John Bradshaw - Rome and the Reformation
Welcome to this special broadcast from It Is Written. I’m John Bradshaw. And this is 500, an in-depth look at the Protestant Reformation, which in 2017 is 500 years old. In our last program, we looked at the ministry and the life of the great English reformer and Bible translator William Tyndale, and at how the Bible was absolutely central to the Protestant Reformation. This time, our program is "Rome and the Reformation". We’ll look at the role of the Roman Catholic Church which, after all, was the central focus of the Reformation. My special guest later in the program will be Professor of Near-Eastern Studies and Archaeology at Southern Adventist University, Dr. Michael Hasel. Dr. Hasel, thanks for being here.
Dr. Michael Hasel: It’s great to be with you.
John Bradshaw: I’m looking forward to this in-depth look at Rome’s role in the Reformation. Do you think many people today are conscious that 500 years ago Rome was front and center in the religious world and really brought about such profound changes in the religious and political landscape?
Dr. Michael Hasel: I think some are. And I think, um, a lot has changed in those 500 years, and yet we’re seeing changes here again today that seems to be moving back into the direction of what happened 500 years ago.
John Bradshaw: Thanks for being here. In a few moments we’ll look at this in depth. Our program "Rome and the Reformation" took us to some fascinating locations, including, unsurprisingly, Rome. And to the Vatican City. As a former Roman Catholic, this program was important to me. I was raised as a Roman Catholic in a Roman Catholic family, in a town where the Catholic church was the most prominent church in town. The mayor of the town attended our church, as did anyone who was really anyone. I was convinced as a Roman Catholic I was part of the largest church on the planet. We had the pope. We had St. Peter’s.
When Pope John Paul the Second visited New Zealand, I made something of a pilgrimage, traveling many hours from where I was living at the time, to the largest city in New Zealand, to a mass mass. Tens of thousands of people had gathered together at the Auckland Domain to see Pope John Paul the Second, and I was part of that. As a younger child, there was a time that I did not miss mass a single day in two and half years. And when I say a single day, I mean a single day and not a single Sunday. It was quite a streak of church attendance. And, and as an altar boy, I was very close to the heart and the life of the church. And I was glad to be. But perhaps what I had was something of a Martin Luther moment, when as a Roman Catholic child I started to spot what I considered to be some inconsistencies in my faith. And it might be that that’s how the Reformation began.
We’re familiar with the story now, and we’ll look at it again and again during 500, that as a Roman Catholic priest Martin Luther discovered what he believed to be inconsistencies in his faith. And this led him to deep study of the Bible, and then the realization that much of what his church was teaching was not consistent with the Word of God. Hence, the reformation was born. In this program, "Rome and the Reformation," we’ll take you to some impressive locations. We’ll visit the Vatican City. We’ll go to St. Peter’s Basilica. And when you visit monuments like St. Peter’s, you start to understand why the Roman Catholic faith is so influential, so dominant in the minds and thinking of so many people. St. Peter’s is impressive. The architecture is splendid. The monuments to the great heroes of the Roman Catholic Church of the past are there for all to see.
So when we look at Rome and the Reformation, what do we look at? We look at a system that for hundreds of years was the dominant force, religiously and politically, throughout the entire world. We look at a system that came to the place where it was, at least others believed, in desperate need of reform. And it was the reform of the Roman Catholic Church that led people like Martin Luther and others; Ulrich Zwingli, John Knox, John Calvin, William Farel, many others besides, to go to the Bible and discover what the Bible had to say in terms of faith and practice. And it’s worth asking the question today: the Reformation which 500 years ago had such a profound influence on the Roman Catholic Church, what effect does it have on the Roman Catholic Church today?
Is Rome dominant today as it was 500 years ago? And if not as it was 500 years ago, how does Rome impact the world today, politically as well as religiously? And so in just a few moments, "Rome and the Reformation," filmed on location in Europe. And after "Rome and the Reformation," I’ll be back again to speak with Dr. Michael Hasel of Southern Adventist University. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back".
John Bradshaw: This is It Is Written. I’m John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me in Rome. 3 million people call this city home. It’s one of the most visited cities in the world. And has some of the planet’s most recognizable tourist attractions. 20 million people visit Rome every year. 4 million alone visit the Colosseum. That’s 11,000 a day. Legend has is that Rome was founded in 753 B.C. Which means people have been living here almost 3 thousand years; most likely a lot longer. Rome was home to the emperors, Constantine, and Trajan, and Nero, and others. The Olyimpc games were held here in 1960, Rome was bombed during Word War II, history oozes from the pores of the eternal city. The Roman empire which ruled for around 600 years was governed from Rome.
