Is the Protestant Reformation Being Undone?
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Is the Protestant Reformation Being Undone?
Has a major split ever occurred in your congregation or church denomination? It’s a sad fact of life that church splits have been common throughout the 2,000 years since Jesus founded His Church.
Five centuries ago the dominant branch of the traditional Christian religion, the Roman Catholic Church, faced a serious schism as one of its priests and theologians, the now-famous Martin Luther, came to reject several teachings and practices of the church. Among the disputes, Luther strongly took issue with the Catholic view on indulgences and that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could be purchased with money.
The year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, which tradition claims was affixed to the door of the castle church of Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517 (though the story is a matter of dispute). The Theses launched what would become known as the Protestant Reformation. Luther was later excommunicated, his Theses rejected by Pope Leo X in 1520. This split in Christianity was the second major breakup after the Orthodox split of the 11th century.
Could unity actually end up being something quite dangerous? Is it possible that at some point in the future, only one official religion will be allowed and others banned?
Now, 500 years on, serious questions remain about the effectiveness of Martin Luther’s reforms and whether or not they will hold.
Is the Protestant Reformation being undone? Could the 500-year split be reversed, reuniting Catholics and Protestants?
As this huge anniversary is being commemorated, an underlying current is quietly sweeping through the Lutheran Church as the Catholic Church in Rome gathers increasing support that could eventually see Luther’s dreams undone.
Lutherans and Catholics receiving communion
As we study the modern relationship between Catholics and Lutherans, we can’t help but notice a softening of the barrier that drove these two faiths apart starting in 1517. The wedge that initially divided them is gradually being pulled out. Is the Reformation losing its identity?
On July 5, 2017, in Wittenburg, Germany—the same town where Martin Luther openly attacked church practice and teaching 500 years ago, setting in motion the Protestant Reformation—the World Communion of Reformed Churches (representing 80 million believers) agreed to the Joint Declara-tion on the Doctrine of Justification, previously agreed to in 1999 by Catholics and Lutherans, and by Methodists in 2006.
“Together with great joy, today’s formal act brings new challenges and responsibilities in our pursuit of fidelity to the Gospel and unity in truth,” said Pope Francis in a written statement read out for him. “May it mark a new stage of fellowship and cooperation in the service of justice and peace in our human family” (Anli Serfontein, “Pope Francis Hails Declaration Signed at Reformed Churches Gathering in Germany,” Ecumenical News, July 5, 2017).
The message was read aloud to some 800 dignitaries, representing some of the largest Christian churches, who had gathered in Wittenberg for the event. Cardinal Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told the assembled delegates that the agreement has opened “a new era of trust between the churches—a time for healing and reconciliation and rediscovering how much we share” (ibid.).
This is the latest in several such moves. On Jan. 15, 2016, a group of Finnish Lutherans were offered Holy Communion by Catholic priests at a mass held in St. Peter’s Basilica following a meeting with Pope Francis. Lutheran bishop Samuel Salm said of the Communion, “I myself accepted it.” He added that “this was not a coincidence” (“Lutherans Receive Communion at Vatican After Meeting With Pope: Report,” LifeSiteNews.com, Jan. 21, 2016).
In a Dec. 12, 2015, interview with the National Catholic Register, Pastor Jens Kruse of Rome’s Evangelical Lutheran Church said, “I think it’s typical for Pope Francis to open doors, and now we, as churches, have the duty to find ways to fill this open door with more of a life of ecumenism of unity”—the term ecumenism used for efforts to unify the world’s churches (“Revolution: Rome Lutheran Pastor Says Pope Francis ‘Opened Door’ to Intercommunion,” LifeSiteNews.com, Dec. 16, 2015, emphasis added throughout).
It seems that the Roman Catholic Church is quietly working to bring back its estranged children with an aggressive push towards ecumenism—seeking to negate 500 years of separation. Where are such developments heading?
Calling on Catholics and Lutherans worldwide
In October 2016, Pope Francis and Bishop Munib Yunan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, signed a joint declaration for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation at
the Lutheran Cathedral of Lund, in Sweden. It said in part:
“With this Joint Statement, we express joyful gratitude to God for this moment of common prayer in the Cathedral of Lund, as we begin the year commemorating the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. Fifty years of sustained and fruitful ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans have helped us to overcome many differences, and have deepened our mutual understanding and trust . . .
