John Bradshaw - The Reformation
This is It Is Written. I’m John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me for 500, a series of nine programs where we study together the Protestant Reformation, which 500 years ago, on October the 31st in the year 1517, roared into life when a young Catholic priest named Martin Luther nailed a protest to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. History would never be the same. In this first episode of 500 we will take an overarching look at the Reformation. And after our program, filmed on location, my guest will be Dr. Gerard Damsteegt, recently retired from the seminary at Andrews University. Dr. Damsteegt, thanks so much for joining me.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: It's a pleasure for me.
John Bradshaw: Appreciate you taking the time. I think together we’re going to have a good look at the Reformation in sort of an overview way. And you’ve made the Reformation quite a field of study, haven’t you?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Oh, every year we go with a group of people to Europe and study the whole scenario of the Christian church from the time of the first century until what happened to the church, the apostasy that took place, the Reformation, and finally the restoration of the gospel.
John Bradshaw: How many Reformation tours have you led?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Presently, about forty since 1994.
John Bradshaw: So, Dr. Damsteegt is a man who knows something about the Reformation. And as a scholar, as a biblical Christian, he’s dug deep into the matters of the Reformation, not only for his own personal enrichment, but in order to share with others. And in this program Dr. Damsteegt will be sharing with you and me. The Reformation. One of the most significant events in political or religious history of the last 2,000 years. The Reformation focused on the work done by Reformers, people such as Martin Luther, but many others besides Luther who worked to reform the Roman Catholic Church, which for hundreds of years was immensely powerful, both politically and religiously, and it affected the world in profound ways. We’ll look at some of those tonight.
There are nine programs in this series of 500, all of them filmed on location. Our first program is an overview of the Reformation, filmed in numerous sites in Europe and here in North America. Program number 2 takes us to Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We look at a man who, although not one of the classical Reformers as we think back over the last several hundred years, was a Reformer in word and deed. Patrick of Ireland, actually, Patrick of England. And we’ll share more about that with you. Our third program in 500 takes us to England.
William Tindale is a gentleman not thought of as much today as others like Luther or Zwingli or Wesley or Knox. But Tindale was a supremely influential figure who stood up against the might of King Henry the Eighth, and who dared to translate the Bible into modern English, at least the English that was modern in his day. And Tindale’s ministry urged forward the Reformation by placing into the hands of people the Word of God, the Holy Bible. Our fourth program will focus on the Roman Catholic Church, Rome, and the Reformation. We’ll take you to Rome. We’ll take you inside the Vatican City. And we’ll look at this power, this supremely influential power, spoken of in the Bible and focused on in Bible prophecy. What was it about Rome, the ruling church, the medieval church, which made a Reformation necessary and, perhaps we could say, possible?
That’s Rome and the Reformation. But after the Reformation there came the Counter-Reformation. A very significant figure was a man named Ignatius of Loyola. Who seeing what was taking place as the authority of the Roman church was being eroded, decided that he must do something. He was a man experienced in the military; he had an extremely sharp mind. And he petitioned the pope and asked, "Allow us to do what we need to do to restore this great church to its former glory".
Ignatius Loyola and the Counter-Reformation, which included very interesting developments in the interpretation of Bible prophecy, reasserted the dominance of the Roman church. Up until now, the Reformation has taken place and has been centered on the continent of Europe. But then, changes would take place as political and religious forces led to Protestants moving from Europe to North America. Up until this point there had been no real religious freedom in the world. But the Pilgrims that came to New England and settled in these United States and ultimately formed these United States, through a gentleman named Roger Williams, a Puritan minister from England who brought the concept of religious freedom. He founded the Rhode Island colony and established the city we know today as Providence, Rhode Island.
So the concept of religious liberty was introduced to Christianity, and people began to take hold of the Bible and think for themselves. One of those thinkers was a man named William Miller, who studying the Bible, came to the conclusion that Jesus would return to the earth at a certain time in the early 1840s. This Baptist minister gathered a following around him of people known as Millerites. They were Adventists because they believed in the imminent advent of Jesus.
