Come October 31st in the Year of our Lord 2017, we observe the 500th anniversary of the fateful stand taken for the Gospel by a lone German monk of the Augustinian order whose courage would revive Christendom against the paganizing innovations of a power-drunk bishopric bent on usurpation of the nations no less than men’s souls.
By no means the first to rebuke the wayward Roman See, Luther stood on the broad shoulders of all the biblicist-monergists such as Hus, Waldo and his Waldensians, Tyndale, Wycliffe, the Lollards, the Celtic See, and Culdees, who formed an unbroken chain of resistance to innovation all the way back to what Calvin called “the age of purer religion” (the first three centuries); like unto the faithful Israelite remnant of old amidst their kinsmen fallen to Talmudism, they were the invisible church within the visible church. But Luther did not couch his argument on that tradition. Unlike the popes, Luther emphasized the ultimate authority back of orthodox tradition — the Word on which Christian faith must be founded. Faith in Christ, not the traditions of men.
Rome alleged the Reformation to be revolution. But the Reformers argued just the opposite: theirs was a call to repentance and a cry against “them that are given to change” (Prov. 24:21). Therein they repudiated all the cumulative and irreconcilable novelties with which popes had adulterated the faith over the centuries. If we speak of it in terms of revolution, it is but the revolution against revolution, the counter-revolution returning to the foundations of God’s Revelation, and man’s duty to it over all.
Yes, the doctrine of indulgences — the open selling of forgiveness — was the occasion for Luther’s stand, but only a symptom, not the illness itself. To this day, however, Roman apologists still cannot locate any coherence on the matter: they say at once, “One could never ‘buy’ indulgences,” yet “in 1567 Pope Pius V canceled all grants of indulgences involving any fees or other financial transactions.” If your local grocer assures you his store has never sold bananas while standing in front of empty banana crates and a produce sign which reads “Bananas Sold Out,” do you believe him? And if his reply to your skepticism is “I ought to know, I’m the grocer!” does his appeal to authority trump the authority of the truth which pleads its own case to the contrary?
Nonetheless, by the sixteenth century there were more essential matters back of the question of indulgences. Underlying even all the questions of soteriology and ecclesiology was the basic matter of authority. Where the Bible taught itself to be the Almighty’s self-authenticating self-revelation and foundation of all authority, Rome had come to teach their human (and mainly parabiblical) offices to be the seat of all authority. And per the idea that their parochial bishopric created and defined Scripture, the papacy taught its authority to be above God’s very Word.
Rather than the sovereign, rational, and immutable God of Scripture, Roman theology had devolved to preaching a “supra-rational” (i.e., irrational) god subject to forces outside, and truly above himself, included the ‘free will’ of men as taught by Pelagius and like heretics prior. Which necessarily bespoke a god subject to change, similar to Zeus, Thor, and like pagan shades.
But as regards salvation, rather than Christ’s righteousness judicially imputed to His elect, Rome had turned to teaching justification to be an infusion of Christ’s righteousness working in synergy with the evolving righteousness of men. And that, subject entirely to the free will of men rather than God’s sovereign grace. Because according to Rome, grace was not a judicial-ontological status conferred by God’s sovereign election, but rather something you eat. Which is to say, Rome had come to teach a fetishized works-righteousness, as is normative to all heathen religions and worldviews but foreign to biblical faith.
And most ironically, Rome’s evolving permutations of dogma defy most radically the substance of Paul’s epistle to the church at Rome. Almost as if the message of God’s sovereignty so elaborated in Paul’s letter to that fledgling house church was anticipatory of her doctrinal slide; and with profound specificity.
Nonetheless, Paul therein treats the Roman church as something of a surprise, as an entity rather unexpected and badly in need of basic instruction, not at all as the foundation of all authority on earth, as the papacy would later come to insist. Though the first church historian, Eusebius, may have side-noted that Peter, the bishop of Antioch, preached in Rome for twenty-five years and become the bishop of that city, Eusebius has no inkling of the bishopric of Rome as a universal institution in the early church age. Rome was, while influential by virtue of its centrality to the pagan world, just one presbytery among many.
So it was that the necessary return to the monergism of irresistible grace, inseparable from the Schriftprinzip authority of God’s Word, was pregnant with meaning for national identity and independence too. The Church was universal, but comprised of nations and parochial presbyteries, and all beholden to Christ above any one institution.
