Sunday, October 31, 2010

Remembering Halloween And Forgetting The Reformation

Many millions of people will dress up in costumes and collect candy, watch football on their television, and do other things today that are so insignificant. A far smaller number will remember the love and labors of some people who came before us who suffered and died for our benefit, whose ideas and efforts have transformed the world. Our society does so much to remember our nation's history, our military, and civil rights leaders, for example, but so little to remember other things. Individuals, families, churches, and nations continue to benefit from the Reformation, but often with little recognition of it.

"Those preachers whose voices were clear and mighty for truth during life continue to preach in their graves. Being dead, they yet speak; and whether men put their ears to their tombs or not, they cannot but hear them...Often, the death of a man is a kind of new birth to him; when he himself is gone physically, he spiritually survives, and from his grave there shoots up a tree of life whose leaves heal nations. O worker for God, death cannot touch thy sacred mission! Be thou content to die if the truth shall live the better because thou diest. Be thou content to die, because death may be to thee the enlargement of thine influence. Good men die as dies the seed-corn which thereby abideth not alone. When saints are apparently laid in the earth, they quit the earth, and rise and mount to Heaven-gate, and enter into immortality. No, when the sepulcher receives this mortal frame, we shall not die, but live." (Charles Spurgeon, cited in The C.H. Spurgeon Collection [Albany, Oregon: AGES Software, 1998], A Biography Pictoral Of C.H. Spurgeon, p. 3)

"I dread much the spirit which would tamper with the Truth of God for the sake of united action, or for any object under Heaven—the latitudinarian spirit, which sneers at creeds and dogmas. Truth is no trifle. Our fathers did not think so, when, at the stake they gave themselves to death, or on the brown heather of Scotland fell beneath the swords of Claverhouse’s dragoons for truths which nowadays men count unimportant, but which, being truths, were to them so vital that they would sooner die than suffer them to be dishonored. O for the same uncompromising love of the Truth!" (Charles Spurgeon)

"Upon the day that was appointed for this holy martyr of God [John Lambert] to suffer, he was brought out of the prison at eight o'clock in the morning unto the house of the Lord Cromwell, and so carried into his inward chamber, where, it is reported of many, that Cromwell desired of him forgiveness for what he had done. There, at the last, Lambert, being admonished that the hour of his death was at hand, was greatly comforted and cheered; and, being brought out of the chamber into the hall, he saluted the gentlemen, and sat down to breakfast with them, showing no manner of sadness or fear. When the breakfast was ended, he was carried straightway to the place of execution, where he should offer himself unto the Lord, a sacrifice of sweet savour...As touching the terrible manner and fashion of the burning of this blessed martyr, here is to be noted, that of all others which have been burned and offered up at Smithfield, there was yet none so cruelly and piteously handled as he. For, after that his legs were consumed and burned up to the stumps, and that the wretched tormentors and enemies of God had withdrawn the fire from him, so that but a small fire and coals were left under him, then two that stood on each side of him, with their halberts pitched him upon their pikes...Then he, lifting up such hands as he had, and his fingers' ends flaming with fire, cried unto the people in these words, 'None but Christ, None but Christ;' and so, being let down again from their halberts, fell into the fire, and there ended his life." (John Foxe, Foxe's Book Of Martyrs)

Remember these things. Much of the world, even many professing Christians, are plugging their ears, running away from these things, and trying to bury them deep in the ground.

For a collection of many of our articles on the issues surrounding Roman Catholicism and the Reformation, see here.


  1. One thing always bothered me about the Reformation martyrdoms. In the case of ancient Rome it is easy to see the witness to Christ the martyrs gave and it is easy to see the contrast between the true faith and Roman paganism. But who is in the right during the Reformation, when Catholics burned Protestants and Protestants burned Catholics and other Protestants? Who is giving the true witness to Christ, and who are the enemies of God? Were only the Protestants true martyrs, or were there some Catholics in the mix too? When there was Protestant-Protestant persecution, who were those witnessing to the true faith?

  2. JD: the early Roman martyrs gave their lives in the service of the Truth, the Gospel, and the Scriptures [i.e., not to hand their copies over to be burned].