Well, as you and I both know, Jesus did not return in the 1840s. So what next? All of the progress that had been made as people studied their Bible, fought their way out of the dark, walked in the light of religious freedom, established a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. All of that had been accomplished, but there was more work that needed to be done. The Reformation had to be brought to a conclusion.
And so as you read the Book of Revelation, you discover that God brings into focus a group of people He identifies as a "remnant," and commits to them a special message of prophetic significance, which the Bible says will be proclaimed, preached to all the world, to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. The Reformation began 500 years ago. As we look at the Bible, we come to the conclusion that the Reformation cannot possibly be finished, that there’s still work for God’s people to do. So, in a moment, we’ll take a look at our first program in this series, 500. And our guest following this program will be Dr. Gerard Damsteegt. Back with more in a moment.
This is It Is Written. I’m John Bradshaw. Welcome to 500. Five hundred years ago the world was a very different place. There weren’t any cars, or airplanes. No trains. No buses. No computers. There was no radio, no television, no internet. There was no plastic, no cardboard, no United States. There was no Taj Mahal. There was no junk food, no x-rays, no antibiotics, no vaccines. There was no anesthetic. Smoking was virtually unknown. No GMOs, no cameras, no newspapers... It was a different world. Now think about this. There was no Baptist Church 500 years ago. No Pentecostal Church. There were no Presbyterians, no Methodists, no Seventh-day Adventists, no Church of England (or Episcopal Church). In fact, there was only one Church.
Then, as now, it was led by a pope. The popes 500 years ago were men like Leo the 10th, Adrian the 6th, Clement the 7th, Paul the 3rd, Julius the 3rd and Marcellus the 2nd. And they weren’t only leaders of the church, but they were also immensely powerful political figures. Or, to put it another way, 500 years ago there was no religious freedom. You could attend church, listen to the priest, maybe hear the organ music, but you couldn’t believe what you wanted to believe. And you definitely couldn’t read a Bible. You believed what the church told you to believe. And if you dared to do otherwise, well, life was difficult at best. Now, down through the ages there were those who dissented, but they existed in the shadows. It was only a tiny minority that dared to stand up against the might of the Church.
Five hundred years ago it was tough if you didn’t agree with the church. If you wanted to believe what you believed, you either had to be very secretive about it, or run the risk of being uncovered, persecuted, and more than likely killed. If you value religious freedom today, the freedom to belong to the church you want and to believe what you believe, or even the freedom to belong to no church and believe there is no God, then consider that a few centuries ago that freedom didn't exist. But all that would change.
In 1517, on October the 31st, a priest in a small town in Germany changed western civilization, and risked his life by defying the power of the ruling church. His contribution to history was so immense that Time Magazine ranked him fourth on the list of the Greatest Men of the Millennium. Looking at those ranked above him, it’s easy to think he should have been ranked number one. Five hundred years ago, the Protestant Reformation began when a young priest turned academic by the name of Dr. Martin Luther nailed a list of protests to the door of this church in Wittenberg, Germany.
When he did so, he didn’t realize he was about to set history on fire. He had no intention of starting a new church. All Martin Luther wanted to see was his church come closer to the Bible. He was calling for reform. Bound up in the genesis of the Protestant Reformation, several very important questions. To begin with, how important is it that a person have that right to determine for himself or herself what to believe?
Five hundred years ago, you believed what the church told you to believe. Beyond that, you didn’t have much of anything. How important is it that you choose for yourself what you think and what you believe? Second, when it comes to what you believe, think about that question that Pilate asked Jesus the night before Jesus was crucified. Pilate said to him, "What is truth"?
Today you’ll hear that people have their truth. I have my truth. You have your truth. What is truth? And how do you decide? Is truth subject to a vote? Should there be a, a court of ideas? How do you decide? Is there a standard by which ideas or truths can be objectively judged? And what’s truth worth? What is the freedom to believe actually worth? How far do you press this? When is it worth being a troubler of the people? And is there ever a time that the freedom to believe your own ideas is something that’s actually worth dying for?
