leading reformers of the 16th century to justify their violence against dissenters.
Augustine was hesitant about the more violent oppression of the Donatists, but without doubt he supported and availed himself of the Imperial Power to suppress and persecute those who separated from the Catholic Church.
A SUMMARY UP TO THE 5TH CENTURY
We now have the Roman Empire supporting and representing one religion. State and Church work in tandem. Unified by one religion. A threat to one of them, represents a threat to both of them. Both together tolerate only the one recognised Catholic church. Any who dissent from the prevailing Catholic Church, from its doctrines or its practices, represent a threat to the harmony of society and the well-being of the State; religious dissent is equated to sedition and rebellion. (Again and again, this axiom is repeated during the Reformation by the leading reformers against the Anabaptists.) How can the State, the Empire, support two or three different versions of Christianity? It is unthinkable. Thus the persecution, banishment, beatings, torture and death is assured to any who dissent. That persecution of Christians that heretofore was sporadic and intermittent under hostile Emperors of Rome, now became persistent, continual and unrelenting under this sacrilist regime of Church and State – and this continued for over a millennium and included the reign of Protestant States.
In addition to this, it was not only the idea that there can be only one genuine Church that held sway; but because of this ‘union’ between church and state, particularly with the emergence of the baptism of infants, everyone in a given locality was regarded as ‘Christian’ – the community became by definition ‘Christian’, or more accurately put, ‘Christianised’. This was underpinned by the baptism of infants. Thus you have the idea developing of a ‘Christian’ nation, who now represent the ‘people of God’, just like in the Old Testament. The clerics – whether Catholic or Reformed – represent something like the priests of the Old Testament, and the Emperor or civic authorities the King of Israel; and the clerics can now call on their ‘king’ to persecute and annihilate the enemies of the so-called true religion. These kinds of arguments were used by the reformers who also quoted Romans 13 in order to justify the persecution of dissenters by using the force of the state.
So Europe now undergoes a process of ‘Christianization’.
THE MIDDLE AGES: The Church all-pervading.
By now religion pervaded all aspects of society and daily life, and the church with its priests, rituals and sacraments, was seen as the means of obtaining eternal life. To incur the wrath or displeasure of the Church, was to put your soul in mortal danger – whether you were a beggar or a King. Belief in the teachings of the Catholic Church was not only a requisite, it was the norm. And of course, the Church could profit greatly from such control and submission to itself.
The Church found ways to charge people for all and sundry. Baptisms, burials, taxes, tithes, relics – charges were required and levied at every turn, impoverishing the people. And then of course there was the sale of indulgences – paying for sins to be forgiven or escape from purgatory. The Church itself paid no taxes and was able to accumulate wealth that exceeded that of monarchs, and this of course perpetuated the tension between State powers and the Roman Pontiff. ‘Christian’ Kings were now meant to be in submission to the Pope for the good of their own souls! The influence of the Church was deep and widespread. It had accumulated to itself great power, and could muster up nations to fight on its behalf against heretics at home and abroad. And we must not forget, with all this power, the Catholic Church continued ruthlessly to persecute and eliminate those who represented a threat to its dogma and practice.
However, the size, wealth and power of the church led to far greater corruption in the course of the middle ages.
THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE
I will only make a few brief statements about the Holy Roman Empire. It was around the 900s (CE) that saw the emergence of what would become known as the ‘Holy Roman Empire’, and which would last for about 1000 years, if you date it from then. It wasn’t officially called by this name until the 13th century. Although, as someone has noted, it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire in the strict sense. It was a patchwork of different lands, mainly in central and western Europe. This alliance of nations and the papacy was also there to safeguard and promote the Catholic faith, and it was ruthless in putting down and eliminating those who disagreed with the tenets of the Church. However, as from the time of Constantine, there were at times inevitable tensions – to say the least – between nations or regional rulers and the papacy.
CHALLENGES TO THE ROMAN CHURCH
With power and wealth came the rampant corruption of the Church. The Church’s easy-going abuse of power though, would also, to some extent, be its Achilles heel. It gave rise to various reformers, who would not only point out and inveigh against these corruptions, but who would also write to correct the false teachings of Catholicism. The following summaries are given to show that there were those who challenged Catholic corruptions and false teachings long before the appearance of the 16th century reformers.