As well as being the capital of Italy today, Rome was the capital of the Roman empire, and for half a millenium was the largest city in the world. The Roman empire stretched all the way from Hadrian's wall in the north of England, across Europe and north Africa to the Persian Gulf. But visit Rome and there's no escaping an obvious fact, the city is dominated by a certain entity which happens to be the largest Christian denomination in the world. St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican city is one of the largest church buildings in the world. It’s not a cathedral, the cathedral of the pope of Rome, who also happens to be the Bishop of Rome is the archbasilica of St. John Lateran; which is about 3 miles from here. And the faithful come here from all over the world to visit shrines and cathedrals and Holy sites that are important to their faith.
Rome claims that it is the one true church founded by Jesus, and that the pope is St. Peter's successor. But while the church of Rome has occupied the place of greatest influence of any church in the world for well over a thousand years, there was a time when its influence and supremacy was jeopardized. When the Protestant Reformation challenged the authority of the established church 500 years ago, it took on what had become the most powerful institution in western civilization. So how did the church become so powerful? Well when the Roman empire collapsed in the 5th century A.D. an enormous power vacuum was created in Europe. By that time, Christianity had been established as the state religion of the Roman empire. That had been so for more than 150 years. There was only one power that could provide any measure of stability, one historian put it this way.
"With the breakup of the Roman bureaucracy the structure of daily life was threatened with disintegration. The only trace left of the Roman organism was the Catholic Church, and the only men with administrative experience were the bishops". Another historian wrote: "The reins and skills of government were handed down by a dying empire to a virile papacy; the lost power of the broken sword was rewon by the magic of the consoling word; the armies of the state were replaced by the missionaries of the Church moving in all directions along the Roman roads, and the revolted provinces, accepting Christianity, again acknowledged the sovereignty of Rome".
The transition from ancient to medieval Christianity began in earnest with the conversion of the emperor Constantine. Which was almost certainly only a nominal conversion. Constantine’s arch, built more than 1700 years ago, very near the Colliseum, commemorates the victory that brought Constantine to power in 312 A.D. Constantine claimed that he'd received a vision from God assuring him that he would triumph which led him to embrace Christianity, which until that time had been a persecuted sect. Christianity became the means through which Constantine brought peace and unity to the empire. But that peace and unity came at a high price.
As the church found acceptance with kings and emporers, Christianity itself underwent a metamorphisis. It began to resemble less and less the early Christan church, and was influenced more and more, by Paganism. Keep in mind that the Roman emporers including Constantine, had been Pagans. As you might imagine, it would’ve been difficult at best for Constantine’s new found faith not to have been influenced by his Pagan background. Turned out to be impossible. Centuries before Jesus had said of the Pharisees: "In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men". Matthew 15:9.
Throughout western Christianity, Paganism and the faith of Jesus along with church and state, were blended together. The Roman empire was a Pagan empire, when it embraced Christianity it didn’t rid itself of Pagan influences. Instead, it embraced them and absorbed them. As a result, the church lost the power of the Gospel. The story is told that Pope Julius the second was once speaking with the scholar Erasmus here in Rome. He referred to the church’s great wealth and then referenced Peter’s statement in Acts chapter 3: "Silver and gold have I none". The pope turned to the scholar and he said, "well we cannot say that now, can we"? And the scholar replied by saying. "no we cannot. And neither can we say, rise up and walk". Back with more in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. The New Testament church had very little wealth and absolutely no political power. But it did have what the apostle Paul described as "the power of God to salvation". And the book of Acts says that that power "turned the world upside down". But when the church compromised with the world in order to receive favor and protection, that primitive power of the Gospel was lost.
But civil and ecclesiastical power soon fell into the hands of the church as Europe searched for stability. The Emperor Justinian, who had ruled what was once the eastern half of the Roman Empire became the champion for Roman Christianity. The Emperor became the defender of the church, and set about to destroy by military means the theological enemies of the church. Tribes such as the Heruli, the Ostrogoths and the Vandals were subdued and conquered. One historian reflected upon these conquests.
