Sermon title:

Today’s Churches Need a Reformation

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, October 25, 2020

 

 

 

On October 31st it will be 503 years ago

that a German priest named Martin Luther

wrote up a list of 95 Theses--objections

to what was going on in the churches

and nailed it to a church door

in Wittenberg, Germany.

 

And that was the start of the Protestant Reformation.

 

But today, our Protestant churches themselves

need a Reformation.

 

Let me tell you why.

 

Luther’s list challenged people to think about

things that were being taught in church,

and whether those things were really true

and really biblical.

 

And his 95 Theses challenged people to think about

practices carried on by the churches,

and whether those things people were doing

were right or wrong—

biblical, or contrary to the Bible.

 

 In Martin Luther’s day

it was dangerous to raise questions like that.

 

You could be killed for questioning

the pope or the church hierarchy.

 

But Luther was not afraid.

 

He looked to the Lord Jesus Himself,

instead of looking to the pope or archbishops

in the church hierarchy.

 

And he looked to the Bible

as a higher authority

than any of the instructions

from the pope or the church hierarchy.

 

Luther was eventually put on trial by church authorities

for teaching “heresy”and was found guilty.

 

He faced the death penalty. 

 

But a regional German prince kidnapped him

and kept him hidden in a secret place

in a castle,and protected him.

 

Other German princes soon supported Luther, as well,

and parts of Germany and Scandinavia

came to be called “Protestant”

as they, too, protested the policies & teachings

of the Pope and his hierarchy.

 

So, it was 503 years ago this week

that Luther took that list of 95 Theses he had written

and nailed it to the outside of the church door

in Wittenberg, Germany.

 

Copies circulated all over Germany, and beyond.

 

Luther’s 95 Theses started what we call

 “The Protestant Reformation.”

 

It changed the churches and changed the world.

 

So, that’s why we still remember what he did,

and why we still talk about it over 500 years later.

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But, how did things get

so far out of whack in the churches

that a Reformation was needed?

 

And how have today’s Protestant churches

departed from biblical Christianity,

so that another Reformation is needed today?

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Remember that

our Lord Jesus started the Christian Church with

a small group of a dozen men—the 12 Apostles.

 

His followers met together

in small groups in private homes.

 

And, as the Church began to grow,

they still met in people’s houses.

 

Large homes often had large upper rooms, upstairs—

rooms that could accommodate 100 people or more,

like the room where 120 disciples met

on the day of Pentecost.

 

Christian congregations didn’t start constructing

their own church buildings

until a couple of hundred years later.

 

Ordinary men, filled with the Holy Spirit,

were appointed as elders and deacons,

and these men led them in prayer, song

and discussion of the Scriptures.

 

And that’s how it went for a long time.

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But the churches were also infiltrated by Judaizers

who sought to bring in various aspects

the Old Testament worship arrangement

into the new Christian churches.

 

The Apostles fought against such false teachers,

as recorded in Acts and some of their letters.

 

For example, the Apostle Paul wrote at Galatians 1:6,

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

 

But, after the Apostles died,

and were no longer there to stop them,

the Judaizers created

a hierarchy of priests and clergy

who dressed in special clothing

and performed ceremonies in the church—

copying the Jewish priests

who served at Jerusalem’s Temple.

 

And, by Martin Luther’s day, many churches

were impressive buildings, full of silver and gold,

all run by a Pope in Rome

and a hierarchy of Cardinals, bishops and priests.

 

These clergymen dressed in fancy outfits,

different from the clothes of ordinary men,

and even had their hair cut in the “ecclesiastical tonsure”

—to make clergymen look different.

 

The hierarchy spoke Latin at the church services

carried censers with burning incense,

and performed masses and other ceremonies

with supposed supernatural power.

 

None of that was biblical.

 

Rather, it was contrary to New Testament teachings.

 

Much of it was also hypocritical.

 

Martin Luther discovered the hypocrisy

when he was a young monk

and visited Rome.

 

He expected the visit to the Vatican to strengthen his faith,

but instead found corruption, greed, and sin.

 

Rome was full of sexual immorality,

 the Vatican surrounded by prostitutes

who specialized in catering to priests.

 

Young Luther was shocked by the

blatant commercialization and

sexual immorality he saw. 

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How did such a mess develop in the churches

where the Apostles had preached centuries earlier?

 

According to Acts 20:29, the Apostle Paul

warned the elders of some of those early churches,

29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following.

 

And that departure from the faith

was already taking place

during the lifetime of the Apostles.

 

The Apostle John told about a church

where a man named Diotrephes--

-- one of those in leadership,

actually took over the church

and ran it to please himself.

 

John said at 3rd John 1:9,

9 I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 10 For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.

 

John was able to visit such churches

and put such men in check.

 

But, when the Apostles were gone,

such wicked men began to rule many of the churches.

 

Sinful men abused their power

and elevated themselves over the people

as a special class of clergymen.