    The Reformers were doing what they did in the service of the Truth, the Gospel, and the Scriptures; Roman Catholics were doing what they were doing in the service of the authority of Mother Church.

    Hope that helps.

  3. JD,

    1. You've bundled two issues that need to be disambiguated: (i) which side was witnessing to the true faith? and (ii) was burning "heretics" itself a witness to the true faith?

    For instance, you could reject the notion that burning a "heretic" (however defined, and by whom) is a valid attestation without rejecting the notion that one side was basically right while the other side was basically wrong on the issue at hand.

    Don't conflate right or wrong actions with right or wrong beliefs.

    ii) Let's also keep in mind, too, that to my knowledge, executing your theological opponents was basically a top-down exercise, orchestrated by the religious and political authorities, rather than a grass-roots movement.

    The foot soldiers are just following orders. This doesn't necessarily reflect their personal piety (if any).

  4. For a collection of many of our articles on the issues surrounding Roman Catholicism and the Reformation, see here.

    Thanks again Jason for that compilation of links to articles.

  5. JD Walters,

    Generally speaking, Protestantism is far closer to the truth than Roman Catholicism. An overall judgment is easy to make. Protestantism is better. Roman Catholicism teaches a false gospel. It isn't orthodox. It isn't Christian. (For a defense of that conclusion, see posts 94 and 99 in the thread here.) A Protestant church or individual could adhere to a false gospel or err on some other foundational issue, but nothing about Protestantism considered as a general category requires it. And on lesser issues, Protestants and their churches haven't been claiming that their church is infallible, claiming that their denomination's leader is infallible, adding a third realm to the afterlife (Purgatory), etc. Consider what Pope Pius XII did in commanding acceptance of the assumption of Mary as recently as 1950, for example. If a Protestant church did such things, I doubt that many Protestants would find it difficult to condemn that church as radically unhealthy and to distinguish between it and other Protestant churches or distinguish between faithful followers of that church and an individual like John Lambert (the example I cited above). Why is it that people would so easily reach such conclusions about a small Protestant church (or some other group of a similar nature), yet are so hesitant to conclude those things about Catholicism? I think it's because of factors like Catholicism's popularity, our alleged need to trace our historical lineage through Catholicism, and a desire to avoid difficulties in our relationships with Catholic individuals. If Roman Catholicism were a small Protestant church, and none of our relatives or friends were affiliated with that church, for example, would we find it so difficult to condemn it as I have above? I doubt it.

    Though I've been so negative about Catholicism in general, there can be exceptions when we move from the denominational level to the individual level. An individual like Thomas Bilney might largely agree with Roman Catholicism and its errors, yet be closer to Protestantism in his view of justification. In our day, a Catholic might attend a Catholic church without knowing much about Catholicism. He's more influenced by Evangelicals he hears on the radio or sees on television than he is by the Catholic Church. His view on many issues, including justification, is more influenced by Protestantism than Catholicism. Individual Catholics can be saved, but they're saved in spite of the denomination they're affiliated with rather than because of it.

    With an individual like John Lambert, you would make a judgment about his case in accordance with the circumstances involved. Does he seem to have been orthodox? Was he suffering for truth or error? Did he glorify God in his death? Etc. The same principles could be applied to a Catholic martyr, and a Catholic martyrdom could be partially or entirely admirable. Even in cases where there's a mixture of truth and error, we can commend the good while condemning the bad at the same time. We don't have to be entirely positive or entirely negative in our assessment.

    Keep in mind, too, that an individual Protestant or Protestant church isn't equivalent to Protestantism. If Protestant church X committed error Y, it doesn't necessarily follow that each Protestant was involved in that error just because he was a Protestant. Why should we assume that every Protestant martyr approved of or was involved in the execution of Catholics, for example?

    To sum up, it's important that we acknowledge that Protestantism is not only better overall than Catholicism, but even much better. The idea that it's difficult to judge between them is absurd. But we should allow for exceptions at the individual level, acknowledge corruption where it exists within Protestantism, and allow for a mixture of the good and the bad in some cases.