"The Church, with the shadow of the ancient authority behind it, was the only symbol left of imperial Rome, and its bishop, the Pope, was the city's only recourse for leadership and protection, The Roman Empire in Europe would be replaced by the spiritual empire, which came to be temporal as well, whose reigning seigneur was the bishop of Rome". There were some colorful characters associated with the papacy in the Middle Ages. Pope Gregory the Seventh, who reigned in the 11th century, forced the German Emperor Henry IV to wait outside in the snow for three days before agreeing to see him and reconcile him to the church. Now, you might not expect things to be done that way today, but in the medieval church, that’s how things were done.
Pope Sixtus the Fourth, famous for building the Sistine Chapel in Rome, which was named for him, reigned in the 15th century. He was also deeply involved in the politics of the Italian States, and in 1476 he was involved in a conspiracy to assassinate an Italian statesman and his brother, whose family at the time were rulers in the city of Florence. Other popes such as Alexander the Sixth and Julius the Second kept mistresses and fathered illegitimate sons, and even maneuvered these illegitimate sons into positions of influence.
Of course they weren’t all bad, and you can’t judge an entire organization by a few rotten eggs. But it was a system that dictated to countries, manipulated states, and believed that the line separating church and state should simply disappear. And it helps us to understand why the Reformation should take place at all. The system was simply broken. In time, the papacy got to the place where tradition had authority over Scripture. Pope Innocent III, who ruled between 1198 and 1216, and was the most powerful of all of the medieval popes, had this to say about his spiritual role: "The successor of Peter is the Vicar of Christ; he has been established as a mediator between God and man, below God but beyond man, less than God but more than man, who shall judge all and be judged by no one".
And the church had tools at its disposal to strike fear into the heart of people, of people who were largely ignorant and, when it came to the scriptures, completely illiterate. The sentence of interdict, a sort of censure the church placed upon dissenters, meant that sins couldn’t be forgiven, the sacraments couldn’t be dispensed, prayers for the dead couldn’t be heard. Essentially, heaven was cut off for people who were living in the affected area. And when you consider that the church is the doorway to heaven, well, when the church goes ahead and shuts that door, you can imagine. During the reign of Innocent III, the nation of France was placed under interdict as the pope tried to persuade the king to take back his estranged wife.
During the 1400s, the city of Prague, in what was then Bohemia and is now the Czech Republic, suffered a similar fate during the ministry of John Huss. And it got much worse than interdict. Anyone living in the world dominated by the church in the Middle Ages had to deal with some grim realities. Under the influence of Saint Augustine, the church accepted the theory that humanity’s willpower was so depraved that the use of force against heretics and sinners was sometimes necessary. As a result, the medieval church resorted to some of the most brutal tactics ever seen in history as a means of controlling the consciences of God’s people. Christians during these centuries were burned at the stake, tortured on the rack, and a whole lot more, all in the name of God.
One historian wrote, "Compared with the persecution of heresy in Europe from 1227 to 1492, the persecution of Christians by Romans in the first three centuries after Christ was a mild and humane procedure. Making every allowance required of an historian and permitted to a Christian, we must rank the Inquisition, along with the wars and persecutions of our time, as among the darkest blots on the record of mankind, revealing a ferocity unknown in any beast".
So you can understand why Wycliffe spoke out in England, and why John Huss protested in what we know today to be the Czech Republic, why Calvin rose up in Geneva and Knox in Scotland and Zwingli in Zurich. The church was broken, abusing its power, choking off the Scriptures from the people, and teaching falsehood in the place of truth.
Of course, church leaders today don’t speak in quite the same tone as Pope Innocent III did all those years ago. But Rome still takes a hard line on how its teachings are to be evaluated, maintaining it holds a unique place among Christian faiths. In 1997, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI, said that the use of Scripture to evaluate Church teaching "was one of the most dangerous currents to flow out of the Vatican II Council". So what do you do when you’re a church leader and you discover that there are inconsistencies between what the Bible teaches and what you hold to be true as an organization? Problem, or not? We’ll find out in just a moment.
Five hundred years after the Protestant Reformation began on October 31, 1517, we might be tempted to wonder what Luther and Knox and Zwingli and Calvin and Farel and Beza and the Huguenots and the Anabaptists and so many others achieved. Today it would seem that the protest is over. Even though the most influential church in the world offers indulgences, hears confessions, teaches justification by faith and works, considers Mary the queen of Heaven, where're the Protestants today? Protestants are being welcomed back into the church of Rome, and many see this as positive. It’s been said it’s more important to be divided by truth than it is to be united by error. Paul said in II Timothy 4, verse 2, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine". The Word. Anything less will never do. I’m John Bradshaw for It Is Written. Let’s live today by every Word.
