3. The Ecumenical Awakening – Part 2

The Unfinished Reformation

An Analysis

Neil Girrard
Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Jer. 17:5 π Dan. 12:7 π Mt. 13:30 π Mt. 19:26 π Mt. 24:9 π Mt. 24:14 π Mk. 13:10 π Jn. 3:20 π Jn. 10:27 π Jn. 14:23 π Jn. 14:24 π Acts 17:30 π 2 Cor. 7:1 π Eph. 1:22; 2nd π Eph. 4:3 π Eph. 5:27 π Col. 1:18 π Heb. 5:9 π Jas. 3:15 π 2 Pet. 1:20-21 π 2 Pet. 3:15 π 1 Jn. 1:7 π 1 Jn. 2:27 π Rev. 2:6 π Rev. 2:15 π Rev. 13:4 π Rev. 13:7 π Rev. 19:7

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from The Unfinished Reformation by Charles Clayton Morrison (Harper Bros., New York, 1953)

In the second half of the first chapter, Morrison asks a most important question:

“Why did these earnest and vigorous attempts to unite the separate streams of the Reformation meet with repeated disappointment and ultimate defeat?” (p. 16)

That is, as Morrison states,

“…the Reformation emerged almost simultaneously in three different places… Their [original] separation was not due to schism within a single movement; it was a geographical separation.” (p. 16)

Nor was there any lack of desire or effort to bring these separate streams of reformation into unity. Morrison states:

“Luther and Melanchthon, Zwingli and Bullinger, Calvin and Bucer, Archbishop Cranmer and virtually all those whose names adorn the record of this heroic period shared earnestly and persistently in this attempt. Plans for union were prolifically produced and discussed on all sides until near the end of the sixteenth century. With the passing from the scene of the great pioneers of the Reformation, these attempts at rapproachment gradually waned and classic Protestantism settled down in the historical molds of Lutheranism, Presbyterianism and Anglicanism in which its multiple origin had cast it. Then began the long process of schismatic defections in each of these tributaries, a process which the ecumenical movement in our time is striving to overcome.” (p. 16)

In the face of the failure of the many and varied attempts to unify Protestantism, Morrison’s question is crucial. If we can understand the reason the Reformers failed to enter into the unity of the Spirit of God ( Eph. 4:3; top ), perhaps we can come to grips with why we, as Christ’s followers today, are still failing to enter into that unity. Thus Morrison’s question is still as relevant today as it was in 1951 – perhaps even more so since denominationalism has not abated but rather mushroomed exponentially. So, why did the various streams of the Reformation fail to unite? Morrison offers two explanations.

Already Yoked

Morrison’s first explanation is that:

“1. The church had been tied in with the political state for a thousand years, and the great Reformers could not bring themselves to challenge this interdependent relation. They accepted uncritically and as a matter of course the long established Roman Catholic theory that the welfare and unity of society required such a union of church and state. …the Reformers, in their effort to unite the three tributaries of the Reformation, were unable to strip from their problem its political associations and confront it as a strictly religious and ecclesiastical undertaking. Notoriously was this true of Archbishop Cranmer who intensely desired to effect a union of the Anglican Reformation with its continental counterparts. We can understand his failure if we simply remember that he was Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII, who, having broken with the papacy, had made himself the head of the Church of England.” (p. 17-18)

Morrison’s analysis exposes the hidden presumption, the pre-existing paradigm, that helped prevent the Reformation streams from entering the unity that is found in the Spirit of Christ and God. Because the Reformers could not separate their idea of what the ekklesia should be – ideas themselves tainted with error or, perhaps better stated, with lack of revelation insight – they could not relinquish themselves and their followers from the their ties, bondages and dependencies upon the kings, princes and rulers of the realms they were in. This bondage to the “secular” rulers resulted in further deception, error and mixture of impurities as the people of Christ were forced to submit to ideas and practices which can only be called Nicolaitan (“ruling over the people” – Rev. 2:6 , 15; top ) or paganistic in nature.

In the instance Morrison cites, the Anglicans could not join with the Lutherans and Presbyterians because they were already submitted to a head other than Christ Jesus! Christ Jesus is the head over all things to His people ( Col. 1:18 , Eph. 1:22; top ) but the head of the Anglicans was Henry VIII and unity with others was thus not attainable. We need to see this clearly. If we are submitted to a second head, we will not attain to the will of God and we will not experience the unity of His Spirit. Whether that second head is a man (“pastor,” pope, “prophet,” “apostle,” “elder,” whatever), some denominational creed or “theology” or even our own opinions, agendas and preconceived paradigms, the result is the same. Jesus is effectively denied His place as Head over all things to His people and we practice what is right in our own eyes (lawlessness) in His name. A more effective deception would be hard to conceive.