  6. To add to what I said above, let's take the example of a Catholic martyr who seems to have been unorthodox by Biblical standards and was dying for a false doctrine. Could we still disapprove of his execution? Yes. Would it be acceptable to criticize the Protestants involved in executing that Catholic? Sure. Would it be acceptable to hope for the best for that Catholic, to hope that he was actually orthodox in spite of appearances to the contrary, to hope that he repented in the closing moments of his life, to hope that his physical suffering was as minimal as possible, etc.? Yes.

    But our honesty and carefulness have to go both ways. We have to also acknowledge that the Catholic in question seems to have been unorthodox, was dying for an error, that the execution of an orthodox Catholic doesn't harm society as much as the execution of an orthodox Protestant, and so on. We shouldn't take something valid, like compassion toward another human being with regard to his physical suffering, and allow it to distort our judgment into something invalid, such as concluding that Catholicism is orthodox. We shouldn't look at a Catholic martyr and let our valid concerns for that individual spill over into other categories. Don't let something like a feeling of compassion result in conclusions that don't logically follow, such as accepting Catholicism as orthodox or equating all Catholic martyrs with all Protestant martyrs without distinction. It's important to draw the lines carefully and clearly as we think about these issues.

  7. Regarding the significance of the Reformation, Justin Taylor has posted the video of a PBS documentary about Martin Luther. I doubt many people would accuse PBS of having a conservative Protestant bias. The documentary refers to some of the ways in which Luther and Protestantism have benefited society, though from a non-Christian point of view.

    For a conservative Protestant perspective, Ken Connolly hosted some good videos on topics related to the Reformation. You can see some small segments of his work by doing a search for something like "The Indestructible Book" on YouTube. See here and here, for example.

    (continued below)

  8. (continued from above)

    The Reformation has had a major impact on the world, on our political systems, our literacy, our sense of personal responsibility, our beliefs and aspirations, etc. Here some comments on the subject by the Protestant historian Philip Schaff:

    "The Reformation went back to first principles in order to go forward. It struck its roots deep in the past and bore rich fruits for the future. It sprang forth almost simultaneously from different parts of Europe and was enthusiastically hailed by the leading minds of the age in church and state. No great movement in history - except Christianity itself - was so widely and thoroughly prepared as the Protestant Reformation. The reformatory Councils of Pisa, Constance, and Basel; the conflict of the Emperors with the Popes; the contemplative piety of the mystics with their thirst after direct communion with God; the revival of classical literature; the general intellectual awakening; the biblical studies of Reuchlin, and Erasmus; the rising spirit of national independence; Wiclif, and the Lollards in England; Hus, and the Hussites in Bohemia; John von Goch, John von Wesel, and Johann Wessel in Germany and the Netherlands; Savonarola in Italy; the Brethren of the Common Life, the Waldenses, the Friends of God, - contributed their share towards the great change and paved the way for a new era of Christianity. The innermost life of the church was pressing forward to a new era. There is scarcely a principle or doctrine of the Reformation which was not anticipated and advocated in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Luther made the remark that his opponents might charge him with having borrowed everything from John Wessel if he had known his writings earlier. The fuel was abundant all over Europe, but it required the spark which would set it ablaze. Violent passions, political intrigues, the ambition and avarice of princes, and all sorts of selfish and worldly motives were mixed up with the war against the papacy. But they were at work likewise in the introduction of Christianity among the heathen barbarians. 'Wherever God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel close by.' Human nature is terribly corrupt and leaves its stains on the noblest movements in history. But, after all, the religious leaders of the Reformation, while not free from faults, were men of the purest motives and highest aims, and there is no nation which has not been benefited by the change they introduced....The Reformation was a grand act of emancipation from spiritual tyranny, and a vindication of the sacred rights of conscience in matters of religious belief. Luther's bold stand at the Diet of Worms, in the face of the pope and the emperor, is one of the sublimest events in the history of liberty, and the eloquence of his testimony rings through the centuries. To break the force of the pope, who called himself and was believed to be, the visible vicar of God on earth, and who held in his hands the keys of the kingdom of heaven, required more moral courage than to fight a hundred battles, and it was done by an humble monk in the might of faith. If liberty, both civil and religious, has since made progress, it is due in large measure to the inspiration of that heroic act. But the progress was slow and passed through many obstructions and reactions. 'The mills of God grind slowly, but wonderfully fine.'" (in The Master Christian Library [Albany, Oregon: AGES Software, 1998], History Of The Christian Church, Vol. 7, pp. 20-21, 48)

  9. Steve,

    The thrust of my comment was mostly about i). Basically, who was being martyred for the 'right' reason (i.e. being persecuted because of their faith, which was at least mostly an expression of the true faith, in the face of corrupt ecclesiastical and political authorities). Jason gave a response that I mostly agree with, that the Protestants were superior theologically but there may have been some Catholics who were also martyred for the right reason, even though externally they were members of a Church that perpetuates significant error.