By the time of the Reformation, the church of Rome had become by far not only the most powerful church on the planet, but also the most powerful political entity. And that happened as Rome filled a vacuum left by the failed Roman Empire. It was basically thrust into that role. That could have been a wonderful opportunity for church leaders to elevate the gospel and the message of Christ’s righteousness and grace and mercy.
But traditions started coming into the church a lot like a rising tide creeping up a beach. One of the unique teachings that the Reformers were up against was that of the Magisterium, the "teaching office" of the church, the church’s ability to decide what’s true and what is not. It’s said that Jesus Christ is the source of all of the church’s teachings, but that those teachings rest upon Scripture AND "sacred tradition". In other words, our traditions provide us with a source of unerring truth, and we know that to be true because we say it is true. And we can say it’s true because God has given us the authority to do that. And we know He’s given us that authority because we say so.
The teachings of the Magisterium are said to be "the prime, God-given means of finding the truth".
But appealing to the Bible as your authority only gets you someplace if people accept that the Bible is authoritative. Now, do the teachings of the church ever contradict the teachings of the Bible? Yes, at times they do. But that’s okay, because the church says it’s okay. Even Pope John Paul II admitted that he was contradicting the teachings of Jesus.
"Have no fear when people call me the Vicar of Christ, when they say to me 'Holy Father' or 'Your Holiness,' or use terms similar to these, which seem even inimical to the gospel. Christ Himself declared, 'Call no one on earth your father; you have but one father in heaven. Do not be called Master; you have but one Master, the Messiah' (Matthew 23:9-10). These expressions, nevertheless, have evolved out of a long tradition, becoming part of common usage. One must not be afraid of these words either".
Modern popes have also made it clear that people must confess their sins to a priest to receive God’s forgiveness.
"Rebuffing a belief widely shared by Protestants and a growing number of Roman Catholics, Pope John Paul II on Tuesday dismissed the 'widespread idea that one can obtain forgiveness directly from God,’ and exhorted Catholics to confess more often to their priests". The Apostle John wrote, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". And the Reformers knew that, and were determined that people could find forgiveness in Christ rather than through a church and its sacraments.
One of the practices that spurred Martin Luther to write his 95 theses was the selling of indulgences. But even though the selling of indulgences virtually kick-started the Reformation, things haven’t changed. "Pope John Paul II announced yesterday that throughout the millennium celebration, penitents who do a charitable deed or give up cigarettes or alcohol for a day can earn an 'indulgence' that will eliminate time in purgatory".
This was reported in the New York Times: "In recent months dioceses around the world have been offering Catholics a spiritual benefit that fell out of favor decades ago, the indulgence, a sort of amnesty from punishment in the afterlife, and reminding them of the church’s clout in mitigating the wages of sin. The fact that many Catholics under 50 have never sought one, and never heard of indulgences except in high school European history (Martin Luther denounced the selling of them in 1517 while igniting the Protestant Reformation), simply makes their reintroduction more urgent among church leaders bent on restoring fading traditions of penance in what they see as a self-satisfied world".
So the issues that were raised by the Protestant Reformers still exist today, emphasized by a headline that appeared on the front page of the Los Angeles Times back in the year 2000: "Vatican Declares Catholicism Sole Path to Salvation". The Secretary of the World Council of Churches at the time said this in response: "It's realistic to acknowledge that this is the official Catholic position and we cannot simply wish it away". Men like John Huss and his colleague Jerome in Bohemia, Louis de Berquin in France, William Tyndale of England, Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer in England, Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart in Scotland, and millions of others during those dark, blood-stained centuries, gave their lives, in the words of the apostle John, "for the Word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Revelation. 1:2).
There’s a remarkable story told about a Dutch Anabaptist named Dirk Willems, who was condemned to die by the church for refusing to adhere to the church’s teachings, specifically on infant baptism. But Willems managed to escape from where he was being held, and he crept across the frozen ice covering a moat. A prison guard noticed what was going on and pursued Willems, but he fell through that thin ice into the frigid waters. He cried help for help. There was nobody to help him except for the escaping Dirk Willems, who did not want to see the man perish. He went back and rescued the man, but he paid a high price for his bravery. He was recaptured, put in prison again, and was burned at the stake by the church.