Four centuries prior to the Great Schism from Constantinople, the Roman See had schismed from communion with the Celtic See (which, as the national churches of Britain, Scotland, and Ireland, actually predated the Roman). Why? Because the Celts celebrated Easter according to the ruling of the Council of Nicea — on the Sunday following the Paschal Moon. Over against which some 300 years after Nicea – at the Synod of Whitby, A.D. 664 – the Roman Church suddenly changed her doctrine on the matter and determined that the Celtic church was required to observe the Eastertide according to the positions of the moon over Rome rather than as it appeared in their own native northwesterly skies; and that, on diktat of the Pope whom the Celtic See had never followed. A revolutionary usurpation, yes, but not entirely unforeseen. For the Roman Church studied to subordinate the free Celtic kirk from the time of Rome’s first ‘missions’ to Britain — a fact punctuated by the witness of Augustine, ‘Apostle to the English’ and ‘founder of the Catholic church in Britain’, who relayed the following from the preexisting Celtic See to Rome:
Be it known and declared that we all, individually and collectively, are in humility prepared to defer to the Church of God, and to the bishop of Rome, and to every sincere and godly Christian, so far as to love everyone according to his degree, in perfect charity, and to assist them all by word and in deed in becoming the children of God. But as for any other obedience, we know of none that he, whom you term the Pope, or Bishop of Bishops, can demand. The deference we have mentioned we are ready to pay to him as to every other Christian, but in all other respects our obedience is due to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Caerleon, who is alone under God our ruler to keep us right in the way of salvation.[1. St. Augustine’s relay of the Testimony of the Bishops of the British Church of the Celtic See, circa A.D. 597-604)]
So according to Rome’s own account, the Celtic church uniformly rejected Papism from their first encounters with it. Because the Celtic kirk was already settled in the doctrine of sola scriptura for some five and a half centuries before the notion of Papism was even promulgated.
And in spite of the several centuries of violence and suppression which Rome would visit on them, another 600 years after Whitby, the famed convention at Runnymede would result in a Magna Carta that asserted that “the Church of England shall be free,” as in the first six centuries of Christianity.
The Roman interpretation of it often camps on the ostensible hegemony of the Roman church by that time as making Archbishop Langton (who supervised the draft of Magna Carta and its execution) a Romanist. Thus they see the call for a ‘free church’ as a subordination of the state to the Roman church. As if what was being legislated was that King John had no authority over the Roman Church in England. But this utterly flies in the face of the fact that Pope Innocent III himself endorsed the ‘divine right’ of King John and denounced Magna Carta as heretical.
No, clearly, Magna Carta was a declaration of the national church’s independence not only from the state, but also from Rome, and the Pope back of John. And therefore it declared independence for the English nation from the very idea of popery and centralized imperium.
It is no coincidence, then, that in the same year and only months after Magna Carta (1215) proclaimed the freedom of the British church and nation, Rome convened the Fourth Lateran Council wherein was published a new dogma of the Eucharist: transubstantiation. This was a direct rebuke of the view ever held by the church in England, among many other places — consubstantial real (spiritual) presence. So this conciliar ruling would conveniently lend a superficial credence to the foregoing anathema against Magna Carta, the English church, and national sovereignty. But alongside the fact of its post facto application is the matter of it having taken until 1215 for the papacy to reveal transubstantiation as essential dogma itself. Thus conclusively undermining the pretense of semper eadem (that Rome’s doctrine is ‘always the same’); a concept daisy-chained to the notion of papal infallibility, which would later still be confirmed an essential dogma only as of the First Vatican Council (1868)! Imagine — all the way up through 1867 doubt of papal infallibility was adiaphora, but one year later it was heresy. And as soon as it had pronounced this new dogma, they turned around and said it had always been so. So too is it deemed heresy to remember otherwise.
It was in this context of arbitrary autocracy and ever-changing doctrines promulgated by Rome that the ‘Morning Star of the Reformation’ – and English nationalist – John Wycliffe would shortly appear to reassert the alternative: reformation against Rome’s consecutive revolutions. He and his Lollards (a term of contempt applied by their Romish adversaries) sought the translation of the Scripture into the tongues of the nations, a thing also disallowed by Rome in order to secure their capricious hegemony over the nations. So Rome at the time deemed it heresy that any but clerics should have reference to God’s Word. And this in spite of the fact that Rome’s own sanctioned text, the Latin Vulgate, was itself just such a translation. Acute hypocrisy, that.
So when we reflect on the quincentennial of the Reformation, it is in a scope stretching not just forward to our day, but back as well to the primordial Church; and pertaining as much to matters civilizational, scientific, and social, as to issues soteriological and ecclesiastic.
But we know all this to be incomprehensible to those outside the Protestant camp: that we men among the ruins should yet commemorate Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church door as the announcement of a great jubilee seems to all the world extreme anachronism. Prizing a corridor of time and principles which, according to all but us, are refuted by their fruit in the present.
But irrespective of their objections, all those incredulous and indignant yet shade themselves under the boughs of those very reformational principles. For even the traditional Catholics of today take for granted things like national independence, translation and private readings of the Scripture in our native tongues, the rule of law rather than prelatic caprice, the right to redress, or even to reject wayward dignitaries in church and state, as well as church policy and dogma whenever it wanders obviously from orthodoxy. And much more besides.