  10. Just so that we're clear just what faith a Counter-Reformation Catholic might be "martyred" for:


    2. I most steadfastly admit and embrace the apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions, and all other observances and constitutions of the same Church.
    3. I also admit the holy Scriptures according to that sense which our holy Mother Church has held, and does hold, to which it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures; neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers (juxta unanimem consensum Patrum).190190 It is characteristic that the Scriptures are put after the traditions, and admitted only in a restricted sense, the Roman Church being made the only interpreter of the Word of God. Protestantism reverses the order, and makes the Bible the rule and corrective of ecclesiastical traditions.
    4. I also profess that there are truly and properly seven sacraments of the new law, instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord, and necessary for the salvation of mankind, though not all for every one, to wit: baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, penance and extreme unction, holy orders, and matrimony; and that they confer grace; and that of these, baptism, confirmation, and ordination can not be reiterated without sacrilege. I also receive and admit the received and approved ceremonies of the Catholic Church used in the solemn administration of the aforesaid sacraments.
    5. I embrace and receive all and every one of the things which have been defined and declared in the holy Council of Trent concerning original sin and justification.
    6. I profess likewise that in the mass there is offered to God a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead (verum, proprium, et propitiatorium sacrificium pro vivis et defunctis); and that in the most holy sacrament of the eucharist there is truly, really, and substantially (vere, realiter, et substantialiter) the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that there is made a change of the whole essence (conversionem totius substantiæ) of the bread into the body, and of the whole essence of the wine into the blood; which change the Catholic Church calls transubstantiation.
    7. I also confess that under either kind alone Christ is received whole and entire, and a true sacrament.
    8. I firmly hold that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein detained are helped by the suffrages of the faithful.
    Likewise, that the saints reigning with Christ are to be honored and invoked (venerandos atque invocandos esse), and that they offer up prayers to God for us; and that their relics are to be held in veneration (esse venerandas).191191 This should properly be a separate article, but in the papal bulls it is connected with the eighth article.
    9. I most firmly assert that the images of Christ and of the perpetual Virgin, the Mother of God, and also of other saints, ought to be had and retained, and that due honor and veneration are to be given them.
    I also affirm that the power of indulgences was left by Christ in the Church, and that the use of them is most wholesome to Christian people.192192 This should likewise be a separate article, but is made a part of article 9.

  11. Cont.
    III. Additional Articles and Solemn Pledges (1564).

    10. I acknowledge the holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church as the mother and mistress of all churches, and I promise and swear (spondeo ac juro) true obedience to the Bishop of Rome, as the successor of St. Peter, prince of the Apostles, and as the vicar of Jesus Christ.
    11. I likewise undoubtingly receive and profess all other things delivered, defined, and declared by the sacred Canons and œcumenical Councils, and particularly by the holy Council of Trent; and I condemn, reject, and anathematize all things contrary thereto, and all heresies which the Church has condemned, rejected, and anathematized.
    12. I do at this present freely profess and truly hold this true Catholic faith, without which no one can be saved (extra quam nemo salvus esse potest); and I promise most constantly to retain and confess the same entire and inviolate,193193 For inviolatam the Roman Bullaria read immaculatam. with God's assistance, to the end of my life. And I will take care, as far as in me lies, that it shall be held, taught, and preached by my subjects, or by those the care of whom shall appertain to me in my office. This I promise, vow, and swear—so help me God, and these holy Gospels of God.

  12. JD,if it's any consolation, the Catholic Church has no hesitation about canonising its own members who were killed by Protestants during the Reformation.