He said to them, ‘Moses, because of your hardness of heart, allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it has not been so.’ Matthew 19:8
Due to the upcoming 500th anniversary of the reformation (marked by Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 theses to the door above which I got to see!), I figured I’d give a perspective on the Protestant Reformation that may be new to many of you.
I prefer the term “recovery” as opposed to “reformation” because it captures what happened and even what has been happening over the past 500 years in a more accurate way. Reform implies something new occurred and that something old was changed to something new. However, what has occurred over the last 500 years falls more in line with the verse mentioned above. In the beginning it had not been so, and we are recovering what was in the beginning, i.e. the first century Church.
The Bittersweet Protest
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, both to Jew first and to Greek. For the righteousness of God is revealed in it out of faith to faith, as it is written, ‘But the righteous shall have life and live by faith.’
These are the verses that changed Martin Luther’s life. He realized that the righteousness of God is not that which condemns us sinners, but the righteousness of God is Christ given to us freely by faith that we might be saved apart from works of the law. What a revolutionary concept!
While Luther saw something extraordinary in the Word of God, this revelation would not be received by the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church, which condemned Luther as a heretic and strengthened the Roman Catholic position on many of their held heresies. Luther had no desire to divide the Church, however to call the Roman Catholic Church “the Church” at all is highly questionable. The common man could not obtain salvation with the heretical gospel preached by the Roman organization at the time, and Luther saw the urgent need to reform, be it from within or without.
Luther decided (or was forced) to split from the Roman Catholics and the Protestant divide began. The consequences are observable today. Salvation by grace through faith was recovered, but the break in the Church, like a crack on the car windshield, spread and splintered into the 30,000+ denominations that we have today. The recovery of Romans 1:17 resulted in the loss of 1 Corinthians 1:10:
Now I beseech you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be attuned in the same mind and in the same opinion.
Become watchful and establish the things which remain, which were about to die; for I have found none of your works completed before my God.
– Revelation 3:2
Many before me have pointed out the prophetic nature of Christ’s epistles to the seven churches, almost unanimously associating the Reformed Church with the church in Sardis. The recovery of justification by grace through faith (along with the priesthood of the believers, the authority of the Scriptures, the rejection of the heretical Roman Catholic mass, and many other major recoveries) didn’t quite recover all that once was in the 1st century Church.
For any who beg to differ, a brief study of the situation in the 17th century denominations will suffice to persuade otherwise. Lutherans persecuted Zwingli and Calvin’s Reformers and vice versa. Everyone was murdering the Anabaptists. Anglicans kept the Romish flavor in their liturgy and other practices. Everything was a mess. The Lord needed some who would stand for His recovery and continue on until Philadelphia came forth (Rev. 3:7-13).
That they all may be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that You have sent Me.
How could the world believe that the Father sent the Son in the church situation of the 17th century (let alone today)? How could the kingdom of God be displayed on the earth? How could the House and City of God, the Church, stand (1 Tim. 3:15; Heb. 11:10; Rev. 21:2)?
But knowing their thoughts, He said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself becomes desolate, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.’
Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf deserves a blog post devoted solely to himself, for Christians know little to nothing about him. In the midst of the persecution and degraded situation of the 17th century, Zinzendorf raised up a community in Herrnhut Germany known as the Moravian Brethren. Composed of former Calvinists, Lutherans, and Anabaptists alike, the Moravians dropped all names and dividing issues to meet in oneness. This led to a great outpouring of the Spirit and a recovery of the practices of the Church.
Darby and the Plymouth Brethren
The Plymouth Brethren deserve a post of their own as well. This group of believers saw the situation and degradation of Christendom in the 19th century and chose to meet similarly to the Moravians by dropping all names that divide to meet as one. They recovered much of the interpretation of the Bible, especially the Old Testament types and prophecies that were neglected by the watered down Protestant theology.
Another major development among the Brethren was the recovery of the human spirit and the understanding that Christ does not dwell in our soul where lies our mind, emotion, and will, but with our spirit (Pvbs. 20:27; Rm. 8:16; 1 Cor. 6:17); and the dispensational interpretation of the Bible (I don’t necessarily champion such an interpretation, but it’s deveopment allowed for a far greater understanding of the Bible, especially in regard to God’s dealing with man through time and His ultimate plan with Israel, the Church, and the rest of humanity).
I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am about to spew you out of My mouth.
While the Brethren exist today in large numbers, their original purity has been lost. Attending a meeting myself, I felt horribly dead from start to finish. The original oneness has been lost with division over non-essential matters between the “exclusive” and “open” brethren. The church in Philadelphia has cooled down to Laodicea.
There is a need for more recovery today. The experience of Christ (Phil. 3:10; Eph. 1:19; 3:17; Rm. 8:17; Col. 1:24; 2 Cor. 4:10-12; Rm. 6:3; Jn. 6:57) and the ground of the church (Rev. 1:11; Acts 8:1; 13:1; 1 Cor. 1:2) have been woefully neglected and God cannot be satisfied by such.
I cannot delve into the Lord’s Recovery as it relates to today, but I hope that we would all consider the Protestant Reformation with a sober mind and a heavenly perspective. God used great men like John Wycliffe, John Huss, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, Count Zinzendorf, John Wesley, John Darby, and many more to recover many things. We must lay hold of all that God has done through these men and be inspired by their devotion to the Lord, His Word, and His desire to have a fully matured Church (Eph. 4:13).
Lord gain us for Your Recovery today. Reveal to us all that You desire for Your Church. May we not be bound by tradition. May we be open to Your leading that Your Will may be accomplished on the earth!