In the 12th century, a movement began in France under the leadership of Peter Waldo, and they were called the Waldensians. They emphasized voluntary poverty, but because of the scarcity of their own writings it is difficult to absolutely pinpoint all their beliefs. However, many of their teachings anticipated those of the later Reformers. They rejected the use of indulgences. Baptism was to be by full immersion in water and was not administered to infants. Eventually, they taught that the bread and wine were to be understood as symbols only. They also rejected the notion of purgatory, and of prayers offered for the dead. They accepted the Bible as the only authority for all doctrine. They opposed the superstitious beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church with regard to relics, Lent and fasting and pilgrimages. They rejected what they perceived as the idolatry of the Catholic Church and considered the Papacy as the Antichrist of Rome.
So here we can see that the abuses, false teachings and superstitions of the Catholic Church that the reformers argued against and exposed, had already been opposed and attacked by the Waldensians 300 years earlier – and also by others later. In fact, Martin Luther’s initial attack on the Roman church was far more tentative than that of some others who preceded him.
Inevitably, the teachings of the Waldensian brought them into conflict with the Catholic Church and by 1215 the Waldensians were declared heretical and subjected to intense and terrible persecution over a long period of time, with many being burned at the stake. This led to them spreading to many different parts of Europe. At one stage, the Waldensians briefly ruled Buda, the capital of Hungary from 1304 to 1307, and the Waldensians in turn excommunicated Pope Benedict XI. Although they survived, their existence was a precarious one, which required them to meet in secret. At the time of the Reformation, representatives from the reformers met with some of the representatives of the Waldensians, and a Confession of Faith with Reformed doctrines was formulated, thus enabling some of the Waldensians to worship openly again.
John Wycliffe (born c. 1324 in Yorkshire) was an influential theologian and dissident within the Roman Catholic priesthood and is considered an important predecessor to Protestantism. He wanted to reform the Roman Catholic Church by getting rid of the immoral clerics, by relieving them of their properties which he considered to be a source of corruption. In 1378 he began a systematic attack on the beliefs and practices of the church. He regarded the Scriptures as the only basis for teaching, and maintained that all Christians should rely on the Bible rather than on the teachings of popes and clerics. He said that there was no scriptural justification for the papacy or clerical celibacy. In one of his writings he calls monks the pests of society, enemies of religion, and patrons and promoters of every crime and advocated the dissolution of the monasteries. The Catholic Church was not pleased!
The pope and the English clerics moved against Wycliffe, but he had support from the nobility, particularly from John of Gaunt, the father of the future King Henry IV. Wycliffe had particularly won them to his side as he was advocating the conveyance of church properties and endowments to the state. The Roman Catholic Church was already perceived as rich and corrupt, as it owned one third of all the land in England and was exempt of all taxes, so certain of the nobles had reasons other than doctrinal for protecting Wycliffe.
But when he spoke against the traditional doctrine of transubstantiation, he lost the support of the nobles and had to retire to the rectory of Lutterworth, his former parish.
Of course later, under a different King of England, and as a result of Catholic edicts against Wycliffe and his works, his body was exhumed and burnt at the stake under King Henry VI.
How was it that Wycliffe survived his onslaught on the Catholic Church? I think that one main element in this was the fact that he exposed what was evident to many, namely, the corruption and exploitation exercised by the Catholic Church. It struck a chord not only in the hearts but also in the ‘pockets’ of the ruling classes in England. The other factor that assured his survival was the support he got from the nobility. In the end, the secular power would decide what was in its own best interests. This again is another example of the inevitable tension and jostling for power that existed from the time of Constantine and onwards between the church and the secular power.
Jan (John) Huss was born in Bohemia (c. 1370). He was a theologian and was to some extent influenced by John Wycliffe and, like Wycliffe, is considered a forerunner of the Reformation. He was ordained a priest and began to preach in the city of Prague.
The history surrounding John Huss and the Hussite wars that followed is too complex to go into here, but suffice it to say that Huss incurred the wrath of the Catholic Church when he forthrightly spoke against the sale of indulgences in a public disputation and finished by burning the papal decree authorising such sales! Eventually, he was offered safe passage by the Catholic authorities to attend the Council of Constance to offer his defence, with the promise that he could freely leave whatever the outcome. So Huss came and attended the council. However, after Huss refused to recant, they had him imprisoned and burnt at the stake.
