REFORMATION 500 WEEK 3: THE NEED FOR REFORMATION
The Protestant Reformation was a reformation of the Western Roman
Catholic Church, not the Eastern Orthodox Church (the Western and Eastern
Churches have been divided since the year 1054).
The Reformers were all born, baptized, confirmed, and educated in the
Roman Catholic Church, and most of them had served as priests at her altars with
the solemn vow of obedience to the pope on their conscience (Schaff, History, 7:13).
“At the beginning of the sixteenth century everyone that mattered in the
Western Church was crying out for reformation” (Chadwick, The Reformation, 11).
The Roman Catholic Church desperately needed reform. Tradition had
replaced Scripture as the church’s supreme authority; and the church’s leadership
was corrupt. “The papacy was secularized [more interested in Renaissance than
religion], and changed into a selfish tyranny [seen especially in the crusades] whose
yoke became more and more unbearable. The scandal of the papal schism had
indeed been removed, but papal morals…became worse than ever during the years
1492-1521.” The writings of contemporary scholars “are full of complaints and
exposures of the ignorance, vulgarity and immorality of priest and monks. Simony
[the practice of buying and selling ecclesiastical positions] and nepotism were
shamefully practiced. Celibacy was a foul fountain of un-chastity and uncleanness
[the popes had their own prostitutes and some flaunted their illegitimate children]
…. Whole monastic establishments and orders had become nurseries of ignorance
and superstition, idleness and dissipation…. Education was confined to priests and
nobles. The mass of the laity could neither read nor write, and had no access to the
word of God except the Scripture lessons from the pulpit [which taught that
salvation is communicated through the priesthood]. The priest’s chief duty was to
perform, by his magic words, the miracle of transubstantiation [the Latin phrase
Hoc est meum corpum, “This is my body,” was used as a magic formula and
shortened to “Hocus Pocus”], and to offer the sacrifice of the mass for the living
and the dead in a foreign tongue (Latin)…. Saint-worship and image worship,
superstitious rites and ceremonies obstructed the direct worship of God in spirit
and in truth. Piety which should proceed from a living union of the soul with Christ
and a consecration of character, was turned outward and reduced to a round of
mechanical performances such as the recital of Paternosters and Ave-Marias,
fastings, almsgiving, confession to a priest, and pilgrimage to a holy shrine [part of
doing penance]. Good works were measured by the quantity rather than the
quality, and polluted by the principle of meritorious-ness which appealed to the
selfish motive of reward. Remission of sin could be bought with money; a shameful
traffic in indulgences (the selling of forgiveness to remove the temporal penalties of
sin especially those suffered in purgatory] was carried on under the Pope’s sanction
for filthy lucre as well as for the building of St. Peter’s Dome” (Schaff, 8-10).
The most famous peddler of indulgences, Tetzel, unashamedly claimed,
“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”
Enter Martin Luther. “Erasmus says that when Luther published his Theses
[against indulgences] all the world applauded him” (Schaff, 7:98).
Question 6: Did God create man thus wicked and perverse?
No, but God created man good and after His own image, that is, in righteousness and true holiness,
that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal blessedness, to praise and glorify Him.
Question 5 told us that mankind has a natural tendency to hate God and neighbor.
Question 6 tells us that God did not create man in this sinful condition. Rather, on
the sixth day of creation, God created man good, without any sin at all. “Then God
saw everything that He had made and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). God
created man’s body out of the dust of the ground [Adam means ground]. “And God
breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Gen.
2:7). “God created man in His own image… male and female” (Gen. 1:27). Mankind
is as much like God as a creature can be – which makes man different from animals
and angels. We were created with a mind to rightly know God (John 17:3), affections
to heartily love God (1 Peter 1:8), and a will to praise and glorify God in
“righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24) – to imitate God in all of life
(Eph. 5:1), to work six days for His glory and to rest one day for His glory just like
He did (Exodus 20:8-11).
Question 7: From where, then, does this depraved nature of man come?
From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise, whereby our
nature became so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin.
Though God created Adam and Eve good, He created them changeably good, which
means they could fall from goodness if they disobeyed God’s command not to eat
from the forbidden tree (Gen. 2:16-17). By their fall and disobedience, they
separated themselves from God, who was their true life, having corrupted their
whole nature. This corruption of the whole nature [original sin] is a hereditary
disease which extends to all mankind. We are all conceived and born in sin (Psalm
51:5; Romans 5:12).
Question 8: But are we so depraved that we are completely incapable of any good
and prone to all evil?
Yes, unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.
The corruption of our whole nature is totally depraved, completely incapable of any
good in the eyes of God. “There is none who does good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:12);
“every intent of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5; cf.
Jeremiah 17:9; Eph. 2:1). Fallen man is still made in God’s image. A shattered
mirror is still a mirror: a corrupt and distorted image is still an image. Fallen man
still has a mind, affections, and a will; but his mind is darkened, his affections hate
God and his neighbor, and his will is not free to obey God but is “a slave of sin”
(Rom. 3:22); he can give money to the poor, but not of love for God (1 Cor. 13:3).
Only God can cause us to be born again (regenerated), making us spiritually alive, so
that our eyes are open to believe the truth, our hearts are clean to love the truth, and
our wills are set free to practice the truth (Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 36:26-27).