Will You Be Found Faithful?: Chapter Six

The Unfaithful Inquisitors Versus the Faithful Reformers

The early church changed the world. While the Greeks and Romans contributed much to philosophy, governmental structure, architecture, community planning, military strategy, and various other secular activities, they didn’t contribute to the ethics and heart of the western world.

The ancients enjoyed blood sport. Over half their populations were slaves. They led aggressive wars. They were polytheists, and emperor worship was demanded–upon pain of death. There was no religious freedom. they practiced infanticide, exposing unwanted babies, especially girls, to the beasts and the elements. They were brutal and used force to control their subjects. Floggings, crucifixions, burning, impaling, beheading, and torture were commonplace.

Piercing through the darkness of this time was the Light of the World–Jesus. He would become the most civilizing influence humanity had ever  experienced. Christianity provided the world with a tenderness it hadn’t known before. Those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness rather than perversion and cruelty found a resting place in the teachings of Jesus Christ. His love, lived through the lives of his people would lead to the abolition of blood sport, infanticide, and slavery. The  sick and poor were cared for, and widows and orphans were taken into the flock. Love and compassion grew in the human heart as the grace of Jesus empowered men to live good lives by the power of the Holy Spirit.

But then something horrible happened. The church began to go astray. Instead of keeping the gospel pure, the early church fathers began a process of blending Greek philosophy in with the Word of God. The early church father, Tertullian, was one of the first to see this trend, and he cried out, “What has Athens [Greece] to do with Jerusalem?” He saw that there was a trend of mixing the works of the philosophers with the teachings of the apostles.

The apologists of the early church started out by trying to convince the Greeks that Jesus was the “Logos” the philosophers had been looking for, but they ended up going beyond this and adding Greek thought to the gospel. Philip Carey (a professor at Eastern University with a concentration in the early church father Augustine) describes this union:

The two major strands of the Western tradition come from Athens and Jerusalem: from the classical Greek and Roman world of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero and from the biblical world of Moses and Jesus. These two worlds come together in the writings of the Church Fathers, such as Augustine, and the medieval period saw the flowering of the synthesis between biblical faith and philosophical reason that they had effected. (italics added) [1]

The addition of classical philosophy to the Word of God was an attempt to make Christianity more palatable to the intelligentsia of their day, but the effect was that the Word of God was corrupted by the philosophies of men. Will Durant, author of the classic Story of Philosophy, described the influence of Greek philosophy on the content of church teachings:

Much of the politics of Catholicism was derived from Plato’s “royal lies,” or influenced by them: the ideas of heaven, purgatory, and hell, in their medieval form, are traceable to the last book of The Republic; the cosmology of scholasticism comes largely from the “Timaeus;” the doctrine of realism (the objective reality of general ideas) was an interpretation of Ideas; even the educational “quadrivium” (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music) was modeled on the curriculum outlined in Plato. [2]

The blending of philosophy with the Word would continue and become known as medieval scholasticism. Thomas Aquinas (who thought “heretics” should be put to death) [3] was probably one of the best known of the scholastics.

The result of this wedding (isn’t that an appropriate word?) between Athens and Jerusalem was a millennium characterized by some scholars as the Dark Ages. It was a time when the scriptures were corrupted and the institutional church was no longer faithful to the gospel. The church had ignored Paul’s admonition:

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (Col. 2:8, KJV; italics added)

The sins of the medieval Roman church were a result of corrupting the gospel and blending it in with other truths. In the same way the philosophy of the ancient empires led to cruelty, when the church blended their teachings in with the doctrines of Christianity, the result was a vicious church.

Because they had strayed so far from the Word of God by adding to the gospel, the church was adulterous, and they had lost the heart of God. John Foxe, author of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, described the condition of the medieval church:

The world, forsaking the lively power of God’s spiritual Word, was altogether led and blinded with outward ceremonies and human traditions . . . the Church did fall into all kind of extreme tyranny; whereas the poverty and simplicity of Christ were changed into cruelty and abomination of life. [4]

This was the same condition the ancient Israelites were in when they were unfaithful to God. They became ritualistic in their relationship with God and wicked in their relationships with people. The Christian church also became wicked when they were unfaithful to God and blended in the philosophies of men with Christianity.

The religious leaders no longer cared about the little lambs, and just like Jewish religious leaders who opposed the prophets, and even their messiah, Jesus, anyone who opposed the church was in mortal danger.

One of the first persons to oppose the corrupt Catholic religion of the Dark Ages was John Wycliffe. Called the “Morning Star of the Reformation,” Wycliffe was a priest and a scholar at Oxford University; therefore, he was able to read the Bible. His outcry against the Catholic Church began in the 1370’s. He made many more declarations also, and these are just samples of some of them:

  1. The gospel was sufficient, and no other rules were needed to govern the Christian life. (In other words, no additions were needed.)
  2. That additional rules don’t perfect the gospel any more than white paint can add color to a wall.

His views would be condemned by Pope Gregory XI in 1377, and he would eventually lose his position as a lecturer at Oxford. While his life was spared (since he had friends in high places), his followers, known as the Lollards, would not be spared from the Inquisitor’s flames. Wycliffe would posthumously be condemned as a heretic, and his bones would later be dug up and burned.

