*Transcription of a speech delivered at the Reformation Day program sponsored by the Ladies School Auxillary in Fuller Ave.
There is an historical event which we call “The Reformation”. We do well to bear in mind that there p re things belonging to that reformation which, rather than to be classified as historical events, are the spiritual experiences of the child of God as led by His Spirit. We have reference to such things as Luther’s (quest for justification. Moved by the Spirit of Christ, Luther was caused to hunger and thirst after righteousness. And because he found no peace for his soul in the doctrine of the Roman Catholic church but rather found new joy in the truth of God’s word that we are justified not by works but through faith in Christ, he took those steps which led up to the Reformation of 1517. Likewise did the Spirit of Christ move thousands of others in Luther’s day to hunger and thirst after righteousness and to see and believe the truth of God’s Word. Unless we bear this in mind the Reformation of 1517 is for us no more than a debate, a quarrel or battle between Luther and the Roman Catholic Church. At best it becomes a successful attempt of Luther to impose his ideas about things upon thousands of his fellowmen and to deliver them from the fear in which the Pope held them.
Another thing we do well to bear in mind when we consider the Reformation of 1517 is that although we can speak of it as “The Reformation”, yet reformation is not one historical fact taking place in the sixteenth century and then alone. Ever since the lie was brought into our world and until the day of Christ, there is and will be reformation. And there will be need of reformation. The lie continues to manifest itself in a thousand different forms, and it is the calling of the church to reform itself and cast out the false teachers and their doctrines. Not until the day of Christ, and then forever, will reformation be completed. When Christ comes the lie will be fully destroyed, and in the New Jerusalem the church will not be undergoing reformation. She shall know the truth and love it. And the lie shall never enter in. We may speak of the reformation of 1517 as “The Reformation” because it was the greatest reformation ever to take place in the church militant here below, but we may not call it “The Reformation” if we mean that it was the only reformation in church history.
In the twenty minutes allotted for this speech I will have to limit myself very severely. The facts of the Reformation themselves make a long story, and one could speak for hours on the significance of these facts. Seeing that this program is being sponsored by the Ladies Auxiliary, a Society which labors faithfully for the establishment of a school of our own here in Grand Rapids where we may bring up our children according to the doctrine that is taught in our churches, I thought it would be both fitting and profitable to speak to you tonight on the subject, “The Reformation and Our School Movement”. I believe that you will agree with me that they have things in common and have significance for each other.
Let us bear in mind that reformation is always a return to the truth. The fruit of a reformation is at the same time a development of the truth. But its chief characteristic always is that it is the return to the truth that had been discarded and denied.
So it was in the days of Luther and for many years before. The Roman Catholic church was full of false doctrines and corruption. The church was full of idolatry, worshipping of images and of saints. It taught various unscriptural, dangerous doctrines. It showed itself wholly unconcerned with the salvation of God’s people. Such a beautiful doctrine as that of the forgiveness of sins was distorted and pressed into the service of the flesh so that the church could make money therewith. This beautiful doctrine of the forgiveness of sin became with the Roman Catholic church a money making scheme.
You are no doubt aware of the fact that a certain Tetzel with not only the permission of the Pope but with the full support of the Pope sold his indulgences upon the street corners. These indulgences were paper certificates declaring that the possessor thereof had the forgiveness of his sins. The declaration was signed by the Pope and thus in his name and for a sum of money one could obtain forgiveness of his sins. Justification before God was not accomplished by Christ’s blood. We were not purchased by that blood but by a few paltry pennies given to the church. Our redemption was not sealed by God but with pen and ink by the hand of the Pope. So the Roman Catholic church corrupted the truth. It was especially this corrupt practice of purporting to sell the forgiveness of sins that moved Luther to action. Luther being shocked and indignant at this corrupt procedure nailed his now famous ninety five thesis on the door of the church at Wittenberg calling the attention of the church to the evil of this practice.
Luther was not assuming an attitude of defiance against the church. He was not seeking an argument. Nor was he intent upon making a split and separation in the church. He strove to call the attention of the church to the error of its ways. He sought to save the church from the lie and from sinful practices. Because he had found peace for his soul in the truth of Scripture that we are justified not by works but by faith in Christ, he was desirous that all the church enjoy this peace and truth. He sought to instruct the church and to call the attention of the church to the lie, being of the opinion that the leaders of the church were not aware of these corrupt practices and false doctrines implied in them.