Even if they haven’t come round to embrace the essential doctrine of sola fide so emphasized in the epistle to them addressed, traditional-minded Romanists today wind up in the most ironic of situations: by virtue of their remonstrances against Vatican II, Trad Cats are become Protestants by default. For they argue, just as the Reformers had, that late innovations are void in favor of purer doctrines that preceded them. Were the Trad Cats of our time living during the Reformation, their delineation between papal or conciliar error and orthodoxy would result in their excommunication, along with all the other Protestants. Clearly, God continues to make His judgments manifest.
Indeed, it was over against the papacy’s repudiation of nationalism that Rutherford wrote his Lex, Rex in defense of his people’s national independence. At the time the prelates insisted that it was the pope’s right to install foreign kings over nations contrary to the will of their folk and to the law of kin-rule. Rome at that time insisted that the divinity of the Magisterium granted them the moral latitude to abolish and discorporate whole races of men on the grounds that any nation who did not obey the Pope was not recognized as being an actual nation: a point of doctrine scrutinized even by late scholastics such as William Occam in his Dialogue on the Power of the Pope and the Emperor, among other places.
Even as the contemporary papacy pursues the erasure of the nations, Trad Catholics deny that Rome ever pursued such, as well as the fact of Protestantism having defended the nations from their Babel-esque imperium. Billington — a Catholic himself — has nonetheless written a definitive work on American nativism that he well dubbed The Protestant Crusade. Because, as Billington proves, national independence, ethnic insularity codes, and commitment to a Protestant hegemony were of an indisputable set in America: these comprised the distinctly Protestant social perspective.
As Blackstone testifies, it had been the same in Britain prior, and for the same reasons:
“[O]ur religious liberties were fully established at the Reformation. . . . To sustain, to repair, to beautify this noble pile, is a charge entrusted principally to the nobility, and such gentlemen of the kingdom, as are delegated by their country to parliament. The protection of THE LIBERTY OF BRITAIN is a duty which they owe to themselves, who enjoy it; to their ancestors who transmitted it down; and to their posterity, who will claim at their hands, this best birthright, and noblest inheritance of mankind.”
In its vindication of the doctrines of grace and God’s sovereignty, the Reformation freed mankind not just from tyrannies spiritual, but, placing checks on all human power and authority, it was a reprisal of civil and social freedom as well. The Reformation made the world literate. It catapulted the arts into theretofore unachieved realism. It placed limits on the power of all institutions by reminding them that man’s allegiance is due to God over all men and institutions (Acts 4:19).
While there are turncoats aplenty in the Protestant fold today calling for the abolition of the nations of Christendom, it is a radical break with basic Protestant thought. And by virtue of their decentralized, limited, and diffuse jurisdictions, such traitors are limited in their potential damage, but Rome has all her eggs in one basket. No quarantine of the Vatican is possible. At least not apart from Protestant methodology.
Albeit, there are Protestants the likes of Kenneth Coupland calling for the quincentennial to mark the conclusion of the Reformation. Because as a liberal charismatic Arminian, with his visions, talismans, omens, pietism, and disregard of Scripture, he has far more in common with Rome than Geneva. Truth be told, the methodology of modern evangelicalism is essentially the same humanism maintained by Rome, so it is no surprise to see them slouching toward Babylon.
It is this overarching humanism — that old leaven of an anthropocentric kingdom couched in experiential epistemology — which has crept into Protestantism, just as it had into the medieval church, and the Hebrew ekklesia before them. It provided foothold for the gnosticism that has swept the West in Cultural Marxism and Alienism. Of course, everyone from the Vatican to the Comintern attribute the social discorporation and blossoming tyranny in the West to Protestantism, but these developments have obtained only in inverse proportion to a waning of Protestant faith.
So we see the fight is far from over. The Reformation moves now into another leg of the war for the Kingdom. Our commemoration of the perennial battle for the principles thereof is the fight for the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life. And if this holy season finds our covenanted folk once more besieged, we trust that God prepares a table of feasting for us in the midst of our enemies. Even now, those Tridentine Trad Cats, clinging to a vision of Catholicism which Rome denies to exist today, they find themselves able to maintain their position against those innovations only by borrowing from the very Protestant arsenal that they decried prior to Vatican I and II.
What’s more, the very fact that those sons of Trent – who at one time refused to converse or entertain Protestant arguments – have deferred now to an apologetic approach rather than pincers, brands, and immolation, is a fundamental concession to Protestantism. For it presupposes a court higher than that of the Vatican. It entertains God’s Word, and the bar of truth which it establishes, as the field on which the question might be settled. So it is, five centuries on from brother Martin’s stand, that Providence is compelling our old foes into our camp. For “His judgments are made manifest” (Rev. 15:4).
Forward the standard of the King. God save our people. Post tenebras lux!