See, these great men and women of faith believed the words of Jesus found in Revelation 2, verse 10, where Jesus said, "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life". This was the world into which the Protestant Reformers were born. They rose up to oppose something God had never intended would be created: a system of salvation based on works and not grace, where the only freedom believers had was that given them by the church. A powerful system that, believing it was doing the work of God, was prepared to use force to get its way. But the dark clouds that held back the light of truth, the unholy alliance of church and state, couldn’t endure forever. The corruption and cruelty of the Renaissance church was like the hour before the dawn. The morning sun would soon drive away the darkness. Grace and truth would break forth.
In Old Testament times, God’s people suffered for many years under the heavy hand of Egyptian slavery. But then there was a miraculous breakthrough, and God delivered His people, opening up the Red Sea and guiding them to the Promised Land. Well, there would be a miraculous breakthrough again. The light of God’s Word was going to shine. God’s plans would not be frustrated. A new day would dawn for believers everywhere. God’s work was not done. Great days were ahead.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to 500, brought to you by It Is Written. I’m John Bradshaw. And my guest for "Rome and the Reformation" is a professor of Near-Eastern and Archaeological Studies at Southern Adventist University, Dr. Michael Hasel. Dr. Hasel, thanks for joining me.
Dr. Michael Hasel: It’s great to be with you.
John Bradshaw: So Rome and the Reformation. Without the Roman Catholic Church, of course, there’d be no object to reform or of reform. What was the Roman Catholic Church like in Martin Luther’s day? How would you describe it?
Dr. Michael Hasel: It was powerful. It, uh, was not only powerful religiously, but temporally in terms of its power over Europe and over the, the, political sphere in that part of the world. So it, it, put in place kings, it took kings down. Um, it was not only a church that encompassed all of Europe and other parts of the world, but in that time it was an entity that really shaped the destiny and the future of Europe in so many ways.
John Bradshaw: How did the church impact, let’s say, the daily lives of people. If you were a citizen of, well, in Rome or someplace within the boundaries of the Roman Empire, uh, in a nuts-and-bolts sort of a way, how was the average person really impacted by, by Rome?
Dr. Michael Hasel: Well, the individual person would have been very affected because salvation was through the church. And so, depending on where you were in society, at all levels of society, um, the church had a huge role to play, not only in the political sphere, but also in the personal sphere. If a person, um, wanted to be buried, for example, after death, where would they be buried? They would be buried in the, in the church cemetery. If somehow that person was not able to be buried in the church cemetery because of something he did or she did, um, that was the same as not being able to, to attain heaven. So this was a really serious situation where the church not only, um, controlled politically, but really controlled the destiny of individuals, and, in a sense, held that over individuals as well, could hold that power over individuals as well. And did, very effectively, to kings and to others who, who wanted to maybe go in a different direction.
John Bradshaw: For a Christian today, that, it seems to me that’s hard to imagine, particularly for a Protestant. I think for a non-Christian, perhaps that idea is probably repulsive. It’s hard to imagine for most people today a church being that powerful: to set up kings and to take them down, and to essentially, um, possess the keys to heaven for you and me. How did the Roman church get to that point?
Dr. Michael Hasel: Um, a long process, of course. The church began, of course, within the first century, the second century, the third century, with various, uh cities and eventually there were bishops that were placed in charge of these cities, leaders that would lead those cities. Uh, when Constantine came to power in the fourth century, he moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople, to what is today Istanbul, the eastern church. So you have a division, then, eventually, between the eastern church and the western church. And that movement of power to the east, uh, caused the western church, or Rome, to become more powerful.
The bishop of Rome there became more and more powerful. And with time, uh, that, that continued to have an influence in Europe, uh, in the succeeding centuries, because, of course, Constantinople eventually fell. Byzantium fell, uh, to the Turks, and to the Ottoman Empire and others that came along. And so you had this vacuum and the papacy generally rose to power. Uh, and that brought together in time both a, a temporal power that is a worldly power, a political power, and a religious power that began to work in unison together.
John Bradshaw: For any government to have power, though, that power has to be ceded to them or granted them by the people.
Dr. Michael Hasel: Sure.
John Bradshaw: No one’s in power without vote. And it’s not that people voted back then, but, but you have power if you have influence. So what went on in the minds of the people, that people said, yes, Rome does have the keys to heaven. Yes, my salvation does depend on a church. Yes, they can lock me out of the church cemetery and therefore out of heaven. How do you think that process evolved in the thinking of people, that masses said, we agree, we go along with this, we believe that this is so?
