In August, my wife, Ruth, and I managed to spend three weeks together in Europe. I really couldn't afford to take the time, but very much needed to get away, and having free tickets that were going to expire, decided to use them. We had a wonderful time. I was able to relax, clear my head, get a fresh perspective—and managed to work on the manuscript of a new book T.A. McMahon and I are writing for the secular market titled America: The Sorcerer's New Apprentice (subtitle: "A Commonsense Guide to the Exploding Occult Marketplace.") Ruth and I visited a number of pastors and Christian friends (we've lived in Europe twice), and found that Seduction is causing a stir in the church all over the continent, where Schuller, Peale, Cho, Hagin, Copeland, et al. have a large and growing following.
As we drove through Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria, where the Reformation had taken place, we read once again that gripping story. I had scarcely given it a thought in years; in fact I had all but forgotten the great Reformation and what it gave us. Now my heart was deeply moved, my spirit stirred, and I found myself weeping, broken before God. Who would not weep when reading Hugh Latimer's last words to his companion as they were being burned at the stake: "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace...as I trust shall never be put out!"
Tears came to my eyes again and again as we continued to read the inspiring and convicting story of the courageous men and women who stood up against the corruption and false doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and who, for their faith in God and their uncompromising stand for the truth of His Word, were burned at the stake or tortured to death in other ways. But I wept even more at the realization that the "candle" these men and women of God ignited in their day has all but flickered out in ours. How could the church of today have strayed so far from those great truths for which so many had died? That question began to trouble me and I would like to explore it in this letter and the next.
In the city of Constance on the Bodensee, that large and beautiful lake that lies between Germany and Switzerland, stands a huge stone. A short walk from the house in which John Hus lived, this monument marks the place where he was burned at the stake in 1415 for his evangelical faith and his belief that the Bible is our final authority and that every Christian has the right and responsibility to know and interpret it for himself. Of the many Catholics who began to see these same truths, Luther would write 100 years later, "We were all Hussites without knowing it."
In the cathedral that still stands in the center of the town, Hus (ordained a Catholic priest in 1401) was tried and found guilty by a Church whose "celibate" priests, in that very Diocese of Constance alone, were fathering about 1,500 illegitimate babies a year! These priests remained in the good graces of the Church by paying a "crib tax" for their sexual promiscuity, while Hus was burned to death for advocating holiness and the true priesthood of all believers. In his last letter to his friends, Hus wrote, "Finally, I entreat you all to persevere in the truth of God."
Standing there in front of that monument, choked with emotion, I thought not only of Hus but of the thousands of others like him who became literal human torches burning for truth and freedom of conscience, and to whom we owe so great a debt. The Protestant Reformation involved vital issues and eternal truth for which the Reformers laid down their lives. There was a simplicity and purity to their faith. Consider, for example, the last words of Anneken Jans to her infant son on the eve of her execution in Rotterdam: "Where you hear of a poor, simple cast-off flock which is despised and rejected by the world, join them, for where you hear of the cross there is Christ."
Painfully I thought of the shocking contrast offered by today's self-centered gospel, now corrupting the church worldwide, that promises freedom from suffering and persecution, and worldly success through a "positive confession" and whose central message is each person's "divine right to prosperity!" No one would either burn anyone at the stake or be willing to be burned for that false "gospel"nor for the "New Reformation" Robert Schuller calls for based upon "each individual's right to self-esteem!"
Schuller claims (and he is honored by seminary professors and many evangelical leaders for such statements) that the "classical interpretation of this teaching of Christ on 'bearing our cross' desperately needs reformation....The cross Christ calls us to bear will be offered as a dream...an inspiring idea...that helps the self-esteem-impoverished persons to discover their self-worth...possibility thinking is the positive proclamation of the cross!" How is it possible that such "positive," self-centered success-oriented counterfeit gospels of today could be so widely accepted? Is this not an insult to the memory of the martyrs and the sacred cause for which they died? How could the Reformation not only be forgotten but apparently rejected by leading Protestants today as much as it was then (and still is) by the Catholic hierarchy?
Meeting in 1545, the Council of Trent did repudiate the rampant immorality and the sale of indulgences for money. But it flatly rejected the cry for reformation on every other point. The ultimate authority of the Bible, salvation by grace alone through faith, the sufficiency of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, and the priesthood of all believers were vehemently denied by the council; while purgatory and indulgences, Mariolatry and images, salvation by works and through the continual resacrifice of Christ again and again in the Mass, etc. were all reaffirmed and remain at the heart of Catholicism today. Yet leading evangelicals are calling for "unity with Rome." How can that be?
Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Hus and most of the millions of others involved in the Reformation were originally Catholics. When they saw for themselves what the Bible really said about salvation by grace through faith and the personal relationship of each believer to God through Christ, they proclaimed the gospel in the face of persecution and were willing to die for their faith. Yet the majority of today's Catholics (priests, nuns, lay persons) who supposedly receive the "baptism in the Spirit" remain seemingly oblivious to the critical issues the Reformers died for, and continue in unbiblical beliefs and practices. Can it be that such persons have indeed been baptized into the "Spirit of truth?"
Among today's Protestants (especially charismatics) there is a growing spirit of ecumenism which embraces as "brothers in the faith" anyone who "speaks in tongues," without regard to their false doctrines and practices. At the large charismatic "unity" conference recently held in New Orleans, about half of the participants and a significant number of leaders were Catholics—and the call for "unity" was not on the basis of the true faith once for all delivered to the saints, but "signs and wonders" and an agreement not to question one another's doctrine. Is it too harsh to consider this entire "Conference on the Holy Spirit" a historic rejection of the Reformation and the issues for which millions gave their lives?
How is it that eternal truths for which the martyrs died can be set aside as though of no importance, while a substitute, counterfeit, "positive" gospel of prosperity or self-esteem can grow so rapidly in acceptance? After carefully considering such questions it seems to me that in many respects the Protestant church today may be in worse condition than the Catholic Church of Luther's day. We want to consider why that may be possible in our next newsletter. TBC