Martin Luther is remembered and widely honored today in much of the world—certainly throughout the West. The recent movie about his life was a Hollywood success that attracted large secular audiences in spite of its religious content. Luther stood up courageously against the false doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church despite Pope Leo X’s determination to arrest and burn him alive at the stake. He had been disillusioned while visiting the Vatican and seeing the hypocrisy and open immorality among the clergy from priest to pope. The final straw was Rome’s selling of indulgences for supposedly releasing one’s dead relatives from purgatory to enter heaven. The infamous sales pitch that raised millions of dollars promised, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” The proceeds from this shameless scam paid for repairing and enlarging St. Peter’s Basilica. That awesome structure stands today as a monument to the false gospel that Church still regularly preaches!
Disillusioned and furious, Luther wrote his Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences (known as “The Ninety-five Theses”) and nailed it to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. Copies were widely distributed in several European languages, shaking Europe, inciting heated debate, sparking the Reformation and the exodus of millions from the Roman Catholic Church—and hopefully bringing salvation to many of them.
Although Luther retained some of his Catholicism, his bold declaration before the Imperial Diet at Worms (in stark contrast to the attitude of so many Christians today) has inspired millions: “I am bound by the Scriptures...and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything...here I stand; may God help me.” That he really meant what he said is proved by the fact that it should have cost him his life had not some powerful German princes taken up his cause and protected him in protest against Rome—an event from which we get the designation “Protestant.”
Desperate to maintain the Church’s totalitarian authority, Catholic bishops and cardinals launched a counter-Reformation defining Church doctrines and demanding obedience thereto at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). Its Canons and Decrees (see Resources) denounced the sole authority of Scripture affirmed by Luther, denied salvation by faith in Christ without Church sacraments and good works, and basically rejected everything the Reformers asked the Church to accept in submission to God’s Word. Trent pronounced more than 100 anathemas (excommunication/damnation) against all who accepted any Reformation teaching. It was costly to stand for the truth of God’s Word in those days, and many thousands would not compromise their convictions in spite of torture and death.
We are in great need of a revival of such unwavering conviction today. It will not come, however, without an awakening of an individual hunger and thirst after righteousness (Mt 5:6) and deep passion for our Lord and for His Word. Sadly, the truth of God is not only neglected and compromised today but is actually undermined by many whom millions of Christians look up to as evangelical leaders. Tragically, multitudes are being prepared to follow the great delusion that will befall those who “received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thes:2:8-12 ).
Is the fifteenth-century Reformation and Rome’s opposition to it at that time merely interesting history with little relationship to the church and world today? Hardly! The battle continues and has reached a far deadlier phase. A growing delusion has deceived multitudes into embracing ecumenical compromise while imagining that they are still on the Lord’s side.
In 1962, at the opening of Vatican II in Rome, Pope John XXIII affirmed, “I do accept entirely all that has been decided and declared at the Council of Trent.” Vatican II itself “proposes again the decrees of the Council of Trent.” On 12/31/95, honoring the 450th anniversary of the opening of Trent, Pope John Paul II declared, “Its conclusions maintain all their value.”
Regardless of what a Catholic friend, a liberal priest, or a professor at a Catholic university may say, Trent remains the official teaching of Rome and has been reconfirmed many times since by the highest Church authority. Here are only a few of Trent’s anathemas, all of which were renewed by Vatican II, The Code of Canon Law, and the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, and which remain today as the official teaching of Roman Catholicism, sustaining the inflexible dogmas of that “infallible” Church, regardless of statements by anyone to the contrary:
If anyone denies that by...baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted [or] denies that...[the] justice, sanctification and redemption...of Jesus Christ is applied both to adults and to infants by the sacrament of baptism...let him be anathema.... (Rome’s emphasis)
If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law [i.e., the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church] are not necessary for salvation...and that without them...men obtain from God through faith alone the grace of justification...let him be anathema....
If anyone says that baptism is...not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema....
If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out...that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema....
If anyone says that the sacrifice of the mass...wherein that life-giving victim by which we are reconciled to the Father is daily immolated on the altar by priests...is a mere commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross but not a propitiatory one...offered for the living and the dead, for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities, let him be anathema.
No bolder nor clearer rejection of the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ could be declared. This brief sample presents the actual teaching of Roman Catholicism as it is taught to and practiced by hundreds of millions of Catholics today. There is no disputing the fact that this is a false gospel, which, sadly, holds Roman Catholics in bondage on their way to the flames—not of a “purgatory” invented by popes, but to the eternal Lake of Fire. How can those who profess to admire Luther and the Reformation defend Catholicism?
Given these indisputable facts, no evangelical could call Roman Catholics born-again Christians.The shameful irony is that so many evangelical leaders and their followers, while claiming to honor the Reformation and its gospel of salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ, at the same time close their eyes to the truth and act as though the Reformation never occurred and as if Catholics believe the biblical gospel. Have we forgotten that those who do not believe the gospel are eternally lost? Will their endless doom be on our hands?
Shameful ironies abound. Although the Roman Catholic Church no longer burns opponents at the stake (a practice now repugnant even to the secular world), it still maintains every false teaching and practice opposed by Luther and his fellow Reformers, thereby deceiving countless millions. It still teaches salvation through baptism, good works, and the other sacraments mediated by Mary as the “doorway to Christ”; it still offers indulgences at a price for release from purgatory to heaven; and it still rejects the final authority of Scripture! All of the anathemas pronounced by Trent against Protestant beliefs remain in full force and effect. Yet many of Luther’s modern followers now embrace Roman Catholicism as the true gospel!