“We commit ourselves to further growth in communion rooted in Baptism, as we seek to remove the remaining obstacles that hinder us from attaining full unity . . . We long for this wound in the Body of Christ to be healed. This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavours . . .”
This joint statement concluded with: “We call upon all Lutheran and Catholic parishes and communities to be bold and creative, joyful and hopeful in their commitment to continue the great journey ahead of us. Rather than conflicts of the past, God’s gift of unity among us shall guide cooperation and deepen our solidarity. By drawing close in faith to Christ, by praying together, by listening to one another, by living Christ’s love in our relationships, we, Catholics and Lutherans, open ourselves to the power of the Triune God.”
So what is going on? What is transpiring before our very eyes? Is the Reformation about to be undone? Most importantly, is the Roman Catholic Church perhaps even on the verge of fulfilling a scenario warned about in the Bible almost 2,000 years ago?
The World Lutheran Foundation reported the following words about the historic meeting that resulted in this joint statement:
“The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Roman Catholic Church jointly held an ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation on 31 October 2016 in Lund, Sweden. Locally co-hosted by the Church of Sweden and the Catholic Diocese of Stockholm, the event highlighted the solid ecumenical developments between Catholics and Lutherans and the joint gifts received through dialogue, particularly in anticipation of the 500th Reformation anniversary in 2017.”
As we can see, the Oct. 31, 2017, commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is going to reverberate around the world with major religious implications! Ecumenism is alive and well, and the Roman Church has a plan in mind—with an end goal.
Roman history leads to major prophetic implications
What are the prophetic implications surrounding the ecumenism we see between Catholics and Protestants? While unity and ecumenism look good on the surface, could this actually end up being something quite dangerous with unforeseen consequences? Is it possible that at some point in the future, only one official religion will be allowed and others banned?
In the prophecy Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives in the days before He was crucified (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), the first major trend He warned about when foretelling the signs that would precede His return was a counterfeit Christianity (Matthew 24:4-5). Almost from the start, deceivers began trying to influence and infiltrate the New Testament Church.
Before long, still in the first century, several variant forms of Christianity took root—one staying faithful to the pure truth of the Bible and Christ’s teachings, and others blending the Bible with other beliefs and philosophies. This blending is called syncretism, and many of the popular pagan Roman beliefs that were added to Christianity actually originated with ancient Babylonian religions.
Very soon, within a few decades of Jesus founding His Church, the trends He had warned about began to come to pass. By the 50s A.D. the apostle Paul warned that false teachers were already proclaiming “another Jesus” and “a different gospel” (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6). Late in the first century some had gone so far as to reject the apostle John and were putting true Christians out of the Church (3 John 9).
A new church arises and gains power
Early on, then, Christianity underwent drastic changes. The visible church became quite different from what was originally established by Jesus and His apostles. Historian Jesse Hurlbut calls this period “the age of shadows.” As he describes it, “For fifty years after St. Paul’s life a curtain hangs over the church, through which we strive vainly to look; and when at last it rises, about 120 A.D. with the writings of the earliest church fathers, we find a church in many aspects very different from that in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul” (The Story of the Christian Church, 1970, p. 33).
In the fourth century, the Roman Emperor Constantine decided to make Christianity the official state religion to further unify and strengthen his empire. But to do this, he used his power to bring different factions together that taught a variety of concepts—many of them foreign to Jesus’ teachings. The end result was official recognition of various beliefs that were similar in many ways to the popular pagan Roman sun worship.
For example, by this time the visible majority church had adopted as its weekly day of worship the first day of the week, Sunday, honored as the day of the unconquered sun, in place of the biblical Sabbath, the seventh day of the week (from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday). Similarly, the Roman celebration of the birthday of the sun, Dec. 25, was relabeled as the supposed birthday of the Son of God and became one of the world’s most popular holidays—Christmas!
Constantine’s state-sponsored church further evolved and grew in power and became known as the Roman Catholic Church—“catholic” from the Latin word catholicus, meaning universal or general. It was to be the universal religion of the Roman Empire.
At times the bishop of Rome, or pope, has had such great political as well as religious authority that he could enthrone and depose emperors. The church controlled the state! Because of this intimate relationship between church and state, for several centuries the empire was called the Holy Roman Empire.
And so, what we see happening as the church gained power and allied itself with the state is the combined church-state persecution of other Christians—especially those who held most closely to Jesus’ original teachings. Those not part of the Roman Church became intensely tyrannized during that time.