Now, when you think of a person’s deeply held personal beliefs, you could dismiss that as just ideas, theories. But what we know is that a person’s deeply held personal beliefs provide the framework for that person’s entire life, and they certainly form that person’s faith. In looking at the Protestant Reformation, it’s important that you go back and consider the foundation of Christianity altogether. Reform today typically means new ideas, whether you’re dealing with political, cultural, social, or religious reform. It’s about finding something new, whatever’s next. But not the way God sees it. As God looks at reform, typically He calls us back. He calls us back to old ideas, to things that he has established already.
Speaking for God, the prophet Jeremiah said this: "Thus says the Lord, Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you shall find rest for your souls" (Jeremiah 6:16). The Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments, form the basis of the early Christian church. The Apostle Paul, writing to young Timothy said that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness".
That’s Second Timothy 3 and verse 16. The consuming passion of the early Christians, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for the salvation of humanity, was said by Paul to rest upon the Scriptures: "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3 and 4).
The New Testament teaching of justification by faith, a central focus of the Protestant Reformation, is also said by Paul to rest upon scripture. Listen to what he said in Romans, chapter 1, verses 16-17 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’" (Romans 1:16 and 17).
What was clear to the founders of the Christian religion is that the message they shared was the Word of the eternal God. "When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe" (First Thessalonians 2:13). When certain individuals got it in their heads that the church had to be reformed, and when they chose to put their lives on the line to see that it happened, things were going to get exciting. I’ll be back with more in just a moment.
This is It Is Written, I’m John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me for 500. Now, think of some of the great reform movements of history. The Civil Rights movement in the United States. Lunch counter sit-ins. Bus boycotts. Protest marches. Where would the United States be today without those heroes who stood up boldly and demanded reform? Many lost their lives. Was it worth it? The fall of European communism in the early 1990s. Starting with Lech Walesa and the Solidarity Movement, and desperate East Germans who wanted to see the Berlin Wall come down, and Czechs who protested in Wenceslas Square.
Was that worth it? The Boston Tea Party in 1773. Of course the list goes on. Sometimes protest is absolutely essential. A protest about taxation without representation? Yeah, that’s important. Your country is occupied? Well, that’s important too. You don’t like your system of government; you feel like you’re being oppressed. Well, most of us can only imagine. But the Protestant Reformation was on an altogether different level.
Christianity began with people such as Peter and James and John and Paul and Silas and Timothy, carrying forward the message of the gospel. But after a few centuries, that message began to get clouded. When the Roman Empire officially accepted Christianity and called off its persecution of the church, faith in Jesus became popular. Unfortunately, it also became corrupt. Jesus had warned His disciples, saying to them in Luke 6 and verse 26, "Woe unto you when all men speak well of you". Instead of the Bible deciding what Christians should believe, church councils and bishops, even Roman emperors like Constantine, began making these decisions.
Now, of course, not all of those decisions were bad. But more and more these human judgments began subverting the authority of the Bible. Church tradition began to hold veto power over scripture. Jesus’ words regarding the Pharisees of His day began to hold more and more relevance. "And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). In the centuries that followed the so-called conversion of Constantine, this reliance on human ideas and human traditions became more and more pronounced. Those who wanted to follow the Bible were forced to go underground.
The Vatican became more and more powerful, effectively governing the lives and the souls and the political institutions of Europe. No pope was more powerful than Pope Innocent the Third, who reigned from 1198 to 1216, a period that’s been referred to as the "high noon" of the papacy. A leading Protestant historian, J.A. Wylie, wrote that "the noon of the papacy was the midnight of the world". Innocent the Third was able to compel the monarchs of Europe to do his will. At times he deposed those who would not.