 

And the Bishop of Rome used his political connections

in the Roman Empire’s capital city

to rise to even greater power.

------------------------------------

 

After the Roman Empire collapsed

people to gave up speaking Greek and Latin,

and went back to speaking local languages,

but the clergy kept the Bible in Greek and Latin

as a way to hang onto their power,

and keep people from reading the Bible for themselves.

 

The Bishop of Rome turned himself into a Pope

to rule over other churches.

--------------------------

 

Even though the church leadership became corrupt,

the Lord preserved the Bible.

 

And, throughout this period,

it seems that the Lord always had individuals

and small groups who read the Scriptures

and shared the Gospel.

 

For example, Arnold of Brescia in Italy in the 1100’s

taught that adult believers should be baptized—

not infants.

 

He also denounced the wealth and extravagance

of the church hierarchy.

 

The Pope had him condemned to death and hanged.

 

A group of Bible-believers called the Waldensians

also flourished in France around the same time.

 

They are named after Peter Waldo,

one of their leading figures.

 

The Waldensians were violently persecuted by the Pope,

and nearly wiped out, but members survived,

and merged with other Protestants

during the Reformation.

 

Another Bible-believer before the Lutheran Reformation

was the English priest John Wycliffe.

 

He produced an English Bible translation

in the year 1382 

and he organized preachers

to go out into the countryside

to read and teach the Bible to the common people.

 

Wycliffe taught that Christ is the head of the Church,

and that no pope has the right to claim that position. 

 

Another Bible-believer was Jan Huss

who taught at the university of Prague

in what is now the Czech Republic.

 

Pope Alexander V had Huss

burned at the stake.   

            

Still, his biblical teachings

were carried into Poland, Hungary,

Croatia and Austria.

 

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So, it was 503 years ago this week

that Martin Luther in Germany

called on the Roman Catholic Church

to have a Reformation—

to give up its man-made traditions

and return to the teachings of the Bible.

 

Luther was “protesting” those man-made traditions

in an effort to reform that church—

not to start a new “Protestant” church.

 

But the Pope and the hierarchy refused to listen

and instead tried to kill Martin Luther,

just as they had executed many others

who protested against

the false teachings.

 

The result was that those who listened to Luther

ended up forming separate “Protestant” churches.

 

And the church of Rome held onto its corruption

and its man-made teachings.

 

We are reminded of that this week,

not only by the anniversary of Luther’s protest,

but also by the news that the Pope of Rome

now calls for civil unions for homosexuals

and invites homosexuals

to raise children in that church.

 

This, along with the scandal of pedophile priests,

confirms that the corruption

Martin Luther protested against

continues at the highest levels of the Vatican.

 

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All down through history, the Bible was copied by hand,

whether in Hebrew, Greek, Latin

or another language.

 

Producing a hand-written Bible was a huge project,

and that limited the number of copies available.

 

But, in the year 1454 German printer Johannes Gutenberg

published a Bible in Latin

using the movable type that he had invented.

 

And, soon after that, hundreds of Bibles were being printed,

and then thousands.

 

But the Roman Catholic hierarchy kept it in Latin,

and continued to ban translations of the Scriptures

into the languages ordinary people could read.

 

They imposed the death penalty

on brave men who sacrificed their lives

to share the Gospel.

 

Jacob van Liesveldt was killed for producing

a Dutch-language Bible in the Netherlands.

 

English Bible translator William Tyndale

was also put to death.

 

But the circulation of printed Bibles

soon led to people questioning

the authority and teachings of the hierarchy—

which was just what the hierarchy feared.

 

And that’s what led to the Reformation,

with Luther posting 95 Theses on the church door.

 

Luther translated the Bible into German,

for his fellow Germans to read.

 

And others, in other countries

now began looking to their Bibles

instead of to the Roman church hierarchy.

 

Those who read what the Bible said about adult baptism,

and who started to practice the baptism of believers,

were called “Anabaptists.”

 

And, around 100 years after Martin Luther,

Roger Williams founded the

1st Baptist church in America

in the new settlement of Providence, RI.

 

Many Bible-believing groups

made up the early settlers of this country.

 

We’re familiar with the Pilgrims who settled Plymouth

and the Puritans who founded Boston.

 

But there were also Anabaptists or Mennonites

who settled the Pennsylvania Dutch areas.

 

Lutherans expelled from Austria

came to the American colonies and settled in Georgia.

 

As a result of the strong Bible-based faith

of so many of the early settlers of this country,

our early government regulations and laws

were often taken directly from the Scriptures.

 

For example,

a page from the Massachusetts General Laws

printed in 1673 lists dozens of Scripture references

as the basis for each law.

 

Right there in the pages of the law books,

Bible verses were listed, as the basis for each law.

 

How far America today has drifted away

from the days when state laws

cited Bible passages as their foundation!

 

But it’s not just the government that has drifted away

from its biblical foundation.

 

Many of today’s churches, too,

have drifted away from their biblical foundations.