But the leaders did know and were behind these sinful practices. And therefore rather than to heed Luther’s words, they put him out of their church and commanded his books to be burned. Luther with thousands of those whose hearts the Spirit likewise had moved and filled with love for the truth formed a new denomination around that truth. It was no new doctrine which formed the basis of their union. It was the old doctrine of salvation by faith. It was the doctrine which Adam knew when he found that his own works and fig leaves left him as guilty as before. Then God taught him that He brings salvation apart from our works. It was the old truth which Paul expressed in , “therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Reformation is always a return to the truth and is occasioned by a departure from that truth.
Thus it was again in 1924. The mother church had invented three expressions which were contrary to the truth and demanded acceptance of them by all its leaders. The mother church taught three statements concerning “common grace” which deny such fundamental doctrines of Scripture such as election and reprobation, the total depravity of man and the righteousness of God. These three declarations denied the distinct and keen antithesis of which God spoke in sincerely offer eternal life and glory to these reprobate? Where is the sharp line of election and reprobation then? The natural man can still do some righteous deeds at least in the sphere of civic things, so these dangerous three points declare. But where then is the Scriptural truth of total depravity that there is none that doeth good, no not one? God shows a little favor or grace also to those whom He has reprobated. Thus He shows favor . Surely if God sincerely offers salvation to the reprobate, we cannot speak any longer of election and reprobation. God elects some to everlasting life and glory and predestinates others to eternal damnation. Yet does He also to those who never walk in His ways and whose sins are not blotted out through the blood of Christ. Where then is the justice and righteousness of God? Is He dealing justly with His Holy angels, who never sinned, by also being graciously inclined to those who never served Him? But where is His justice to His own Son? Of Christ He demands the most terrible suffering of hell and the cross before there can be one blessing bestowed upon His people. And these reprobate who are outside of Christ, for whom He performed no work of redemption, do they receive blessing, be it called material blessings, without any of God’s justice being satisfied? Where is the distinct antithesis between darkness and light, between the world and the church in such a doctrine?
Our leaders protested in 1924 against these un-scriptural views. We did not do so as dramatically as Luther did when he nailed the ninety five thesis on the door of his church. But in speech and writing our leaders protested vigorously.
History repeats itself. The leaders of the mother church did not want to listen. In a very hierarchical manner contrary to its own church order ministers, elders and deacons who could not ascribe to these un-scriptural declarations were deposed. A new denomination was formed around the old truths of election and reprobation, total depravity and the sharp antithesis between light and darkness.
As truly as it can be said of Luther that he was not seeking to split up the church, so truly can it be said that our leaders in 1924 were not seeking to form a new denomination. As truly as it can be said that Luther sought to instruct and warn the church, so truly can it be said that our leaders sought to make it plain that the doctrine of common grace was a grievous error with tremendously dangerous implications. I challenge anyone to prove the accusation that we are a separate denomination because we sought to make trouble and sought to break up the church. History, written black on white in the Acts of the Synod of the churches of those who make this accusation, reveals that our leaders, elders, deacons, ministers of the Word of God were put out of office without even the request of their consistories. That is hierarchy. That is breaking up the church. I challenge anyone to deny that even as was the case with Luther when the Spirit of God moved him to hate the lie and to be concerned with the glory of God, so our leaders were moved by that same Spirit to hate the lie and to be concerned with the glory of God and therefore had to protest against such grievous errors which do not do justice to the glory of God nor the teaching of His Word. The Spirit caused this reformation and not our flesh.
And now here in Grand Rapids we have a school movement. And what is it but the worthy activity of our Protestant Reformed parents in this vicinity to provide our children with daily instruction in harmony with the doctrine as taught in our churches and to protect our children from the dangerous world and life view” of light and darkness, election and reprobation and of righteousness and unrighteousness.
Our school movement is not a vain attempt to multiply schools and to work havoc with the existing Christian schools. Our school movement is not motivated by any carnal ambitions or attempt to make it more convenient for us to send our children to a Christian school. There will be hardships rather than conveniences. We are seeking spiritual and not material finings. Our school movement is due to the reformation of 1924. Our school movement has for its purpose the instruction of our children in the world and life view of the Scriptures as God has given us to behold and enjoy it.
(To be continued)