Protestant Reformation

Reformation 500 Celebrations: Sincere Homage or Sad Hypocrisy?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Are the sponsors and speakers at various Reformation 500 commemorations true sons of the prophets - or like the Pharisees of old, are they hypocrites decorating the tombs of those their forefathers killed?

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Are the sponsors and speakers at various  Reformation 500 commemorations true sons of the prophets - or like the Pharisees of old, are they hypocrites decorating the tombs of those their forefathers killed?

"You Garnish the Sepulchres of the Righteous"

In a 1960 address to a meeting honoring the great Reformer John Knox, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said this:

These are terrible and terrifying words: 'Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?' [Matthew 23:29-33]

Now those are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ and He was addressing His own generation, His own contemporaries. He said, in effect, You are paying great tribute to the memory of the prophets; you are looking after and garnishing their sepulchres and you are saying what great men they were - How noble, how wonderful, we must keep their memory alive - and you say what a terrible thing it was that your forefathers should have put these men to death. If you had been alive then, you maintain, you would not have joined them in those wicked deeds; you would have listened to the prophets, you would have followed them. You hypocrites, says our Lord, you would have done nothing of the sort.

How, then, does He prove it? Well, He does it in this way. He tests their sincerity by discovering what their attitude is at the present to the successors to the prophets. What is their reaction to the people who are still preaching the same message as the prophets? He says, You say that you are admirers of the prophets and yet you are persecuting and trying to compass the death of a man like myself who is the modern representative of the same message, and the same school of prophecy. Ah, says our Lord, it is one thing to look back and to praise famous men, but that can be sheer hypocrisy. The test of our sincerity this evening is this: What do we feel about, and how are we treating, the men who, today, are preaching the same message as was preached by John Knox and his fellow reformers?

So, you see, this meeting is a very important one for us. You cannot do a thing like this [meeting to honor the Reformers] without examining yourself, without coming under scrutiny. Our presence indicates that we are admirers of these great prophets of God, but I wonder whether we are in reality? So it is a good thing, it seems to me, that we should come together, if only so that we can examine ourselves in the light of this word of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.[1]

"You Are Witnesses Unto Yourselves"

In these days, the Pope and other Roman Catholic leaders are joining with so-called Protestants to do just this. They are "building the tombs of the prophets" and "adorning the monuments of the righteous." They are speaking well of Luther, and Calvin, and the other Reformers. They are saying, "Oh, if we had lived in those days, we would have treated these good men differently."

That is a lie from the Pit. True Christians, true Protestants, cannot and will not join in their hyprocrisy. The fact is that God is using the ceremonies of this present time to point out the difference between those who are truly His, and those who are not. The men who are engaging in these falsehoods in partnership with Rome today are scheming men.

Woe to those who devise iniquity,
And work out evil on their beds!
At morning light they practice it,
Because it is in the power of their hand. (Micah 2:1)

Let us never forget that the men of Romanism are the spiritual sons of those who killed the prophets of the Reformation. Five hundred years later they are pursuing a hidden agenda of ungodliness - and they now pursue it in the name of the Reformation.

"Fill Up the Measure of Your Fathers"

In Dr. Lloyd-Jones' time in Great Britain, many in the church were willing to enter into compromise with those who engaged in such doctrinal deviancy while "garnishing the tombs of the prophets" of the Reformation. The same has become true in America in this generation. The fact that other speakers and sponsors of the Calvin500 Conference who claim to oppose doctrinal deviancy were willing to join hands with these "children of those who killed the prophets" says terrible things about their own spiritual integrity, and it is a reflection of the state of spiritual discernment in the American church at large today.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones' observations on the state of the church in his time form a poignant reminder of this fact: Much of today's church views the Reformation as a tragic mistake that must be undone. We shall look at Dr. Lloyd-Jones words on "the state of the church" in our next article.

Next: "What of the state of the church?"


1. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "Remembering the Reformation" in Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions, 1942-1977 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth. 1989). 92-93.


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