Dr. Michael Hasel: I think it was a combination of the growth of the church, the power of the church, but also the enforcing of that power in, in many ways. Um, when you have temporal and religious power combined, today in this country we have a separation of church and state, but in that time that was not the case, you have also the ability for the church to enforce itself and to enforce its influence and power, even militarily. And so, uh, it was, um, it was very difficult for kings to move off in different directions, or people to move off in different directions, when you have that kind of, of power all concentrated into one entity, that combined both the religious and the political.
John Bradshaw: And Rome did enforce its dogmas, didn’t it?
Dr. Michael Hasel: Oh, it did. Militarily. I mean, we have, we have, of course, the famous Crusades that still taint Christianity today, when people think about the bloodbath that took place in the Middle East and, and the situations that took place there. So we have this, this entire system, and this system included, um, sending armies to other parts of the world, to conquer those parts of the world in the name of Christendom, and in the name of the power of God. And this, this began to, to, of course, shape the thinking of people as well, who were involved in those, uh, Crusades, but also how that affected them in their personal lives as well.
John Bradshaw: So what was the church like that Martin Luther was a part of? I mean, what did it look like from where, where he found himself? What was going on?
Dr. Michael Hasel: Well, you’re, you’re in a feudal system, and so you have in the Middle Ages, you have a system where you have, uh, the church, which is very powerful. You have these expensive churches that are built, these cathedrals that take a hundred years to build, um, often on the backs of the people. You have people that are taxed. You have various ways in which those churches are built. You have the indulgences, and we’ll talk about that a little bit later on, that fund many of these projects.
And so you have this disparity in society in the feudal system. You have the peasants, um, you have then various echelons. You have the knights; you have the feudal system all the way up to princes and kings. Uh, you have emperors. And then you have the church, which is behind the scenes, also manipulating, controlling, and trying to, uh, have its say in how these systems work, and to influence its power, uh, through these systems as well. So it’s, it’s a time of poverty; it’s a time of great wealth, on the other hand. The disparity between wealth and poverty is great. And I think it was something you, as a peasant, you walk into one of these immense cathedrals, as we still do today, and it was awe-inspiring, and it gave the sense that God was, was present there.
John Bradshaw: So what do you think was going through Martin Luther’s mind? He had the theses in one hand, a hammer and a nail presumably in the other. He’s walking down the street towards the door of the Castle church. You can see it in your mind’s eye right now. And this young priest is coming up against the might of the most powerful church the world has ever seen. Did he really think, I’m going to change this church? Or, what do you think he was pondering?
Dr. Michael Hasel: I think he was probably thinking about his own responsibilities as a professor and as a minister of the gospel in that particular congregation. And he saw what was happening with Tetzel going around and selling these indulgences. He saw people giving up precious funds that they had to live on, in order to, to, to spring their relative out of purgatory, something that he didn’t believe in any longer based on his study of scripture. And so he wanted to warn them, this is not, this is not biblical. This is not, this is not something that is based on a biblical teaching. And so I think much of what was going through his mind was, let, let me set the record straight here for the people of this community. I don’t think he had an idea that it would have the impact that it would have as that was published and disseminated throughout Germany.
John Bradshaw: It speaks, I think, and this sounds unkind, but if I can at least try to sound kind, it speaks to the arrogance of the church. The church that says we are so powerful that if you give us money, we have enough authority and influence to get your soul out of purgatory, or someone else’s soul out of purgatory. Incidentally, a place that doesn’t even exist. So Luther came up against a church that had, that had teachings that spoke of the fact that the church had wandered far from the Bible. In just a moment, we’ll look at some more of the teachings of the church in that day, and the teachings of the Church of Rome today. We’ll be right back.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to 500 and "Rome and the Reformation," brought to you by It Is Written. I’m John Bradshaw. My guest, Dr. Michael Hasel of Southern Adventist University. We’ve been speaking about the Roman Catholic Church, what it was like in Luther’s day. Moments ago, we were discussing this teaching of indulgences that, among others, spurred Luther to begin the Reformation. In addition to the teaching of indulgences, what were some of the key or some of the critical teachings of the Church of Rome that spurred the Reformation 500 years ago?
Dr. Michael Hasel: There were several teachings, I think, that had crept into Rome and had become tradition, uh, in the church that was very different from the Bible. Rome taught that the church would be the key to salvation, that it held the keys to salvation, rather than Jesus Christ, or faith in Jesus Christ, alone that would have that key to salvation. So this was a very, very different concept. The very concept of the Bible and the origin of the Bible was also something that, uh, Rome had a different view on. If you think about it, the Council of Trent that came as part of the counter-Reformation reaffirmed the authority of the church to not only believe in the Bible, but to change the Bible. Their position was that the church created the Bible.
