Europe had grown tired of the Roman Pontiff by the 14TH CENTURY. The Papacy continued to increase, BUT a secret lust in the bosoms of Protestants for ecclesiastical power and patronage worked in the members of the Protestant Popes, who gradually assimilated their new church to the old. Creeds and manuals, synods and councils, soon shackled the minds of men, and the spirit of reformation gradually forsook the Protestant church or was supplanted by the “spirit” of the world.
Luther was not alone; there were other “giants” in religion which appeared on the scene. Erasmus and Zwingli. Erasmus was the son of a protestant preacher out of wedlock and Zwingli was the scholar from Switzerland. These two men helped set the minds of men looking toward the writings of the apostles and them alone. Erasmus (who had personal conference with Luther) wrote: “the Roman Catholics have cultivated a religion of external acts and substituted pilgrimages, indulgences, and relics for true faith.” Erasmus wrote:” the source of doctrine MUST BE the Bible, not the church; we have too long drunk from the fountain of the Papacy rather than through the word of God, and now we are in the troubled streams of traditions of men. We must exalt the Bible above the church as the source of doctrine.” Reading the writings of Zwingli on the Lord’s Supper one will think he is reading from a learned member of the Church of Christ, today.
Then appeared John Calvin, a very cruel man (it is recorded that he literally starved his oldest daughter to death to punish her for disobedience). Calvin renewed the speculative theology of St. Augustine, and Geneva in a few years became the Alexandria of modern Europe. The power of religion was soon mugged in debates about forms and ceremonies, in speculative opinions. Fierce debaters were more interested in burning heretics than seeking truth. Still, the wound inflicted upon the “man of sin” would never heal, it was incurable, his day of sole ruler in Europe, was over.
Reformation became the order of the day; and this, assuredly, was a great matter, however it may have been managed. It was a revolution, and revolutions seldom move backward. The example that Luther set was of more value than all the achievements of Charles V, or the literary and moral labors of his distinguished contemporary, the erudite Erasmus.
It is interesting how extremes begat greater extremes in every step of the reformation cause, to the dawn of the present century. The penances, works of faith and supererogation, of the Roman church drove Luther and Calvin to the ultraism of “faith alone”! Churches that started in European states HAD status and were THE religions of those states in which they began. What saved Luther’s life on many occasions was the only fact that he was before a German court and Germans!! I am told that still today, the Germans pay a tax to keep the Lutheran church buildings operating!
In debating, the Protestants had lost all affection for truth, and would as soon have “communed in the sacrament” with the Catholics as with one another; speculative abstracts of Christian Platonism, the divine mysteries of Egyptian theology, became alternately the bond of union and the apple of discord, among the fathers and friends of the Reformation.
The five great dogmas of the Geneva reformer (Calvin) were carried to Amsterdam, and generated in the mind of James Arminius, in 1591, five opposite opinions; and these at the Synod of Dort, in 1618, formed a new party of Remonstrants. (Some new names you are not familiar with have disappeared but were the leading denominations of the day. They did not survive the 100 year mark, but they were extremely important at that time). This is JUST 500 years, ago. Has your church been mentioned?
Into Britain came Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Arminianism! Like all raw material, they were introduced, were immediately manufactured anew. There were extortions, but the beggarly elements of opinion flourished more than on their own native soil. Abroad it was no better. The Saxon reformer had his friends; John of Picardy lived in the grateful remembrance of the Geneva family; and James of Amsterdam speculated in a very liberal style among all the Remonstrants at home and abroad. See! you have never heard of some of the “greats in religion” of the 16th century!! And Jesus prayed that we would “all be ONE.” The Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostals and more, have not historically arrived, yet!!