Dirk Willems - from Martyr's Mirror - Public Domain


THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST

Previous: Revelation 3:1c,d

"I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead." - Revelation 3:1:c-e

What was wrong with the Reformation?

Now we must ask why Jesus gave this church the most stinging of all His rebukes, "But you are dead." Many commentators describe this period of history as a time of "dead orthodoxy." The reformers were heroic in causing multitudes of Christians to return to their biblical roots and to embrace the simplicity of justification "by grace through faith." Salvation was accomplished solely by the death of Christ on the Cross. It was "not of works." But in the process, they failed to deal with many other theological errors in the Church. This is somewhat understandable, since there was just too much to address all at once. Nevertheless, we need to consider some of these serious problems that were ignored.

Baptism of Infants/ Limited Evangelism

One of the corruptions of the Middle Ages was the teaching that infants should be baptized. As we mentioned above, this was seen as an effective method of keeping new members of families in the Church. However, it gave false assurance to children who grew up, thinking that they were in compliance with God's will, even though they had never personally accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The "Anabaptists," believed that the Reformation had not gone far enough toward restoring biblical teaching in several areas. One of the most important matters that still needed to be resolved was the question of when a person should be baptized. As we discussed above, the Bible indicates that only adults should be baptized since it was a sign to the world of their belief in Christ.

Because the first wave of the Reformation failed to deal with this issue, there was a tendency to ignore the question of whether or not a person had actually received Christ as Savior. Belief in infant baptism had a stifling effect on evangelism.

To be fair, the reformers did clarify the biblical teaching about the sacrificial death of Christ and how His death became the basis of our salvation. So, the majority of converts to Protestantism probably did know enough to confess Christ and be born again. It should also be conceded that there have been some great evangelists among Lutherans and Presbyterians, who are descendants of the original reformers and still practice infant baptism today. One of the most notable in our generation was D. James Kennedy, the late pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida, and author of the "Evangelism Explosion" method of personal soul-winning.

On a personal note, my closest pastoral associate in my first pastorate in East Los Angeles was a Lutheran who helped to bring evangelistic meetings to our area.

On the other hand, today's mainline denominations, including the Anglicans (Episcopalians) Lutherans and Presbyterians, are generally not as interested in evangelism as the newer branches of Christianity, like the Pentecostals and the Calvary Chapel movement.

Church /State Alliance

Another problem with the early Reformation was the continuation of the old corrupt model of the union of Church and state, sometimes with the Church making the major decisions and sometimes the state establishing the rules. This was all that they had experienced for many generations. Like infant baptism and other issues that would eventually become part of a second wave of reform, they didn't have the time to examine everything at once and make all the necessary changes to return to the simple truth of Scripture.

Luther was opposed to the Church/state alliance in principle, but was not able to enforce it.

Luther expressed, at least in theory, a most radical view of the separation of civil and religious realms through his doctrine of "the two kingdoms." He could reduce his teaching virtually to an aphorism: God's Gospel ruled in the churchly realm and his law ruled in the civil society. To rule the church by the law or the civil realm by the Gospel would bring legalism to the sphere of grace and sentimentalism into the orbit of justice, thus dethroning God and enthroning Satan. In practice, however, the Lutheran Reformation worked to keep its ties to the civil order and was the established religion wherever it predominated in Germany and Scandinavia.
(Encyclopedia Britanica, The Protestant Heritage: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1354359/The-Protestant-Heritage/225161/The-community-of-the-baptized-and-the-political-community)

In the light of the persecution they faced from the Catholic Church, it must have seemed necessary to many of the reformers to solicit the support of the civil authorities and to accept their protection.

Lutheranism became the state religion of Germany. Zwingli's Swiss Reformed Church was favored by the government of Switzerland. The Anglican Church was completely entangled with the government of its native country, England, because King Henry VIII caused the split from the Catholic Church. He wanted an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boyeln. His request was denied by Pope Clement VII so he severed relations with the Catholic Church and took the position of Supreme Head of the Church of England.