One weapon that the church had in its arsenal was something known as interdict. A territory that was censured with an interdict was made to believe that the priests would not hear confession, prayers would not be offered for the dead, and the sacraments of the church would not be dispensed. Now, for anybody who actually believed that the pope held the keys to God’s kingdom, this was absolutely terrifying. They were effectively shut out from the grace of God. Now this mindset that had existed for hundreds of years and which greeted the Protestant reformers at the beginning of the sixteenth century John Wycliffe, the English scholar who translated the Latin Bible into English in the 1300s, is often called the "morning star of the Reformation".
Wycliffe spoke against what he saw as the inaccuracies of the state church. Church leaders in Rome summoned him to stand trial, intending to end his life. He got sick and died before he could be tried, but Wycliffe’s work was done. But such was the animosity of the church towards him that his body was exhumed, and it was burned, and his ashes were dumped in a river. Wycliffe’s teachings were carried forward by a Bohemian priest named John Huss. The church summoned Huss to a council in Constance, Germany, and promised him protection. Huss arrived in Constance and was arrested, thrown into a horrible prison, sentenced to death, and was then burned at the stake. But as one historian wrote, "The blood of the martyrs was seed".
The persecution the Reformers suffered only seemed to further their cause. And the need for reform seemed obvious. The luxury and the depravity indulged in by church leaders was breathtaking. It’s no secret that there were popes who fathered illegitimate children. Church offices were bought and sold, and the luxurious lifestyle of church leaders was out of sync with the self-denial of Jesus. Speaking of the corruption of that time, one historian wrote that "the advance of the Turks since the fall of Constantinople in 1453 was generally considered to have been allowed by God in punishment for the sins of the Church". The Christian church was certainly ready for a change. But how would that change come about? We’ll find out in just a moment.
After he was arrested, a New York man confessed to 6 burglaries, in the borough of Queens. He broke into churches and stole from them. He said he did it because "I’m mad at God. I don’t like church anymore. I break in to get back at God". Get back at God? After all God has done for you; brought you into existence, sustained you, gave you opportunity, and promised you everlasting life, in a world where there’s no sin, disappointment, or broken dreams. You can’t get back at God. If you want to get back at anyone that’ll be the devil who is responsible for every ounce of misery that has ever existed. Jesus said in John 5 verse 40: "But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life". If you want to right wrongs, come to faith in Christ. Staying away from God only plays into the devil’s hands. I’m John Bradshaw for It Is Written. Let’s live today by every word.
One hundred years after the death of Huss, a young German priest by the name of Martin Luther found himself in the city of Rome, seeking to earn God’s favor by climbing on his knees up Pilate’s Staircase. The church claimed that Jesus Himself had walked on that staircase, and that it had been miraculously transported from Jerusalem to Rome. While performing this act, Luther seemed to hear a voice as loud as thunder, declaring in his ear the gospel truth articulated by both Testaments of the Sacred Word: "The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17; Habakkuk: 2, verse 4). So why was Luther walking up a staircase on his knees? Because Luther believed that climbing those steps would earn favor with God. And why did Luther believe that? Because that’s what the church taught.
The church taught that you could reduce your punishment for sin, that you could lessen the "temporal effects of sin" by doing things such as attending a certain church on a certain day, honoring the "blessed sacrament," praying the rosary, or climbing the Scala Sancta, Pilate’s Staircase, on your knees. In fact, the church still believes this. Here’s what the church says about indulgences. "An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints".
So you can understand why Luther felt he had to do something. The church was teaching salvation by works. In fact, indulgences were sold for money. Money was raised for the building of St Peter’s Basilica through the selling of indulgences. This was Luther’s reality. Of course he had to protest.
That moment at Pilate’s Staircase proved to be the turning point in Martin Luther’s experience. With that voice still ringing in his heart, he sprang to his feet and fled from the place in shame and horror. Luther’s zeal would spark a fire that spread throughout Europe and beyond. From John Calvin’s Geneva to William Tyndale’s England, from France to Scandinavia and the Netherlands, and then to Plymouth Rock on an unknown and distant shore, the message of supreme biblical authority, justification through faith in Christ, and a conscience set free from civil and ecclesiastical control, would inspire millions of hearts and alter the course of human events. Luther and others would also teach the principle of Sola Scriptura, the Bible alone. The Reformers believed that any teaching should be subjected to the ultimate authority: God’s Word.