The Protestant position was that the Bible created the church. So you had some very different concepts even about scripture and where scripture came from. You also had, uh, the concept of purgatory. Purgatory was something that came as a result of the church’s teaching. It was not found really in scripture. Um, one of the issues at the Council of Trent to reaffirm purgatory was to accept the apocryphal books as part of the Bible, in order to support the teaching of purgatory out of one of the Maccabee’s writing that was not part of the original canon and not accepted today by Protestants, either.
John Bradshaw: Now, what about the priesthood? What was the church’s view on, on that?
Dr. Michael Hasel: Well, it believed that the priests, the priests that served in the church, were the people who controlled, uh, the forgiveness of sins. And so you had to come to confession to a priest rather than directly go to, to Jesus, who was our intercessor to the Father. Um, when Luther saw that as he was reading through Romans and Galatians, he was quite, it was an aha moment for him. It was a relief. Because prior to that time he struggled with the assurance of salvation, and he struggled with being good enough, and this whole concept that works and grace together somehow were both important for salvation. And so he, he really, um, tackled this issue head-on in many of his writings. And one of the things that he said again and again was that the priesthood, really, destroyed the biblical concept of the priesthood of all believers, that we all have access through our High Priest, Jesus Christ, to the forgiveness of sins, simply by praying to Him directly.
John Bradshaw: Now, Luther is well known for his teaching on justification by faith. The church then didn’t teach justification by faith, and you just eluded to that. But if you were to ask a Catholic scholar today, that scholar would say, indeed, the church does teach justification by faith. And, it does. So where’s the problem with Rome’s teaching on justification by faith, then, and presumably it is not changed now. Rome will say, we teach justification by faith. How does a Protestant answer that question?
Dr. Michael Hasel: Well, I think Rome does teach justification by faith. But the question is, is it justification by faith alone?
John Bradshaw: There you go.
Dr. Michael Hasel: And that’s the question. Because most of the time you have something added on, and this is something that we find in Rome, Rome’s theology in general. You have the Bible and tradition. You have justification by faith and works. And these elements, we believe as Protestants in good works as well, but we believe in a faith that works, not a faith that is, uh, not works that, that lead to faith and lead to salvation. So it’s by grace alone. It’s by faith alone. It’s by the Bible alone. These were some of the pillars of the Protestant Reformation. And some of the pillars that still are in contention today. Even with the movement to try to bring reconciliation between Protestantism and Catholicism, and the documents that have been signed on justification by faith there are still nuances of that that are not properly understood or not properly resolved.
John Bradshaw: So other teachings of the church then, that shaped the church, and gave rise to the Reformation, what might some of those have been? There’s the role of Mary.
Dr. Michael Hasel: The role of Mary, exactly. So Mary, instead of praying directly, again, to Jesus, through Jesus Christ to the Father, a model, by the way that Jesus gave His disciples, the Lord’s Prayer, you have now prayers to Mary. And it’s very interesting, and you grew up as a Catholic. I’ve visited many Catholic churches. It’s interesting; there’s one church that I like to visit in, in Israel when I’m there. It’s a church that is, uh, right at the Sea of Galilee, and they have candles that are being lit. And on one side you have candles that are being lit to Jesus, and on the other side you have candles being lit to Mary. It’s interesting that nobody hardly goes to Jesus at all. There are hardly any candles there. Most of the people go to Mary, because she’s the mother of God. She’s the soothing, loving, compassionate mother of God. And so rather than following the compassionate Jesus, uh, we have this, this deity, in a sense, this person. And it’s not only Mary; it’s the saints that are being prayed to. It is, it is all of these things that have been put in place which really baptized Pagan ideas of multiple gods and brought those into the church.
John Bradshaw: So Paganism came into the church and affected Catholicism then, and today. I don’t think that’s a criticism; that’s just a fact, is it not?
Dr. Michael Hasel: It’s a fact. It’s a fact. My wife is from Brazil, and we travel to Brazil, and there in the state of Minas Gerais we have beautiful Catholic, baroque Catholic churches that were built in a time in the 1700s when, um, much of the gold that filled the churches and cathedrals in Europe came from Brazil. And you see these baroque churches, and there’s one for the slaves, and there’s one for the, uh, the elite of the town. And you look in the slave church, you have all of these carved images of African religion. We would even say Pagan religion that comes from Africa. Um, and, you know, asking the person that is there, where does this all come from, they said, oh, this is simply adapted and adopted by the Catholic church from the religious practices of the Africans who came here as slaves and incorporated into church, uh, into the church architecture, into the church art, and so forth. And into the church beliefs as well. And you find this, this melding and this syncretism with world religions also in the church in history, as well as in more modern times.