The Roman Catholic Church also adopted a governmental structure that was strikingly similar to that of the old Roman Empire. That is why historians have remarked on the Roman Catholic Church being a mirror image of the Roman Empire (we will examine this “mirror image” more in a moment).
But, as we noted at the beginning, 500 years ago a major disruption occurred in the Roman Catholic Church when Martin Luther gave his Ninety-five Theses in 1517.
Will this division, this wound, be healed, as called for in the 2016 joint declaration?
Let’s go to the source. What does Bible prophecy tell us?
To understand the future we must understand the past
Is a mandated, one-world religion on the horizon? Does Scripture give us the answer? Will all peoples one day have to show allegiance to a future church-state empire patterned after Constantine’s?
Since the fall of the Roman Empire more than 15 centuries ago, European leaders have made a number of attempts to resurrect it. Justinian, Charlemagne, Otto the Great, Charles V, Napoleon, and Hitler along with Mussolini all tried to unite Europe as a revived Roman Empire. All succeeded to varying degrees for a time. But there will be yet another attempt.
History shows us that out of the Roman Empire came the ruling power of the Roman Catholic Church. The empire itself is described in the book of Revelation as a “beast.” And side by side with the Beast in chapter 13, the church allied with the Beast is described as “the image of the beast”—a mirror image or something that strongly resembles the original.
History also shows that this church took over the former administrative governance structure and regions of the empire. “By the fourth century, the church followed the example of the Roman Empire. Emperor Constantine organized the church into dioceses along the pattern of the Roman regional districts. (The word diocese was a secular term that referred to the larger administrative units of the Roman Empire.) Later, Pope Gregory shaped the ministry of the entire church after Roman law” (Frank Viola and George Barna, Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices, 2008, p. 119).
Thus the church became a mirror image of the original—the Roman church copied the Roman Empire. As noted historian Will Durant observed in his monumental work The Story of Civilization: “Christianity . . . grew by the absorption of pagan faith and ritual; it became a triumphant Church by inheriting the organizing patterns and genius of Rome . . .
“The Roman gift was above all a vast framework of government, which, as secular authority failed, became the structure of ecclesiastical rule. Soon the bishops, rather than the Roman prefects, would be the source of order and the seat of power in the cities; the metropolitans, or archbishops, would support, if not supplant, the provincial governors; and the synod of bishops would succeed the provincial assembly.
“The Roman Church followed in the footsteps of the Roman state; it conquered the provinces, beautified the capital, and established discipline and unity from frontier to frontier. Rome died in giving birth to the Church; the Church matured by inheriting and accepting the responsibilities of Rome” (1944, Vol. 5, Caesar and Christ, pp. 575, 618-619).
A coming church-state combined power
Bible prophecy shows we will see yet another end-time attempt at a great church-state solution to humankind’s problems—but one which will be relatively short-lived.
The apostle John in a divinely revealed vision described what he saw, the imagery symbolizing an end-time church-state power: “And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name. Now the beast [a final end-time global superpower] which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon [the devil] gave him his power, his throne, and great authority” (Revelation 13:1-2).
What do we see right away from these two verses?
• This Beast is blasphemous—not of God.
• This Beast acts like a wild animal, not with human kindness— like a wild leopard, bear or lion.
• This Beast receives its power from the devil (and the devil is even worshipped—Revelation 13:4).
Who is like the Beast?
We know that this future empire is a governmental system of major proportions because it’s supported by a powerful military: “So they worshiped the dragon [the devil] who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’” (Revelation 13:4).
How long will this blasphemous Beast rule in its full power? “And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months” (Revelation 13:5). So, for 3½ years this Beast will be the dominant power over much of our planet. (This also appears to be a dual prophecy, with lengthy dominance by this power during the Middle Ages as a precursor to the end-time fulfillment.)
And then some very disturbing prophetic words are written for us to contemplate: “It was granted to him [the Beast] to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation” (Revelation 13:7). What we see here are the true people of God, those who believe differently from the established religion, being persecuted for their biblical beliefs!
It will become the “law” to obey this dragon-appointed Beast. In fact, Revelation points out that everyone will worship the Beast except those who have been written into the Book of Life of Jesus Christ: “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).
What do we see in summary from these six verses?
• This Beast will have the world’s most powerful military forces.