Now, 500 years later, in much of Christianity, we simply take that for granted. But five hundred years ago? No way. That’s not the way the church was run. Now, of course, the Reformers were human, and human beings are faulty. Martin Luther certainly had his faults. But we must keep in mind that the Reformers came to the Bible a lot like an archaeologist comes to an artifact. It was new to them. They had to wrestle with the Bible and work some things out. They didn’t have the benefit of hundreds of years of scholarship having gone before them. Now the truth is, we inherit a lot of what we believe by the people who’ve gone before us and done the heavy lifting. Which is fine, as long as what we receive from those who have gone before us is true. In all cases, it’s important that we go to the Bible and find out.
With the translation of the Bible by Luther and Tyndale and others, into German and English and French and Polish and Czech, and with the advent of the printing press, the common people soon had access to God’s word. And when the Bible was put in the hands of Bible students hungry for Scripture, the church and the world could never be the same again. The church of Rome wasn’t about to quietly tolerate an attack on what they genuinely believed was their God-given right to direct the minds and hearts of men and women, to compel them in faith in God, and to correct them when they fell into error. The Counter-Reformation would see Rome fight back, forcefully, creatively, and not always obviously.
So what does a church do when its authority is threatened, along with its hold on the minds of the people of the western world? In Europe, there was a lot of bloodshed. Protestants were burned at the stake. Thousands died in the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France in 1572. And anything resembling toleration disappeared. More than 200,000 fled France. The first foreigners to reach what would become the United States of America were Protestants of English descent. But even then there would be growing pains. The Puritans of New England believed that religious freedom applied to you only if you lived and believed and worshipped as they did.
But then along came Roger Williams, who introduced the concept of religious liberty for all. And then the truth would go marching on. Through men like Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich and John Wesley and his brother Charles in England. Through Philip Melanchthon and Thomas Cranmer and Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley and Theodore Beza and John Knox in Scotland and Huss and Jerome and William Farel and Roger Williams and many others. So when did the Reformation end? Or has it ended? Perhaps there’s still a work to be done, a work of reform, a work of calling people to faithfulness to God and to faith in the Word of God. Throughout the rest of this series, 500, you’ll meet some of the great characters of the Reformation. Your faith in God will grow, and your personal experience with God will be richly blessed.
John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me for 500. My guest is Dr. Gerard Damsteegt, retired professor of church history from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Dr. Damsteegt, thank you so much for joining me.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: It’s a pleasure for me.
John Bradshaw: Help me understand just what the Reformation was.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: When we speak about the Reformation, it is good to look at the significance of the word. And it comes from the Latin reformare. And what the key element is there, is stopping abuse, corruption, and restoring something to its original.
John Bradshaw: This leads me to the next question. Why was the Reformation necessary?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: The Apostle Paul points already out in Second Thessalonians, the second chapter, that before Christ returns, there would become a power, it’s called the man of sin, the mystery of iniquity, and that would corrupt the church and proclaim to be, as it were, God or above God. And if we look into the history of Christianity, by the sixth, seventh century, we see a condition of the church that is far from different from the early church. The gospel of Christ being central, His forgiveness being powerful there, His atonement, His cross, it doesn’t exist anymore. It is now centered around one man, called the pope, and everyone, all the leaders of the church, should pay obedience to him, listen to him, and he controls everything that is going on. And then in time things get perverted, and, for example, one important thing is that when people saw the perversion, they quoted Scriptures, and now the church was trying to eliminate the access of the people to the Scriptures. Secondly, how are you going to get forgiveness of sin, atonement, if the Bible is still there? So the Bible is removed, and secondly, in regards to the beautiful forgiveness of Jesus Christ, we get now a concept being introduced, indulgences. What are indulgences? The church has a whole pool and whole treasure of indulgences that bring forgiveness. It eliminates your stay in purgatory, and all those things together. And so, as a result, what is going to happen? We, as common people, don’t go to the Scriptures, don’t go to Jesus Christ, but we go to the church. We become dependent on the church for forgiveness and for elimination of punishment. And that, how does the church get this? This whole pool of all good works come from the saints, or from Mary. And over time, those heroes, those saints, have accumulated so much grace and mercy that it is being made available to God’s people, for a price. And then, of course, when people protest it, what do you get? You get then some very interesting things. The church becomes now or declares to be infallible. We as a church don’t err. You have to accept what we say. And that is the key to success. And so the pope then becomes also infallible.