John Bradshaw: So talk to me for a moment about the church today. Five hundred years ago the church was in such dire condition that Luther just had to, and he nailed those protests to the wall, to the door, I beg your pardon, and the Reformation began. And the church came, really, under some sort of attack, and you understand how I mean that. Back up 500 years, and there’s little about the church that has changed. So what gave rise to the Reformation in 1517 exists today. How does Rome affect the world today?
Dr. Michael Hasel: I think there’s been a shift in how Rome has approached the issue of the Reformation, and the Reformers, and the Reformation churches. Um, for many years there was an inquisition, there was a counter-Reformation, there was theological arguments that were waged back and forth. There were wars that were fought, the 30-years war that decimated Europe. There was a lot of conflict! But since Vatican II there’s been a shift, and that shift has been very conciliatory. We are not going now, we’re now going to open ourselves to all religions. We’re going to open ourselves to dialogue. We’re going to open ourselves to understand one another. And there’s been a trend in the last several years of the pope asking forgiveness for not only various church entities, Protestant church entities, but also even for the Crusades and to Muslim imams and various things.
So we have this, this time now of what appears to be reconciliation. And who wants to stand against that? Protestantism has changed to such a degree over the years, it’s lost its fervor, it’s lost its, its righteous indignation against some of these teachings. And even within Protestantism, you have a movement away from the Bible. You have a very strong influence of secularism and secular thinking, scientific thinking, historical criticism that has undermined and undercut true biblical teaching the way Luther and the Reformers understood it. And so today you have, you have a change in Protestantism. You have not much change in Catholicism except in their approach. Their teachings are the same, and yet we’re living in this ecumenical time where people want to see change, where people want to see the coming together. And, and this is what is so dangerous.
John Bradshaw: Where do you think it’s leading?
Dr. Michael Hasel: I think it’s leading to a resurgence of Rome as the ultimate power again. That deadly wound that Revelation 13 speaks about. We are seeing it being healed before our eyes, I believe, and all effort is being put in to that healing and that bringing together where Rome, in a sense, will become ascendant again. It’s very interesting how Rome is approaching the churches as well. It’s approaching these churches as the mother church welcome back its, well, its children that have gone astray. And so, you know, it’s very interesting that it still plays the dominant power, and it still plays the, the entity to which others much come back to, while giving the impression that it’s being conciliatory. I find that very interesting.
John Bradshaw: Is there still need for reformation?
Dr. Michael Hasel: Absolutely. There’s need for reformation constantly in the lives of each individual person, but also, I think, corporately in our churches as well. I think we have come a long ways from the Protestant Reformation, from the fires that, that influenced people like Zwingli and Calvin and Luther, um, Tyndale and Wesley as well. I think this is a time where we need to think carefully about the biblical teachings. What does the Word really tell us today? What did these Reformers die for, for hundreds of years, as they were persecuted? And what has really changed? Has our attitude changed? Has our perception changed? Or are these issues still the same today, and is it still time to stand up and to proclaim the Bible as the Word of God?
John Bradshaw: Dr. Michael Hasel, thank you so much.
Dr. Michael Hasel: Thank you.
John Bradshaw: Be sure to join me next time on 500. Our program is "Here I Stand". We’ll look at the life and ministry of Martin Luther, who on October 31st, 1517, strode down the street toward the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg, Germany, nailed his 95 theses to said door, and the Protestant Reformation was born. My guest will be Dr. Leslie Pollard, the president of Oakwood University. Be sure to join me then. Let’s pray together.
Our Father in Heaven, we thank you that in your goodness you have preserved your Word for us. We thank you for Jesus, the Word made flesh. We wish that He would live in our hearts, and we pray you would make that so. And we pray that our lives would be based on your Word. We thank you that there were men and women of old who dared to stand up for your Word. They in many cases paid the ultimate price so we could have delivered to us the freedom that comes through knowing you personally through your Word. So bless us, Lord, I pray that any reform that must take place in our own lives would happen, so that we can be, by your grace, everything that you wish we would be. We thank you and ask your blessing, and we pray together in Jesus’ name, Amen.