In all fairness to the Reformers, we must also recognize their need for physical, temporal and political power and protection. The pope and his hierarchy of power mongers would have gladly exterminated all those who, as Morrison states elsewhere, were “out to rescue the historical church from the clutch of an alien regime which had fastened itself upon it and kept it unconscious of its true nature for a thousand years.” (p. 22-23) Without that “secular” protection, the blood bath would likely have been greater than it was and “the time of the end” would have come in the 16th century, ahead of schedule (so to speak temporally in contrast to the set eternal “calendar”). But one has to wonder if this reliance upon “secular” might had been replaced with a deeper reliance upon and obedience to the One Head Christ Jesus, that a purer, more unified expression of Christianity might not have resulted. This is the question that those who live in “the time of the end” will have to face squarely as all nations come to hate the true followers of Christ Jesus. ( Mt. 24:9 ) All reliance upon secular power will be removed from the people of Christ in that day. (compare Rev. 13:4 , 7 , Dan. 12:7; top )

Morrison adds a further depth in his analysis when he writes,

“That famous episode, the colloquy at Marburg between Luther and Zwingli, designed to unite the Swiss and German Reformations, gives us an insight into the whole pattern of proceedings in which all negotiations for union were carried on… The story of Luther’s final refusal to take the hand of Zwingli with the querulous explanation, ‘You are of another spirit than we,’ has often been told as if it were a clear case of difference of biblical interpretation that separated them… But their final deadlock on the proposed union cannot be explained simply as due to their different interpretation of…words of Scripture. In the background of their theological discussion, there was a conflict of political interests which haunted the entire colloquy.” (p. 18-19)

Morrison goes on to explain that Zwingli was in the process of bringing into being a league between Swiss and Austrian groups that Luther viewed as rebellion against the emperor, the same emperor whom Luther hoped would convene an ecumenical council that would bring about overall unity (even with the Roman Catholics) but free from the controls of the papacy (an event which never happened and probably, in hindsight, never could happen then or now). Thus the political currents and tides in the background made any minor differences of “theological” opinions completely irreconcilable.

But beyond the “theological” and political aspects, this event lays bare for our time the real reason they failed to attain to spiritual unity: they were of differing spirits. Luther was of the spirit of Luther and Zwingli was of the spirit of Zwingli. At least one of them were unable to relinquish their own agendas and ideas so as to embrace all that the Spirit of Christ might have led them into. In all fairness, it was not yet time for this revelation to come forth – and it was not yet “the time of the end” when the bride makes herself finally ready for her Husband (see Rev. 19:7 ), the wheat and the tares were not fully ripened (see Mt. 13:30 ) and there were generations of souls yet unborn who, because of the Lord’s longsuffering toward the human race, would come into eternal salvation ( 2 Pet. 3:15 ) – and the spiritual discernment to see the hidden reliance upon the spirit of Luther and the spirit of Zwingli was not given to them. But in our day – when we are now required to purify ourselves even further from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit ( 2 Cor. 7:1 ) so as to become the spotless and blameless bride of Christ ( Eph. 5:27 ) - we will be held accountable for the divisions we cause or perpetuate because we fail to seek out and attain to the unity of the Spirit of Christ and God and instead seek out those who practice or tolerate whatever “private interpretation” of Scripture ( 2 Pet. 1:20-21; top ) we prefer.

Nearly lost to the eyes of men is the gospel of the kingdom where Christ is Head over all things to His people ( Eph. 1:22 ), where all men everywhere are commanded to repent (turn from) all their sinful, selfish, self-centered ways ( Acts 17:30 ), where close personal obedience to the King is a prominent factor of the salvation which Christ brings. ( Heb. 5:9 ) Satan loves that this gospel is nearly lost as it signifies to him that he yet has more time left to live. When this gospel reemerges – and it will ( Mt. 24:14 , Mk. 13:10; top ) – Satan will have another clue that his time is growing short and his fury will begin to burn anew toward those who speak truth in the name of Christ.

There is yet one more lesson that can be drawn from this incident between Luther and Zwingli. Jesus said, “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” ( Jn. 3:20; top ) Morrison writes that “This project was in the mind of Luther throughout the sessions of the Marburg colloquy.” (p. 19) Yet apparently it was not laid out on the table for discussion. Instead, Luther found “Scriptural” and “theological” views to divide the two groups. Whatever work of God that bringing the political background into the light of open discussion might have caused to happen was lost and a wineskin-hardening work of men ensued. Wherever men are unwilling or reluctant to bring all things into the open, evil is lurking and hiding somewhere. And it is in our secret preconceptions, paradigms and agendas that Satan and his demonic horde gain the most advantage over the people of Christ.


