Was the Protestant Movement Really the Reformation?


            In my recent book Thinking About Baptism I have underscored the importance of Hebrews 9:10 since it contains a cognate of baptidzo. But there is another Greek word in Hebrews 9:10 which some of us may have overlooked, and whose English translation is “reformation.” In the context of Hebrews 9:10, the “reformation” clearly refers to the institution of the new covenant through Christ's mediating sacrifice as he presented his shed blood in the heavenly tabernacle on behalf of sinners. Christ the high priest of our confession thereby rendered obsolete the entire old covenant ceremonial system of washings, foods, and animal sacrifices, as well as the tabernacle or temple itself.

            The ceremonial cleansing prescribed in the law of Moses typified or foreshadowed the work which Christ performed once for all on our behalf. The old covenant tabernacle had various furnishings but conspicuous by its absence was a chair. Since the sons of Aaron had to offer sacrifices repeatedly for the sins of the people as well as their own, a chair would have been inappropriate. Their work was never complete. But when Christ completed his work as our high priest, he sat down at the right hand of God thereby instituting a new order—the order of Melchizedek uniting the offices of high priest and king in one divine/human person. The Holy Spirit whom Christ would send from the Father would administer and apply Christ's finished work to the church. Elders called by the Holy Spirit and having the consent of the members would govern the affairs of the churches carefully instructing and protecting the churches from false teaching.

            The original reformation was accomplished by Christ alone. On such a foundation the entire old covenant ceremonial law was reduced to two simple ordinances which Christ instituted as seals of the new covenant—baptism and the Lord's Supper. The plethora of old ceremonial ordinances were only “regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation” (Heb. 9:10). That reformation was documented by the writings of the original apostles who were first-hand witnesses of Christ's ministry and resurrection. Their written witness was sufficient to perpetuate their authority in every generation of churches. If words mean anything, therefore, the Protestant movement in the 16th and 17th centuries was not the actual reformation but rather an acknowledgment of it and a return to it. Men like Wycliffe and Hus, Luther and Calvin, began to recognize, in varying degrees, that all the outward ceremonial trappings of Rome incrementally imposed over many centuries upon the new covenant church by power-bent ecclesiastical leaders had no genuine authoritative basis, in fact were detrimental, and therefore should be discarded.

            The Roman Mass, the proliferation of sacraments, defining the church in terms of hierarchy, apostolic succession, praying to the saints, designating the Roman pontiff “Holy Father”under the guise of Peter's authority, the sale of indulgences construed in the popular mind to spring souls loose from purgatory, accumulation of great earthly wealth and political power, and assertion of papal authority at the expense of biblical authority—all these things were an affront to the person and office of Christ himself.

            In summary, while it is quite accurate to apply the term “Protestant” (“for the testimony”) to the ecclesiastical movement away from Rome in the 16th and 17th centuries, biblically speaking, that movement, rather than being regarded as the Reformation itself, was an acknowledgment of, and a return to, the “Reformation.” And “biblically speaking” is what the Protestant movement was all about. -David C. Brand