The Principles of Protestantism, Part 1 – Preface

Preface

This paper comes from an outline I prepared for a Bible study which is dated March 29, 1995. It was my conviction at the time that the Protestant church in its broadest sense had gone completely astray from its founding principles. So here it is now, October 2017, the month and year which mark five hundred since the Protestant Reformation, and I can honestly say my conviction of this has become all the more certain. Over this period of time the state of the Protestant church in America has deteriorated at an ever increasing pace. It has succumbed to the secular culture that surrounds it to be sure. But even more than that, it has succumbed to many false teachings and practices that threaten to cast the same shadow over it as that which prevailed in the sixteenth century European church. The Hebrew word for this is “Ichabod” which means “The glory has departed from Israel” (I Sam. 4:21), with “Israel” being God’s people now who are made up of all nations. Ichabod can rightfully be written on the door post of the largest number of churches in this land.

So what is so relevant about the Protestant Reformation and its principles in relation to the present day state of the church? It is simply this, that the issues and principles which defined the Reformation are fundamentally biblical and involve the heart of what constitute true Christian faith and practice. This has been largely forgotten by the modern church and its disciples. Almost everyone in American Christianity has heard of Martin Luther and John Calvin, and can probably even say something about what they are especially noted for in reference to the Protestant Reformation. I have noticed however, when these two names are mentioned in the presence of more devout Catholics, they respond with the word “heretic.” But other than name recognition, I don’t think many Christians today really understand what they or the Protestant Reformation was really all about. Neither do most Catholics, but at least they are taught to believe there is something which can be defined as heresy. This is not so with most modern Protestants. In fact, the very word heresy seems to evoke a negative reaction among most religious people in our post modern society. This is because post modernism judges every belief, no matter how false or contradictory to be true from a purely subjective point of view.

Does anyone know today what the word “protestant” is supposed to mean? It is used as a title to describe a certain type of Christian church, whether it is denominational or independent in character. But what is the origin of it, or, what is its etymology? I have found that those Catholics that use the word heretic in reference to Luther and Calvin all seem to understand what it means. The word “protestant” comes from the root word “protest.” A Protestant is therefore, someone who has a protest against something, or in this case, someone that represents something. The word “protestant” in historical church usage means someone who opposes the authority of the Roman Catholic Pope over the Christian church, just as Martin Luther and John Calvin did. And it wasn’t just the particular pope who happened to be in power in their day, but what he and his predecessors and subsequent successors defended regarding the churches doctrine and practice. It was opposition to this that earned these men the ignominious title of heretic.

And by the way, the Roman Catholic church still does consider all Protestants to be heretics. I remember an experience I had back in 1993 regarding this. A Pastor friend of mine invited me to go with him to a debate between Catholic and Protestant apologists at Boston College. My friend who was previously a Catholic had earned a degree from there, so he had a special interest in attending the debate. The Catholic apologist was Gerry Matatics who was at one time a Protestant minister ordained in the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). The Protestant apologist was someone I had never heard of before, James White of the Alpha and Omega ministries. In his opening remarks Matatics referred to White as of that heretic Martin Luther. Not knowing who James White was I naturally assumed he was a Lutheran. Later, when I discovered that White is a Baptist I realized that Matatics remark against him was the universal condemnation that all Catholics place upon Protestants. There is one other thing that sticks in my mind about the debate, other than James White did a good job defending the Protestant position of salvation. The debate was attended by a group of Monks who sat there studiously listening to the arguments. On the other hand, there was a group of Protestants who sat in the front row who ignored the moderator’s request to the audience to remain silent, and proceeded to interrupt the debate with a cacophony of rude noises and remarks. This rabble all looked like they were hippies or homeless people who had just come off the street. I couldn’t help but reflect often upon the contrast of the two in their appearance and conduct throughout the years that followed. It seemed to me that the Protestant hecklers viewed the debate as some sort of sporting event like football where the audience is there to cheer on their team by being rowdy and loud.

That being said, I wonder how many Protestant Christians today really know or care about the principles associated with these men, Martin Luther and John Calvin, along with their prospective movements? After all, they were not Protestants simply for the sake of being rebels against church authority. There was some underlying motivating principle(s) that drove these men and others to question the teaching of the Catholic church with respect to the Pope as its head Bishop. That motivation was a desire to know God; to know the righteousness of God; to know the grace of God in truth. It was that desire led by the Spirit of God which brought them to the principles which underlie the Protestant world view. The protest that these men raised against the Pope was over and against much false teaching and many errors of practice that had crept into the church over many centuries. And the principles that undergirded their protest were nothing less than a decided return to the apostolic Christian faith of the first century. It’s with this in mind that I now direct the reader’s attention.

 

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