Until recently, before listening to a series on church history by pastor R.W. Glenn in Minnesota, I had always thought of Luther and Calvin as those desiring to totally split from the Roman Catholic Church. However, it is very clear from quotes by both of these men in particular that they did not seek to split the church in any way but to, you know, bring reform.

They protested the theology and practices the church had become infected with, but they wanted the change they sought to come from within instead of establishing a new parallel church. They wanted to bring this theological revolution within the church itself. They did not want to depart from or create schism within their beloved church, but wanted the whole to see the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ that had been eclipsed to a large degree by the RCC itself. It was not until the end of Calvin’s life that he finally said he did not think he would see this reform within the RCC during his life time. And history shows us that this reform they wanted to bring actually intensified the RCC’s stance on their historically and theologically inaccurate doctrine. And so schism in the church was inevitable.

Unfortunately, because of the false doctrine within the RCC that had become so deeply ingrained (which did not happen overnight but over several centuries of error stacked upon error), as well as the neglect of their own church fathers’ writings (particularly Augustine, as clearly articulated and expounded upon by Luther and Calvin), and most of all, the clear testimony of Scripture itself, schism had to take place. Even though Luther and Calvin were relentless in their pursuit to reform the RCC, a split had to take place. The Gospel had been shadowed, eclipsed by wrong teaching for centuries (even though there were still a thread of people coming to faith during those dark times). Sadly, at the Council of Trent, the RCC then formally confirmed they had rejected the doctrines as proposed by the Reformers. And so the split was made permanent.

I believe it was very noble of the Reformers to seek the unity of the church. I admire them for their pursuit. We should take the courage to make Scriptural reform within our own churches a priority of the utmost importance. However, this is a great test case of how bad teaching, theology, and practice creates schism of necessity. No believer desires splits in the church. These two Reformers fought against schism with great vigor. However, it is inevitable in many cases because bad teaching, error, and heresy, no matter how great a church may be in community life and even works toward the outside world, ruins the pure message of the Gospel, which is the primary reason the church exists. We should seek to unify and “reform” ourselves from within, with a relentless passion to see the truth of the Gospel proclaimed. But unfortunately, many times, schism must and will happen, because the Gospel cannot coexist with massive Satanic errors on the scale seen in the RCC from the Reformation (and even before then) until now.

These are lessons we should all take into account when dealing with error within the church. It would be wise of us to consider the cost, as uncomfortable as it may be, to “split” from false teaching, error, and heretical doctrines that seem to be spreading even within the evangelical world. In some sense, we should always be reforming ourselves and the church to the Scriptures and what it says in contradistinction from what the culture (the world) and the culture-infiltrated (Christ-less Christian) church says.

I have posted this quote recently in another entry, but it applies here as well: “Divisions and separations are most objectionable in religion. They weaken the cause of true Christianity…But before we blame people for them, we must be careful that we lay the blame where it is deserved. False doctrine and heresy are even worse than schism. If people separate themselves from teaching that is positively false and unscriptural, they ought to be praised rather than reproved. In such cases separation is a virtue and not a sin.” (Unknown source)