|IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 1, Number 2, March 8 to March 14, 1999|
“The Reformation of the sixteenth century is, next to the introduction of Christianity, the greatest event in history. It marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern times. Starting from religion, it gave, directly or indirectly, a mighty impulse to every forward move-ment, and made Protestantism the chief propelling force in the history of modern civilization” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church).
“For the Reformation was neither a revolution nor a restoration, though including elements of both. It was negative and destructive towards error, positive and constructive towards truth; it was conservative as well as pro-gressive; it built up new institutions in the place of those which it pulled down; and for this reason and to this extent it has succeeded” (Schaff).
“There are two leading aspects in which the Reformation, viewed as a whole, may be regarded; the one more external and negative, and the other more intrinsic and positive. In the first aspect it was a great revolt against the see of Rome, and against the authority of the church and of churchmen in religious matters, combined with an assertion of the exclusive authority of the Bible, and of the right of all men to examine and interpret it for themselves. In the second and more important and positive aspect, the Reformation was the proclamation and inculcation, upon the alleged authority of Scripture, of certain views in regard to the substance of Christianity or the way of salvation, and in regard to the organization and ordinances of the Christian church” (William Cunningham, The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation).
“But it holds true universally, that God has never given to any uninspired man, or body of men, to rise altogether above the influence of the circumstances in which they were placed, in the formation and expression of their opinions upon religious subjects. And even the greatest admirers of the Reformers readily admit that they, all of them, though not in the main features of their theological system, yielded more or less to the various sources of error which prevail among men, and more particularly, that they exhibited, on the one hand, traces that they had not wholly escaped from the corrupting influence of the system in which they had been educated, and on the other hand, what is equally natural, that they were sometimes in danger in avoiding one extreme of falling into the opposite one” (Cunningham).
“Therefore, while we are unwilling simply to concede the name of Church to the Papists, we do not deny that there are churches among them. The question we raise only relates to the true and legitimate constitu-tion of the Church, implying communion in sacred rites, which are the signs of profession and especially in doctrine. . . . We do not at all deny that churches remain under his (Anti-Christ’s) tyranny; churches, however, which by sacrilegious impiety he has profaned, by cruel domina-tion has oppressed, by evil and deadly doctrines like poisoned potions has corrupted and almost slain; churches where Christ lies half-buried, the Gospel is suppressed, piety is put to flight, and the worship of God almost abolished; where, in short, all things are in such disorder as to present the appearance of Babylon rather than the holy city of God. In one word, I call them churches, inasmuch as the Lord there wondrously preserves some remains of His people, though miserably torn and scattered, and inasmuch as some symbols of the Church still remain - symbols especially whose efficacy neither the craft of the devil nor human depravity can destroy. But as, on the other hand, those marks to which we ought especially to have respect in this discussion are effaced, I say that the whole body, as well as every single assembly, want the form of a legitimate Church” (John Calvin, Institutes).