 

Just as the churches in Martin Luther’s day

had abandoned the Bible,

and were run by a hierarchy

who followed man-made traditions instead,

many of today’s churches

have likewise abandoned the Bible.

 

Many of today’s Protestant churches

look to an informal hierarchy

of popular preachers and teachers

who twist the Scriptures,

and who replace the Scriptures

with their own interpretations and insights.

 

Printed copies of the Bible are available everywhere,

and it can even be read online in several translations,

but many believers today

are leaving their Bibles unread,

and instead devote themselves

to books and videos by famous authors and celebrities

who teach a different ‘gospel.

 

Satan the devil is behind this,

just as he was behind other schemes

to corrupt the churches in ancient times.

 

In Western Christendom, instead of suppressing the Bible

by outlawing it and burning copies of it,

the devil has been suppressing the Bible

by burying it under piles of thousands

of so-called “Christian” books & videos.

 

Instead of studying the Bible itself,

people study these books and videos

that quote from the Bible and use Bible language

but that don’t teach the Bible’s message.

 

They teach a “Jesus” of popular culture,

instead of the real Jesus of the Bible.

 

They teach a Jesus who accepts everyone and everything

without requiring people

to repent of their sins

and give up their sinful lifestyle.

 

For example, the Bible condemns homosexual conduct,

from the Genesis account of Sodom and Gomorrah,

to the New Testament letter of Jude,

which says

"Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire." Jude 1:7

 

Despite the Bible condemning

homosexual perversion as sin,

we hear Baptist and evangelical

preachers, teachers and celebrities today

like Tony Campolo, Philip Yancey,

and former President Jimmy Carter,

(who teaches a Bible study in a Baptist church),

even going beyond the Catholic Pope

and giving their full endorsement

to gay marriage and homosexuality in the church.

 

And we see churches putting into leadership positions

men and women

who live together without being married.

 

All of this is due to the “half-of-the-Word heresies”

taught by so many preachers and teachers

who avoid quoting the parts of the Bible

that might offend someone.

 

Eager not to offend immoral young people,

and eager not to offend sinners,

they offend God by leaving out

half of what He says.

 

Eager to make their message appealing,

they tell their audience that “Jesus loves you,”

but they fail to mention

that Jesus expects you to behave yourself,

and that Jesus punishes those who don’t.

 

For example, during this coronavirus crisis,

as church leaders call people to pray,

I can’t count how many times

I’ve seen them quote from 2 Chronicles 7:13-14,

"Whenever I hold back the rain

or send locusts to eat up the crops

or send an epidemic on my people,

 

if they pray to me and repent

and turn away from the evil they have been doing,

then I will hear them in heaven,

forgive their sins,

and make their land prosperous again."

 

But I can tell you how many times

I’ve seen the first part of that sentence quoted: 

Zero times!

 

That’s typical of the half-of-the-Word heresies

taught in today’s Protestant churches.

 

Everyone wants to hear God say,

“if they pray to me and repent

and turn away from the evil they have been doing,

then I will hear them in heaven,

forgive their sins,

and make their land prosperous again."

 

But no one wants to teach

that God sends such punishments on his people.

 

No one wants to hear God say,

"Whenever I hold back the rain

or send locusts to eat up the crops

or send an epidemic on my people,

 

Leaving out the fact that God says he sends

such punishments on his people

is a half-of-the-Word heresy.

 

Protestant churches today need to hear

the words of the risen Christ

in Revelation Chapter 2.

 

Our Lord Jesus there gives a warning to all the churches

about allowing sexual immorality.  

 

In Verse 17, Christ says,

 

17 He who has an ear,

let him hear

what the Spirit says to the churches.

 

In Verse 21, the risen Christ says

of a false teacher in one of the churches,

 

21 I have given her time to repent, but she is not willing to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Look! I am throwing her onto a bed of violent illness, and those who commit adultery with her into terrible suffering, unless they repent of her deeds. 23 Furthermore, I will strike her followers with a deadly disease, and then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts. I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve."

 

That was our Lord Jesus speaking—the risen Christ.

 

But most churches today

teach a Jesus who would never say or do that—

who would never punish church members

with a deadly disease.

 

But, which one is the real Jesus—

the always loving, never angry Jesus

you hear about in churches today?

 

Or, the Jesus who revealed himself in the Bible

in Revelation Chapter 2, who said,

“I am throwing her onto a bed of violent illness, ... I will strike her followers with a deadly disease, ... I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve."

 

If Christians today are shocked to hear Jesus say that,

then it shows that the churches

need a new Reformation,

and need to return to the Bible.

 

Martin Luther would be horrified,

if he rose from the grave

to see how far many Protestant churches have fallen.

 

The churches that just wink at couples

living together outside of marriage—

 

the churches that fly the rainbow flag

of the LGBT movement—

 

the churches that welcome practicing homosexuals

without calling on them to stop sinning and repent—

 

all of these churches are in need of a biblical Reformation,

just as the church of Rome was in Martin Luther’s day.