Sometimes we Protestants forget our protest. The Reformation came about because certain Christian men boldly protested the heinous abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. These weren’t minor abuses; it wasn’t like the Reformers were simply upset about a few songs, candle arrangements, and the writings of one or two priests. The Reformers protested against Rome because her official teaching contradicted the heart of Scriptural truth: salvation from sin by grace alone (not grace + merit) through faith alone (not faith + works) in Christ alone (not Mary’s or anyone else’s merits), which we are taught from Scripture alone (not ecclesiastical tradition) for God’s glory alone (not for the glory of the Pope or any man).
It’s important to keep this in mind when reading Reformed works that criticize the theology and practice of Rome. Protestants have often used harsh language when writing against Rome. Although these Protestant writers were not without sin, by in large Rome’s corruption and abuses deserve harsh language because Rome distorts the gospel, binds consciences, and takes the spotlight off of Christ, his promises, and his love. Here’s an example from William Tyndale, one of the early English Reformers.
“Woe be to you lawyers! For ye lade [load] men with burdens which they are not able to bear, and ye yourselves touch not the packs with one of your fingers,” saith Christ, Luke 11, Our [spiritual] lawyers, verily, have laden us a thousand times more. What spiritual kindred have they made in baptism to let [hinder] matrimony! Besides that they have added certain degrees unto the law natural for the same purpose. What an unbearable burden of chastity do they violently thrust on other men’s backs, and how easily bear they it themselves! How sore a burden, how cruel a hangman, how grievous a torment, yea, and how painful an hell, is this ear-confession unto men’s consciences! For the people are brought in belief, that without that they cannot be saved; insomuch that some fast certain days in the year, and pray certain superstitious prayers all their lives long, that they may not die without confession. In peril of death, if the priest be not [near]by, the shipmen shrive themselves [make confession] unto the mast [of the ship]. If any [person] be present, they run then every man into his ear [to confess]: but to God’s promises fly they not, for they know them not. If any man have a death’s wound, he crieth immediately for a priest. If a man die without shrift [confession], many take it for a sign of damnation. Many, by reason of that false belief, die in desperation. Many, for shame, keep back of their confession twenty, thirty years, and think all the while that they be damned.
I knew a poor woman with child, which longed, and, being overcome of her passion [hunger], ate flesh [meat] on a Friday; which thing she durst [dared] not confess in the space of eighteen years, and thought all that while that she had been damned, and yet sinned she not at all. Is not this a sore burden, that so weigheth down the soul unto the bottom of hell? What should I say? A great book were not sufficient to rehearse the snares which they have laid to rob men both of their goods, and also of the trust which they should have in God’s word.
This is why men like Tyndale protested against the heavy burdens of the papacy. Rome was binding consciences far beyond the Word, propagating religious superstitions, messing with God’s law, removing free grace from the gospel, not pointing to God’s unfailing promises for solace, and driving people to spiritual despair. These things were – and are! – certainly worth protesting with vigor!
The above quote is found on pages 101-102 of Tyndale’s The Obedience of a Christian Man, first published in 1528.
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)