We’ve talked a lot about popular teachers such as Beth Moore, Rick Warren and Ann Voskamp on this blog, highlighting their claims that God speaks to them personally and shows them new — or at least deeper — understandings of Christian spirituality. Invariably, these understandings (really the same recycled lies of false teachers throughout history) result in twisting Scripture and/or elevating something to the same level as God’s Word.
One might argue that these teachers aren’t a great deal different from Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other 16th Century Reformers who split from Roman Catholicism. On the surface, it admittedly appears to be the case. Can we really consider these 21st Century teachers as heretics when they actually might see a new direction that the Holy Spirit wants for His Church?
I believe there’s a tremendous difference between 21st Century teachers and the Reformers of the 16th Century. And I’m here to tell you why I believe there’s a difference.
In the first place, the Protestant Reformation never set out to divide from the Roman Catholic Church. That fact, sorry to say, gets largely overlooked by both Catholics and Protestants as we discuss 16th Century church history. Some even believe that the Reformers deliberately wanted to start a new religion.
You may counter by reminding me that the teachers I’ve mentioned also have no desire to divide the Church. Indeed, Beth Moore and Rick Warren famously advocate for unity among professing Christians, even to the point of obscuring differences between Protestants and Catholics. Doctrine, they say, divides the Church. In contrast, they believe the Holy Spirit has given them new revelation that leads to new ways of knowing God and/or “doing” church.
The Reformers, on the other hand, based their reforms on the Scriptures in their original languages. They saw inaccuracies in the Latin translations of the Bible, as well as false teachings within Roman Catholic tradition and an unbiblical elevation of papal authority. As a matter of fact, they objected to the supposed special revelation that God allegedly gave to popes, insisting instead that God’s Word contains all the revelation we need.
The Reformers eventually did have to break from the Roman Catholic Church, but only because the Roman Catholic Church first broke from Biblical Christianity. Luther, Calvin and the others went back to God’s Word as the only trustworthy means of hearing God’s voice. Furthermore, they labored hard and long to make the Word of God accessible, both through translating it into common languages (only clergy in the 16th Century knew Latin) and by preaching expositional sermons verse by verse to teach Christians proper ways of interpreting the Bible.
One hallmark of false teachers is that they promise something new. The Reformers, however, restored God’s people to the old Gospel of Jesus Christ. To them, novelty and innovation only breeds the corruption of sound doctrine, drawing people away from the simple truth of Scripture.