John Huss, a priest at the University of Hague, would be influenced by the writings of John Wycliffe. According to Caroline T. Marshall, writing in Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity, Huss “stressed the role of Scripture and authority in the church” and “believed that neither popes nor cardinals could establish a dbeoctrine which was contrary to the Scripture, nor should any Christian obey an order from them which was plainly wrong.” [5]

Huss also made a statement about the condition of the Roman Church by hanging pictures of the pope in all his rich clothing next to the image of the poverty-stricken Christ. As a result of his outspoken criticism of the corrupted Catholic Church, Huss was burned at the stake. Foxe described the trial of John Huss. He says Huss tried to answer a question that was put to him during his trial when the following happened:

As he was about to open his mouth, all this mad herd began to cry out upon him, that he had not leisure to speak one only word. The noise and trouble was so great and vehement, that a man might have called it a bruit of wild beasts, and not of men, much less was it to be judged a congregation of men gathered together to determine so grave and weighty matters. [6]

The crowd that was acting like beasts wasn’t an angry mob of commoners, but the council of cardinals and bishops!

Just as the Israelites persecuted and killed the prophets, and the religious leaders of Jesus’s day conspired to murder Jesus, the medieval church had become murderous to those who were faithful to God.

They had become spiritual adulterers who corrupted the Word of God and added other beliefs to the gospel. This is the worst kind of sin and blasphemy because the evil that results from the wrong doctrine is attributed to God!

Martin Luther was the miracle that pulled the church out of the darkness and corruption that had swallowed it up for nearly a thousand years. Luther pounded his “Ninety-five Theses” on the door of the Wittenberg Church in response to the Dominican monk Tetzel, whose motto was: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs!”

Luther’s concern was that the pope was trying to get poor people to pay money for the forgiveness of their past, present, and even future sins through the purchase of an indulgence. This was the belief that a person could pay money to gain forgiveness of sins for not only their earthly life, but Tetzel also claimed people could help their dead loved ones out of temporal suffering in purgatory by paying money. Supposedly, their money could be given in exchanged for the right to draw from an account of excess good deeds that had previously been performed by Jesus, Mary, the apostles, and other “saints.”

Luther was and Augustinian monk who had access to the scriptures. He knew Catholic doctrine was contrary to the Bible, so he wrote a pamphlet in which he criticized the pope and the entire Roman Catholic system. As a result, he was called before the Inquisition and would be commanded to denounce his writings. His response would change the history of the world:

Unless I am convinced by scripture or by clear reason–for I do not trust the pope or church councils, since everyone knows they can make mistakes and contradict themselves–I am bound by the scriptures I have quoted. My conscience is held captive by the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, because it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen. (italics added) [7]

With these words, the whole foundation of the Roman Catholic religious monopoly would begin to crumble, and its powerful stranglehold on the western world would be broken. Luther’s movement, known as the Reformation, empowered by the newly invented printing press, would spread like wildfire. Its rallying cry was “scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, and faith alone!”

The blessings that resulted from the spread of the pure gospel are incalculable. It led to advances in education (so the Bible could be read), science (to discover how, as in Psalm 19:1, “the heavens declare the glory of God”), religious freedom and toleration (to never let an Inquisition happen again), a newfound respect for honest work (since whatever we do could be done for the glory of God), the destruction of the power of the priesthood (since each individual believer was a priest who could access God on his own), and countless other political ideas, such as the necessity of civil disobedience and the growth of political freedom (in order that a theocratic church/state power might never rule again).

Surely the “entrance of they words giveth light;” (Ps. 119:30, KJV).

Of course, there was opposition to the Reformation, and Luther’s protest would lead to the Thirty Years’ War and divisions in the church. It would also give rise to the Counter-Reformation led by the Jesuit priest Ignatius of Loyola and supported by the Catholic mystic Teresa of Avila. There has always been opposition to the truth.

There were two groups of people who claimed to be believers and carried the name of Christ during this era. One group heroically stood on the Word of God, and the other disobeyed and corrupted the Word by adding philosophy and man-made traditions, which countered the scriptures, to their Christian beliefs.

Consequently, just like the ancient Israelites, when the Catholic Church corrupted biblical truth they abandoned humanity, becoming cruel and unjust, and worst of all, they betrayed the heart of God. They called themselves Christians, but in reality, they were spiritual adulterers and hypocrites, hurting innocent people and causing them to be beaten, tortured, and burned at the stake–in the name of God.

 

[1] Phillip Cary, PhD, “Lecture Thirteen,” Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition: Parts I-VII (Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2000), 68.

[2] Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the Great Philosophers of the Western World (New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2005), 35.

[3] “Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are condemned for heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.” Thomas Aquinas. The Summa Theologica. Vol. II. (Chicago: William Benton, 1952), 440.

[4] John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, (Pittsburgh, PA: Whitaker House, 1981), 50.

[5] Caroline T. Marshall, “Jan Hus,” in Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity, ed. Tim Dowley (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 330.

[6] Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, 110. 

[7] Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1978), 141.

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