On 10/31/99, representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church signed a Joint Declaration (JDDJ) declaring that they had resolved the major differences that caused the Reformation. Not one doctrine or practice had changed in the Catholic Church. While Lutherans were congratulating themselves on this wonderful “agreement,” Pope John Paul II was offering special indulgences unto salvation for the year 2000. Had Martin Luther been alive, he would have denounced the traitors leading the church that bears his name and would have nailed his “Ninety-five Theses” to the door of the Lutheran World Federation headquarters! How can we explain the blindness leading to this unconscionable betrayal of the Reformation, and of Christ and His Word?
Five years earlier, no less shameful, evangelical leaders (Bill Bright, Charles Colson, Os Guinness, Richard Mouw [president of Fuller Theological Seminary], J.I. Packer, Pat Robertson, John White [former president of National Association of Evangelicals], et al.), had endorsed “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium” (ECT). It calls for evangelicals to join Roman Catholics in evangelizing the world, and states, “We thank God for the discovery of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Nor was ECT anything new, but the culmination of a compromise of truth that had been growing within the evangelical movement for a long time. For at least 40 years prior to ECT, Billy Graham had been declaring that his beliefs were basically the same as those of orthodox Roman Catholics, and that he and the Pope agreed on almost everything, including the way of salvation! The same stance had long been adopted by evangelical universities such as Westmont and Wheaton, publications such as Christianity Today and Charisma, organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ, Youth With A Mission, and World Vision, as well as by other evangelical institutions and leaders. Highlighting evangelicalism’s schizophrenia, Wheaton, which has a large Center and Museum honoring Billy Graham and which hires short-term Catholic professors, last year fired a popular professor for “converting to Catholicism,” while calling him "a gifted brother in Christ"!
Martin Luther and the other Reformers would have died at the stake rather than sign such documents as JDDJ and ECT! How do we explain today’s denial of all that the Reformation stood for by those who claim to honor it and to follow in the faith of the Reformers? Attempting to fathom such spiritual schizophrenia, The New York Times, in its March 30, 1994, announcement of ECT, had written:
They toiled together in the movements against abortion and pornography, and now leading Catholics and evangelicals are asking their flocks...to finally accept each other as Christians. In what’s being called a historic declaration, evangelicals...joined with conservative Roman Catholic leaders...[and] urged Catholics and evangelicals to stop aggressive proselytization of each other’s flocks. John White, president of Geneva College and former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said the statement was a “triumphalistic moment” in American religious life after centuries of distrust....
The gospel of Jesus Christ, by which alone one is born again (1 Pt 1:22-25) is being denied. That is the issue, with the eternal destiny of souls hanging in the balance. While they did not personally sign ECT, Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, like so many other evangelical leaders, give the appearance of full cooperation and agreement with Rome. In violation of the clear command of Scripture to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), neither Hybels nor Warren nor most other evangelical leaders, including Billy Graham, will use their huge influence to bring any warning or correction—to Rome or to anyone else!
Even Islam is defended as a valid “faith” that Rick Warren cooperates with in working (through his P. E.A.C.E Plan) for what he calls a “New Reformation.” In its advancement, he says he “would trust any imam or priest or rabbi....” Do we no longer believe the gospel and that those who reject it are eternally lost?
John Paul II denounced everything the Reformation stood for, yet he, too, is highly honored by those who still praise Luther. How can we honor two diametrically opposed beliefs at the same time? Have “Christians” gone mad?! Words have changed their definitions, contradictory convictions are simultaneously professed, and truth is re-defined to suit anyone’s taste. We are adrift on an ocean of meaninglessness without rudder or compass—yet nearly everyone praises our “progress.” Exactly like the world, the church (“rich, and increased with goods” – Rv 3:17) willingly blurs the essential differences between God’s truth and Satan’s lies. Oh, yes, evangelical leaders still claim to affirm God’s Word, yet who stands up against the false doctrines made popular by today’s “Christian” radio and TV or against the “mother of harlots” (Rv 17:5) as did Luther?
Though lip service is still given to the Reformation, the deep convictions that birthed it have been compromised. The hour grows late and the evangelical church desperately needs to face some honest questions:
What was the purpose of the Reformation?
Was its uncompromising affirmation of biblical truth appropriate in Luther’s day but not now?
What did it stand for at that time, at the cost of so many martyrs and so much suffering, that should now be denied?
Have Jesus Christ and His gospel changed?
Has any belief or practice changed in the Catholic Church that would justify evangelicals embracing Catholicism as the biblical gospel?
While evangelicals are literally thumbing their noses at the Reformers, a powerful Reformation of Islam is gathering momentum in the Muslim world. Urgent calls go forth to abstain from the fleshly immorality of America, “the Great Satan.” After the stunning defeats by Israel in 1948 and 1967, imams began to preach that Allah was not happy and that Muslims must get back to the Qur’an and true Islam. The result has been a growing awakening of fundamentalist Islam with its accompanying terrorism.
At the same time, the “Christian” West sinks into ever-deepening depravity. As one example, Howard Stern’s foul mouth and glorification of immorality have made him the highest paid radio personality in the U.S. That movies, television, and radio shows continue to grow ever bolder in their mocking of biblical truth and promotion of homosexuality and other shameful perversions only reflects what the vast majority of Westerners, including Catholics and Protestants, want and enjoy.
The Bible hasn’t changed. God hasn’t changed. The gospel hasn’t changed. Has our hope changed? Instead of “looking for that blessed hope...the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Ti 2:13), are we looking instead to “Christian” politicians for salvation? The evangelical church today is in the mood of accommodation, unity, compromise. Are these the “perilous times” (2 Tm 3:1) ominously foretold in Scripture? TBC