While we are on the subject of the unholy alliance of Church and civil government, we need to explore a terribly misunderstood concept in our generation. It is the expression "separation of church and state" that is now being used to deny the great spiritual heritage of our American nation and of our Founding Fathers.

As we have just seen, the "union of Church and state" is a bad thing. But so is the modern concept of the "separation of Church and state!"

Most of the original settlers of the United States were opposed to the European pattern of the merger of Church and state. That union limited the religious freedom of many of the most devout Christians in Europe. The Puritans, Anabaptists, Baptists, Quakers, and other persecuted groups migrated to America in order to experience freedom of worship.

Those pioneers, and almost all of the Founding Fathers of our Republic, included references to God, prayers and quotations from the Bible in their charters, their speeches, their Declaration of Independence, their monuments, their courthouses, their legislative halls, and their schools! Only a person who is willfully ignorant can read the accounts of our early history and deny that this is true.

But in our generation, people who no longer want what our forefathers desired have taken a remark from one of Thomas Jefferson's letters ("separation of church and state") out of context, to mischaracterize the First Amendment of our Constitution. That amendment says that Congress shall not establish any religion. That is a prohibition against the union of Church and state, and virtually all early Americans agreed with that principle; just as we all do today! It was a safeguard against the mistakes that were made in Europe. The amendment does not use the words, "separation of Church and state." It does, however, guarantee freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Those are the very freedoms that resulted in the nearly endless biblical quotations in the literature and monuments of our capital, in prayers in Congress, in the posting of the Ten Commandments in the Supreme Court, in the mandating of Bibles for the Indians and in Judeo-Christian principles in the public school curriculum.

Today, people who do not believe the Bible are using the "separation of Church and state" error to corrupt the courts, strip morality from our schools, and redefine timeless institutions like marriage and family.

Persecution of Anabaptists and Other Reformers

This period of numerous differences in theology and alliances with various governments led to the emergence of many new denominations. This, in turn, resulted in persecutions and religious wars.

It could be expected that the Catholic Church would persecute reformers. They had been continuously engaged in various forms of the inquisition for nearly 300 years before the Reformation began. However, it comes as a surprise to most Christians today to learn that there was also widespread cruel persecution by the original reformers themselves against the various denominations that emerged after them, especially the Anabaptists.

There were, to be sure, some heretical groups that emerged during the Reformation era, and some radical groups that were dangerous to society, such as the followers of Jan Mathijs and John of Leiden (Jan Beuckelson), who took over the Dutch city of Munster by force. However, most of the Anabaptists were pacifists, and none of their additional reforms are considered heretical by the Christians of today. Nevertheless, they were hunted down, by the governments that were controlled by the reformers. They were arrested, and put to death, often without any trial. Some were drowned, others burned at the stake, buried alive, or beheaded.

The exact number of Anabaptist martyrs is not known, but conservative estimates set the number at more than 4000.
(Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M37857.html)

The Encyclopedia Britannica states, "Most of the early Anabaptist leaders died in prison or were executed." (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/22160/Anabaptist)

One popular book, The Martyr's Mirror, used woodcut illustrations to dramatize some of the hundreds of stories about the martyrdom of these early Anabaptists. One of the accounts is about Dirk Willems of Holland who was re-baptized and allowed others to be re-baptized in his home.

Concerning his apprehension, it is stated by trustworthy persons, that when he fled he was hotly pursued by a thief-catcher, and as there had been some frost, said Dirk Willems ran before over the ice, getting across with considerable peril. The thief-catcher following him broke through, when Dirk Willems, perceiving that the former was in danger of his life, quickly returned and aided him in getting out, and thus saved his life. The thief-catcher wanted to let him go, but the burgomaster, very sternly called to him to consider his oath, and thus he was again seized by the thief-catcher, and, at said place, after severe imprisonment - put to death at a lingering fire.
(http://www.homecomers.org/mirror/dirk-willems.htm)

When we continue this overview of what was wrong with the Reformation, we will consider two other important issues: their erroneous eschatology (teaching about the End Times) and the rise of an unbelievably powerful counter-reformation led by the Jesuits.



Next: Revelation 3:1 - continued



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