Protestant Reformation

Are Church and Society Returning to Their Pre-Reformation State?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
The evidence shows that, in key respects, both are returning to conditions that prevailed in the Middle Ages.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 2 of a series. Read part 1
Edited by Dr. Paul M. Elliott, President, TeachingTheWord Ministries

As he continued his address, "Remembering the Reformation," Martyn Lloyd-Jones offered compelling evidence that, in key respects, contemporary church and society are both returning to conditions that were prevalent in the Middle Ages.1

This is one of the chief reasons, Dr. Lloyd Jones said, why those who view the Reformation as a tragedy that needs to be undone, are taking a most dangerous position:

Why are we considering the Reformation of [five] hundred years ago? Well, if I am to be quite honest, I must confess that this is my main reason: because of the state of affairs today. I am primarily a preacher, not a lecturer, not an historian, very fond of history, but not an antiquary, as I have said. No, I am interested in this because, as a preacher I am concerned about the present state of affairs which is increasingly approximating to the state of affairs that obtained before the Protestant Reformation.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones then called to mind the fact that the pre-Reformation situation had both a societal and spiritual component, and the two are inextricably linked:

You are aware of the state of the morals of this country [he was speaking in Scotland], and of Great Britain in general, before the Reformation: vice, immorality, sin were rampant. My friends, it is rapidly becoming the same again! There is a woeful moral and social declension. We are being surrounded by the very problems that were most obvious before the Reformation took place. The moral state of the country, these urgent social problems, juvenile delinquency, drunkenness, theft and robbery, vice and crime, they are coming back as they were before the Protestant Reformation.

But it is not only a matter of moral and of social problems. What of the state of the church? What of the kirk? What about the numbers who are members of the church? How many even attend? We are going back to the pre-Reformation position. What about the authority of the church? What about the state of doctrine in the church? Before the Reformation, there was confusion. Is there anything more characteristic of the church today than doctrinal confusion, doctrinal indifference - a lack of concern and a lack of interest? And then perhaps the most alarming of all, the increase in the power, influence, and numbers of the Church of Rome, and the Romanizing tendencies that are coming into and being extolled in the Protestant church! There is no question about this. This is a mere matter of fact and observation. There is an obvious tendency to return to the pre-Reformation position; ceremonies and ritual are increasing and the Word of God is being preached less and less, sermons are becoming shorter and shorter. There is an indifference to true doctrine, a loss of authority, and a consequent declension, even in the matter of numbers.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones then issued a great challenge to his audience, and it is a challenge to which the Evangelical church must rise today:

I wonder, Christian people, whether I am exaggerating when I suggest that at the present time we are really engaged in a great struggle for the very life of the Christian church, for the essence of the Christian faith? As I see the situation, it is nothing less alarming than that. We are fighting for an heritage, for the very things that were gained by that tremendous movement of [five] hundred years ago. That to me is the most urgent reason. We cannot afford the luxury of being merely antiquarian; we should be concerned about this because of the state of affairs in which we find ourselves.

As true as these things were when Dr. Lloyd-Jones spoke nearly fifty years ago, the state of society and church have both declined precipitously in the decades since. One wonders if even Dr. Lloyd-Jones could have imagined the depths of sin that have come in an age when man's worst evils are facilitated by instantaneous global communication; the mass, saturation-level deployment of the most depraved advertising and entertainment not only to adults but even to young children; and the glorification, from pre-school upward, of anything that is perverse or deviant coupled with the open ridicule of God's law. The rapid decline of free-market capitalism, and ever-louder calls for a managed global economy such as that recently issued by the Pope, are part of the same picture.

But Dr. Lloyd-Jones' remarks also remind us of this: As the church goes, so goes society. Nothing could better characterize the state of the church today than Dr. Lloyd Jones' well-chosen words - "doctrinal confusion, doctrinal indifference," the rising power and influence of the Roman Catholic church-state, the Romanization of the Evangelical church, the rejection of Biblical authority in the church.

There is but one answer: The church of Jesus Christ must once again become the Scripture-driven church. God's inspired, inerrant Word must be our sole authority, and our infallible critic, in every area of life and ministry.

The Protestant Reformers were Scripture-driven men. The Reformation was, first and foremost, a movement of God the Holy Spirit among righteous men who loved His Word more than even their own lives. The Reformation revolutionized the church, and shaped the course of nations. As we continue looking at portions of Dr. Lloyd-Jones' address, "Remembering the Reformation," he will call to our attention exactly how these things were true.

Next: The Greatest Lesson of the Reformation


1. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "Remembering the Reformation" in Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions, 1942-1977 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth. 1989). 93-94.


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