• This Beast is given power and authority to rule for 3½ years.
• This Beast savagely persecutes the true saints of God.
• This Beast forces everyone to submit and obey.
The religious partner with the Beast
And now the apostle John gives us a window into the religious power, the great church, behind the governmental Beast: “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed” (Revelation 13:11-12).
The message proclaimed by this second beast (which is a mirror image of the first Beast, Revelation 13:15), is once again from the dragon—the devil himself—and all of humanity is required to worship likewise. This is a great revival of the Roman Church, partnering with the first Beast into a global church-state empire! Revelation 19 also calls the leader of this second beast—this Roman church—the False Prophet.
Note that this is a very convincing religious system. Humanity will be deceived. Will you also be led astray?
This second beast performs amazing, compelling miracles that are sure to bring multitudes on board! “He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived” (Revelation 13:13-14).
The first Beast uses its military power and governmental authority to enforce a global religion on humanity: “He [the first beast] was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast [the second beast, the Roman church], that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (Revelation 13:15). See, this is a matter of life or death!
And then the apostle John talks about the infamous “mark of the Beast”: “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name . . . Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is six hundred and sixty-six” (Revelation 13:16-18).
What do we see in summary from these eight verses? It’s quite sobering:
• The first Beast is joined by a second, religious beast, also called the False Prophet.
• This second beast also speaks like the devil.
• This second beast is a mirror image of the first and forces everyone to worship the first beast.
• This second beast performs convincing miracles that will deceive all of humanity—except the true saints of God.
• The first and second Beasts unite in a church-state power that will enforce a global religion in areas under its control.
• The penalty for those who do not submit to this religion will be death.
Yes, this religion will be enforced. Other faiths and beliefs will be outlawed—including the true Church of God and its biblically held beliefs. Remember, those holding true biblical beliefs were systematically persecuted and exterminated by emperors such as Constantine in the early centuries after Jesus’ resurrection, as well as later when church and state were again combined.
Definitely an end-time scenario
Some students of Bible prophecy will claim that these events have already been completely fulfilled or that they are just allegories. But no, Revelation 17 shows these events happening just prior to the return of Jesus Christ as King of Kings. Jesus will return to save humanity from imminent, total destruction (Matthew 24:21-22).
“The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war with the Lamb [Jesus Christ], and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him [the true saints] are called, chosen, and faithful” (Revelation 17:12-14).
The words clearly show that this joining together of 10 “kings” (leaders of nations or groups of nations) who give their sovereignty to a single individual (who is also called “the Beast”) is yet future, part of the world-changing geopolitical events to take place just before Jesus Christ’s return.
Prophecy shows us that for a short time a single global religion will be enforced on humanity in the time of the end by the Beast. This Beast will be a combined church-state system that has its roots in the old Holy Roman Empire.
It’s not a coincidence that the Roman Catholic Church is working on bringing back its departed children with an aggressive push towards ecumenism designed to negate 500 years of estrangement that began with Martin Luther. Yes, the Protestant Reformation that split the world’s Christianity will eventually end in some kind of reunification. Bible prophecy says so!
What about you? Love the truth!
There is a great warning for you and me in these prophecies. The Bible warns in many other places of this great apostasy of the end time. There is coming a huge end-time appeal to deceive the vast majority of humanity.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians of Thessalonika, speaking about the return of Jesus Christ to the earth, “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). He then proceeds to explain this “falling away” in greater detail, Paul talking here about “the man of sin.”
This end-time “man of sin” is going to style himself as greater than God, pretending or even claiming to be God—and people will believe him. Why? “Because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-11).
Revelation 19:20 describes this powerful religious leader as the False Prophet, working with the political leader called the Beast. Daniel 7 even says that the pompous religious figure in union with state power “persecutes the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law” (Daniel 7:25). That’s exactly what Roman Emperor Constantine did, and what church leaders have done ever since!
The end-time deception will be both powerful and great! Knowing that his rule over earth is nearing its end, Satan the devil will mount an end-time appeal to deceive people—even the people of God, who will fall prey if they do not love the truth. So you and I are warned! Keep the commandments. Love the truth.
You and I must stay pure in a society that mixes truth and error—that encourages religious syncretism. How easy it is to be sucked in at different levels by persuasive arguments and soon even persuasive miracles that appeal to our human nature. Don’t believe the lie. Love the truth!
Don’t believe the lie. Love the truth!