John Bradshaw: Now, you mentioned the man of sin a few moments ago. And it’s interesting that the Reformers didn’t only say the church needed to be reformed, but it was corrupt. And some of those Reformers identified the Roman Catholic Church as the man of sin. In fact, it seems most all of the prominent Reformers did so. How did they come to that conclusion?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: They looked at the person of Christ, and they looked at the pope, and they saw tremendous contrast between those two. And so they said, hey, this must then be what has been predicted in the early church. Jesus Christ will not come until the apostasy, the falling away, is revealed. And so they compared. Who is Christ? Christ did not want to have any earthly power. He ran away from this. Look at the pope. What does he do? He has a triple crown. He has the keys, the two keys: the key of worldly power and the key to spiritual power. What does Christ do? He washed the feet of his disciples. What does the pope do? The pope let his feet be kissed by his followers. And so they saw this tremendous contrast.
John Bradshaw: Now, people might listen to this and say, yeah, the Reformation is ancient history. After all, it was 500 years ago. And today we have a pope who said he doesn’t want to live in the papal palace, who goes out and meets the people, kisses babies, hugs the sick. He says, "Who am I to judge"? If Luther was around today, do you think he would see that there’s a need for reformation in the church, or would he say it’s a new church?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Ah, in Luther’s time, during the Reformation, there were various actions taken to improve the morality of the church. Certain of the abuses. But the basic teachings that led to all the corruption was not changed at all. If you go today and you look at the staircase that Martin Luther climbed, you’ll see on the side still, you can get indulgences by doing the same thing. And so the teachings have not changed. And so the teaching that led to all the corruptions and the power of the church has not changed at all.
John Bradshaw: I think it’s worth noticing to that some of those teachings have been brought into the 21st century. If you followed the pope on Twitter during World Youth Day, you get an indulgence. There’s been a resurgence, as a matter of fact, in some of these old teachings from Catholicism. Rome hasn’t repudiated them at all. A question for you: What do you think would have happened if Martin Luther hadn’t nailed the thesis to the door of the Castle Church, if he just shrugged his shoulders and said, "I wish my church would change," but did nothing about it? What do you think would have happened?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Well, sooner or later somebody else would have picked it up. But the uniqueness of Martin Luther was he made a very, very study after he went to Rome. And so the uselessness of the indulgences, he analyzed this, and by the time the pope had announced a new indulgence, and the, and the power of the indulgences was, exceeded every other previous indulgences, you could have get a forgiveness of sins you hadn’t even committed, you was going to do in the future. And, and so when Luther saw. he said, "Oh, Martin, we don’t even need to go to confession, we don’t even need to go to ask forgiveness, because we have already those indulgences to take care of those things". So when Martin Luther saw this, he analyzed this, and then the 95 thesis is a destructive analysis of the power and the efficacy of the indulgences. However, among those 95 thesis, he made one statement about the true treasury of the church, and he said, "The true treasury of the church is the gospel of Jesus Christ through God". And so that is available for all, free. So keep in mind, here people were paying tremendous amount of money to get the forgiveness and the declaration for forgiveness from the church. And here, in the 95 thesis, it was free.