However, by this time Huss had gained a large following and the resistance of the Hussites, as his followers were known, led to what was called the Hussite or Bohemian wars. Again, the history is complex, with different battles being fought and one side gaining the upper hand and then the other. These wars continued from 1419 to 1431. At the end of the Hussite Wars, the lands of Bohemia were left totally ravaged and hundreds of thousands were killed. However, the Roman Catholic Church couldn’t quite eliminate the Hussites and they remained a thorn in the Church’s side for some time.
What I want to draw attention to is this: true religion is religion of the heart, which means a change of heart, a radical change of life; an inward spiritual change that then results in a manifest outward change of behaviour. It doesn’t matter what doctrines you hold, which doctrines you teach if your life hasn’t been radically changed by a new birth from above. You can preach against the abuses and false teachings and practices of the Catholic Church, you can proclaim ‘justification by faith’ and you can insist on sola scriptura, but it will do you no good – or anyone else – unless your heart has been changed. The Pharisees knew the Hebrew Scriptures inside out and ‘believed’ many things correctly, but their hearts were not right, and so these people who knew the scriptures so well, ended up killing Him who was the Son of God. These religious Pharisees continued to persecute and kill the Lord’s people after His resurrection – and they thought they were rendering a service to God!
Jesus didn’t say that “we shall know them by their doctrine” but that we would “know them by their fruits”! (Mtt. 7:16)
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from here.” (John 18:36. Italics mine). He furthermore instructed His disciples with the following words: “…for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” (Matthew 26:52. Italics mine).
His words are clear. They direct themselves specifically to the matter of fighting and taking up arms in the protection of one’s faith, and He declares it is not in the nature of His Kingdom or of His servants to do so! It certainly was not in His nature! Nothing could be clearer. All those who take up arms in His name and for His truth to defend themselves and their ‘faith’, or fight against, kill and persecute others who believe differently to them – all those who do such things do not represent Christ, they do not represent His church, they are not of His Kingdom…and they are certainly not His servants.
What is called, and written about as ‘church’ history is, by and large, not the history of His church, of the true church. That history, so to speak, is written in heaven and shall be fully revealed in a day that is to come.
In the above account I am not writing to support the Hussites against the Catholics. I see no difference between them. They were all men of war. They were religious wars. Such actions have nothing to do with Christ or His Church. Both sides believed in taking arms against one’s enemies. In the face of such conduct, in view of bearing this kind of fruit in their lives, scriptural knowledge, however ‘correct’, makes no difference. It is all dead religion; it is a useless faith that cannot beget children from above; it doesn’t change the heart. The apostle Paul’s heart was changed by the Gospel, by Christ – and what a change the Gospel wrought in his life! Paul gives a wonderful account of his conversion from being a persecutor who used violence – in the name of God – to becoming an example to all generations of the longsuffering, gentleness and meekness of Christ. (1 Timothy 1:12-16; 2 Cor. 10:1). A man who allowed himself to be abused and misused – and didn’t fight back!
Whether it is the Catholics, the Hussites, or the Puritans – or others that we shall look at shortly – they were all one and the same. They believed, contrary to the teaching of the Son of God, in using severe physical violence to kill and destroy their enemies. It is all dead religion, veiling the glory of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ from the spiritual view and understanding of people. Such religion, because it convinces people that they are in the service of God, because they have a form of godliness and a form of correct doctrine, keeps people outside of Christ’s Gospel and Kingdom. They take up the sword, and they die by the sword (like Ulrich Zwingli), but they are none the wiser! They are not taught by God from scripture, even though they may proclaim ‘justification by faith’ and ‘eternal judgement’ from their pulpits, while they put down their opponents with the sword.
We shall see all this more clearly when we come to look at the Reformation of the 16th Century.
What is important to note from this is that a man, whether he is religious or non-religious – if has familiarised himself with the teaching of the New Testament, can easily discern what the Catholic Church was doing in many respects was either unbiblical or had nothing to do with Christ and His Church. One didn’t need ‘special revelation’ to ascertain this, nor did it necessarily mean that a person with this kind of understanding was a converted Christian themselves.
Copyright Ⓒ David Stamen 2021 romans5.com