At the beginning of the sixteenth century it was universally admitted that the corruption of Western Christendom was appalling and that "reformation in head and members" was urgently needed, but vested interests made it extremely difficult.
Three different Reformations were carried out based on fundamentally different
the Continental Reformation,
the English Reformation,
and the Counter-Reformation.
The Continental Reformation destroyed the existing Church
and set up a new society in its place.
[Except in Sweden (p. 276)
where the Reformation was in many ways like the English Reformation.]
The English Reformation made the national church independent of Rome
and gave the Crown the power to make reforms.
The Counter-Reformation cleansed and strengthened the Papacy
and by the power of the Pope removed practical abuses
but retained and carried further
the doctrinal developments against which the Reformers had protested.
The English Reformation was deeply influenced by the Continental Reformation but differed from it in four ways:
The Continental Reformation took three forms:
the German under Luther,
the French under Calvin
(with which the Swiss under Zwingli was ultimately amalgamated;
Geneva did not belong to Switzerland till 1814),
and the Sectarian,
which reached its fullest development in the United States of America.
Lutheranism is the religion of Northern Germany and Scandinavia.
Its doctrinal basis is the Confession of Augsburg
written not by Luther but by Melanchthon.
The fundamental Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith only is not unorthodox if properly interpreted;
but Lutherans have always been inclined to think that if this be accepted, nothing else is necessary.
They do not reject the doctrine of the Church and Sacraments, but they tend to regard them as "adiaphora" things indifferent.
Luther gave control of his movement to the princes,
and the princes wanted no bishops to dispute their authority.
Lutheranism is not necessarily opposed to the Catholic faith,
but it has become separated by a series of accidents.
The revivals in Sweden and Finland show that it has great possibilities within it,
and there appears to be nothing in its principles
to prevent the restoration of the apostolic succession
and all that goes with it in other Lutheran countries.
Calvinism is a very different matter.
John Calvin was a logical and consistent Frenchman who worked out a complete theological and ecclesiastical system and who firmly rejected the sacramental system, the succession, and the government of the Catholic Church as anti-Christian.
Calvinism was ultimately suppressed in France by violence, but it became the religion of Holland, Scotland, and parts of Germany, Switzerland, and Hungary.
Presbyterianism is the British form of Calvinism,
which is the same in all important respects wherever it is found.
The doctrinal basis of Scottish Presbyterianism is
the Westminster Confession (1643),
but its ultimate source is the Institutes of Calvin.
The government is a hierarchy of synods.
To this there is no objection from the Catholic standpoint, though among Calvinists the synods always include lay elders, whereas the Catholic system gives the bishops alone the ultimate decision in matters of faith.
The fundamental error of Calvinism is the doctrine that the universal Church is invisible, the company of the elect, and that therefore any congregation of professed Christians is to be regarded as part of the visible Church through which the invisible Church manifests itself.
The ministry is an entirely new one,
a "preacherhood", not a priesthood;
[J. L. Ainslie, Doctrines of the Ministerial Order in the Reformed Churches.]
an office, not an order. [Nehemiah Boynton.]
The Calvinist presbyter is primarily the preacher of the Word.
If he does not preach, he is not a presbyter (there are also ruling presbyters who are regarded as laymen).
The sacraments are "verbum visibile" the visible Word, that is, a form of preaching and were originally regarded as invalid unless accompanied by a sermon.
Baptism does not necessarily convey regeneration.
It is the public sealing of those who have been elected by God.
Ordination does not convey grace and needs no succession.
It is the public assent of the church to the call of God to the candidate,
a matter of order which in case of necessity may be dispensed with.
Calvin and Beza were certainly never ordained.
John Knox had no ordination but his priesthood,
which he repudiated,
and the first generation of the Scottish Reformers had no laying-on of hands.
Hence it is impossible to make any compromise with Calvinism.
Its doctrine of the Church, of the sacraments, and of the ministry is completely contrary to that of the Catholic Church in all ages and in all its forms.
The notion that the difference between Anglicanism and Presbyterianism is only a matter of government is a profound mistake.
The Presbyterian system of government is not necessarily intolerable.
What is intolerable is the Presbyterian denial that the universal Church is visible,
that baptism is necessary because it is the means of regeneration,
and that the Christian ministry is a priesthood.
Unfortunately Calvinism has often shown a tendency to sink into Unitarianism.
The present English Unitarians are the heirs of the English Presbyterians of the seventeenth century (see p. 45).
On the Continent this tendency is still more marked.
Perhaps the cause of it is that Calvinism does not lay enough emphasis on the Incarnation.
The Congregationalists and Baptists represent the third form of the Continental
Reformation, the Sectarian, which is founded not on the National Covenant
like Calvinism, but on the Gathered Church.
Here again the universal Church is held to be invisible.
The only visible church that is accepted is the single congregation,
gathered out of the world under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,
which elects and "calls" its minister.
Congregationalists administer baptism to infants,
but they do not think baptism necessary.
Many ministers are unbaptized.
Baptists admit only adults to baptism, and then they must be immersed;
but it seems that even they do not think baptism necessary.
A Baptist may be a communicant without having been baptized since baptism is only a visible token of acceptance of Christ and does not convey grace.
The Methodists did not arise directly from the Continental Reformation.
John Wesley founded them as a religious society within the Church of England.
Great emphasis was laid on the necessity of personal conversion,
which was held to be "sudden".
They drifted away from the Church for various reasons,
and after Wesley's death began to administer their own sacraments.
Gradually they lost Wesley's high doctrine of the Church and sacraments,
[There is evidence that Wesley himself modified it before his death.]
and became assimilated, more or less, to the older English sects.
They are now perhaps the largest and most flourishing of all these bodies.
They appear to assume the usual doctrine of the "Evangelical" denominations, that the Church is invisible, and therefore that it does not matter to what visible organization one belongs.
Baptism is normally practiced,
but is not regarded as necessary to salvation,
or as conveying regeneration,
because regeneration is confused with conversion.
The Moravians (Unitas Fratrum) are, in their modern form, of German origin
and are more devoted to foreign missions than any other Christian body.
Their bishops claim succession from the medieval Waldensians, but the Lambeth Conference after careful inquiry cannot recognize their ordinations.
The other "non-episcopal denominations" appear to be based on
the principle of the Gathered Church.
The Disciples of Christ are an American offshoot from the Baptists with some Catholic tendencies.
The "Brethren" represent an attempt to revive what was believed to be apostolic: sudden conversion, weekly "breaking of bread", and an unpaid ministry.
The Society of Friends, respected everywhere for their magnificent social work are a mystical body which possesses no sacraments or paid ministry.
The Salvation Army is an evangelistic society on a military basis which has no sacraments and very little theology.
These denominations communicate freely with each other,
and ministers and members pass from one to another at will.
They all agree in believing that the universal Church is invisible;
that as personal conversion alone really matters,
church membership is quite secondary;
and that baptism even if desirable is not necessary.
To all of them the principle of succession is meaningless.
We thankfully recognize all that they have done for the Christian cause,
the millions of souls that they have brought to Christ,
the devoted labours of their scholars and social reformers,
and the heroism of their missionaries and martyrs.
But we cannot admit that what they preach is the whole Gospel.
For they do not believe that the universal Church is a visible society,
or that all Christians must accept the definitions of the Creed,
or that baptism is necessary to union with Christ in His Church.
The centre of their public services is not the altar but the pulpit,
not the Offering but the sermon.
They have no Confirmation, no Eucharist, no succession, no priesthood.
This is not historic Christianity.
It is not the religion of the Apostles and the Fathers.