John Bradshaw: And that’s really the essence of the Reformation. Not man’s word, God’s word. Dr. Damsteegt, let’s hold that thought right there. We’ll be back with more in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to 500. I’m John Bradshaw from It Is Written. Dr. Damsteegt, a moment ago, a historical look at how the Word of God was asserted back above the word of man during the Protestant Reformation. That was really the essence of the basis of it all. You’re going to go on here with, but I think we’re going to look at this as it applies to us today. So why don’t you look at that further for us.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Yeah. So if you summarize the process of spire, it was a solemn witness against the religious intolerance, and an assertion of the right of all men to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience. Now, that is very important, because that is, it shows here what took place there is a lesson for all generations. In our time, you still have a wide departure of the truth. That Luther was fighting against. And so here now there is a need to return to the Protestant principle: the Bible and the Bible only as the rule of faith and duty. And that is important here today because the anti-christian powers today are still working with power around it. And the same unswerving adherence to the Word of God manifested in the cries of reformation is the only hope of reform for us today.
John Bradshaw: Very significant.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: And so therefore what Luther did, what the prince's protested against is still very, very important.
John Bradshaw: If there had been no Reformation, what would the world look like today?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: We would all be in the grasp of a church that is built on righteousness by works. Because that was the whole system. The church collected its money, its income, because people wanted to get peace of mind, peace of heart. And how to do this? By buying their way to salvation. That’s very, very crucial. I mean, why, I mean, it took a man like Luther, who couldn’t have the peace. He went everywhere, from his law study, he went to his priestly study. And why? Because he did not have the peace, the peace that comes through forgiveness through Jesus Christ. And so therefore, he did everything possible, vigils, you know, he beat himself nearly to death, all of those things he did. And he still didn’t get it, until he discovered the gospel of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness through the blood of Christ, through the Word of God. And it was the Word of God that the papacy had tried to eliminate. And during the Middle Ages, everyone who wanted to have this peace, they couldn’t get it because they didn’t have any access to the Scriptures.
John Bradshaw: Now, explain that for me, because I think in, in our modern age, where you can buy a Bible at the Dollar Store, it’s difficult for people to understand that in that day people didn’t have the Bible. In fact, people could be put to death for reading or, or on suspicion of possessing even a scrap of the Bible. Explain what it was like there, where people were, were walled off from the Bible.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Where do you get the peace? Go to the church, buy your indulgences, confess everything what you have ever done, you know? And so, you have to depend completely on the church’s system. And their, gracious work, what they did for you. And there was not any personal relationship with God. Now, finally, Luther and some of the other ones like, like Wycliffe, Huss and Jerome, and the Waldensians, they had the peace because they had a personal access to salvation. You know, in the Bible you realize that salvation is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the personal access. And if you don’t have this personal relationship, you don’t have the, the peace that comes. And so you had, and this was the 98 percent of the people, had not access to salvation as it is in personal experience.
John Bradshaw: Explain sola scriptura to me. This was a key of, of really, not just Luther, but of all of the Reformers. These were people who, at the beginning of their ministry, Luther especially, didn’t really have access to the Bible at all. But he came to a position where he said, "Sola scriptura". Explain what that is, because it, it’s interesting to me that today there’s still a lot of resistance to the idea of sola scriptura.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Sola scriptura is the death nail of any system that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so Luther was very interested in getting the Bible among all the people, because, you know, illiteracy was great.
John Bradshaw: Sure.
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Everywhere. And so Luther, and also, uh, Zwingli, started to translate the Bible in the common language of the people. And so their teaching was the Bible central. That is where you need to go. So if you want to know how to be saved, it is through the Bible. Sola scriptura. Sola fide. It’s only through faith, only. And not only that, but sola gratia. Through grace only. And so it was not only the Bible, but in the Bible you find grace. Grace comes through Jesus Christ, but you have to have faith in Jesus Christ to obtain this. So everything is now delegated to the person. And so it shows you the personal, personal pietistic dimension of the person’s religion. It needs to be a personal relationship. And if you don’t have a personal relationship, you don’t have the faith that is necessary. You don’t have grace that is necessary. So keep in mind that this, you know, if people depend only on the church, and only on the priest, and you go say hey, salvation is personal, teach me say how? How? I don’t know how to do it. And so here now, this is a total new dimension. And if you don’t have the spiritual experience, you don’t have the peace.
John Bradshaw: The Reformation really was a threat to the viability of the church. Without the Reformation you confessed to a priest. But if you knew Jesus personally, the bottom falls out of that. There’s no more confession to the priest. There’s no more praying to Mary. The saints become an irrelevance. Uh, the church is no longer the repository of the grace of God. This was a major threat to the church’s existence, wasn’t it?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Absolutely. Now all the finances dried up, and not only that, but, I mean, it’s, the impact of society, all the monasteries became useless. And so if the monastery became useless, you know, what do you do then? They provided, uh, hospitals. They provided schooling. They provided welfare. And now everything had to come from society. So the government had to go in force. But in order to keep that going, people needed to read. And so public education became now paramount. Protestantism would have failed if the people couldn’t read and write.
John Bradshaw: You’ve raised an interesting point with the decline of the monasteries. It wasn’t just the monasteries themselves, but other services that were connected to them. So take us forward in time. Luther nails the 95 thesis to the door, October 31, 1517. The fire is lit, or perhaps it had been lit, but the flames are fanned now. How was the world materially different a hundred or 200 years after that time?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: You know, I mean, even, the lives of the people became different. Uh, the classes of society, the priest class, the nobility, and the peasantry. Because of the gospel, and the preachers of all believers, it eliminated the class distinctions. And so what is the difference between a priest and a farmer? The difference is the function. The function becomes our difference. And so therefore it is very, very important for the society to continue based on the protestant principles. And also what you get here is the, of course, you get now, Protestantism is split into many, many different groups, because the Bible is the authority. If the Bible is your authority, the question is, what part of the Bible? Is it the whole Bible, or is it the Old Testament and the New Testament together? Is the Old Testament for the Jews? And so here you get in a total different interpretation of what part. Luther was very much moved by the book of Romans; that was the key in his, his mind. Now, is the book of Romans, is that the key? Or is all the other ones? Calvin says no, everything is to God’s glory. The experience. And so that was taken care of. Then, uh, the whole discussion about salvation, what is it? The whole discussion about justification, about sanctification, about the free will, predestination becomes a part of it. And not only this, but, uh righteousness by works. What is the function of works? And so you get all kinds of groups, different groups of people that are focusing on various aspects of salvation. And so you get the proliferation of groups.
John Bradshaw: Well, you know, one argument in favor of the church, the Roman Catholic Church, and this comes from, from Catholics themselves, is the church tells us what we believe, and we believe that. Who is a person to believe that he or she could really understand the Bible without the special priest’s training? And then the proliferation of Protestant groups or non-Catholic groups, groups that can’t agree among themselves, would tend to prove to some people that it’s just better to line up behind the church and do what the church does. Why are we in, Protestantism or non-Catholicism is in a bit of a mess today. Why do you think that is?
Dr. Gerard Damsteegt: Well, there are a number of factors, but key is that it is easy to say, okay, I give it to somebody else. Let the church, let the pope, let a priest decide it. And they have studied it, and we follow it. Protestantism leads to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And if you don’t have this personal relationship to Christ, salvation is beyond your grasp. This is extremely important, that if you want to have a personal relationship with, with God, it is through the Bible, it's through the faith that Jesus Christ gives you. And if you don’t accept this and don’t put it into practice, you’ll never get a salvation assurance that is important.
John Bradshaw: Dr. Damsteegt, thanks so much for joining us. And thank you for joining us. Now, don’t miss our next program, the Celtic Connection. The next program in our nine-part series of 500, where we take you to the Emerald Isle and introduce you to one of history’s real colorful Christian characters. Before we go, let’s pray together now.
Our Father in Heaven, we thank you that you’ve given us your Word. I pray you would light a fire in us, give us a desire to know your word, and know Jesus, the Word made flesh. I pray that we would take seriously not only the responsibility to be people of your word, but to recognize the privilege that is ours to be out of the dark and into the marvelous light of your revelation. Bless us, Lord. Let there be a reformation in each life. Keep us connected to yourself, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.