Morrison’s second answer to the question of why the various streams of the Reformation failed to unite is:

“2. …the inherent impossibility of achieving, then, now, or ever, any viable and permanent union on any plan requiring theological agreement. …we shall have to be content to affirm that the whole course of church history, and especially Protestant history, demonstrates that the attempt to provide a rigid and static creed, deviation from which constitutes heresy, leads to and encourages schism rather than unity. The attempts at union in the Reformation period failed because no complete theological consensus could be achieved.” (p. 19-20)

Jesus said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” ( Mt. 19:26; top ) Though this was said in the context of a monetarily rich man’s difficulties in entering the kingdom of God, the underlying principles are strikingly similar. So long as we have a wealth of knowledge, be it philosophy, “theology” or earthly “wisdom,” we have no need for God’s revelation, wisdom or insight. We will remain quite content to walk in our own knowledge of good and evil and to practice what is right in our own eyes. We will be so attached to our own ideas, opinions, agendas and paradigms that when the command to follow Jesus is given by that still, small voice deep within our spirits, we will decline to obey. As was true with Luther and Zwingli, we will also be unable to walk in unity and true fellowship with one another because we truly will be operating under differing spirits – yours and mine and not Christ’s.

John wrote, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” ( 1 Jn. 1:7 ) So long as we look first to our own “theologies,” ideas, opinions and paradigms, Morrison’s conclusion will remain true - it will remain impossible to attain, now or ever, any viable or permanent union because it is based on human understanding. The Lord said through Jeremiah, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD.” ( Jer. 17:5 ) the curse the people of Christ remain under is to be divided so longs as they reject the heart and mind of Christ and God and walk instead in the futility and darkness of their own thoughts. Even though their thoughts may very well be about Christ and God and the Bible, because their knowledge, insights and wisdom is not from above, their “theology,” remains earthly, sensual and even demonic. ( Jas. 3:15; top )

Morrison, in making his argument that political interests were the real culprit in preventing Protestant unity, points out Luther’s own downward spiral.

“Luther’s earlier liberalism, if we may so designate it, was tempered into a theological conservatism by his attitude to the Anabaptists on one hand and his hope for a thorough-going internal reform of Rome on the other. Beset by these two contrary influences, between which he felt it necessary to steer a middle course, Luther grew more and more intemperately dogmatic and could envisage no form of union except on a creedal basis which fully embodied his own theological ideas.” (p. 21)

Let us note this well. Luther was so locked into his own agendas and opinions that he could not relinquish and replace them with the ideas and insights the Lord had opened up to others like the Anabaptists (who, in spite of Luther’s opinion, were not completely in error). And he was so intent upon bringing renewal and reformation to the Romish “church” (something which would never happen to the extent Luther desired) that he sacrificed unity with other elements of the Reformation with which he was more closely alike to. Then, in his later years, he became inflexible and dogmatic in his insistence upon conformity to his own creed. How sad! And how tragic that this is not an unusual story as this spiral is repeated countless times throughout the schismatic defections that ensued.

But this inflexibility and fixation upon the man at the top was not just Luther’s problem. Morrison says, “It was assumed, with no hint of dissent, that an ecumenical union required theological uniformity.” (p. 21) Nearly everyone seems to have bought into the idea that agreement with one man’s private interpretation – whether that man was Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Menno Simons, Cranmer or which ever man was closest at hand – was to be the basis of religious thought and even fellowship. There does not even seem to have been much talk of simply submitting to the King, following His Spirit and operating in the one accord-ness that was so prevalent in the books of Acts and that attends obeying the mind of Christ. Whatever discussion there may have been on this was apparently squelched (some who preached things like this were deemed heretics and exiled and excommunicated) and the descent into sinful, divisive sectarianism (denominationalism) ensued.

In our day, we must return to the King and submit first and only to Him. Rather than build up yet another denominational hierarchy, we must recognize that His sheep hear His voice ( Jn. 10:27 ) and that those who love Him will obey Him. ( Jn. 14:23 ) Those who do not love Him will not obey Him ( Jn. 14:24 ) and will need to repent and forsake their own idolatry (whatever its real roots may be, this is the real name of their sin) if they are to be an integral, functioning participant in Christ’s kingdom of light. We need not look to one particular man to tell us what God is saying to His people ( 1 Jn. 2:27; top ) but rather we all need to be listening to His voice and waiting upon unanimous confirmation among the people the Lord has surrounded us with. Only in this way will we attain to the oneness that demonstrates Christ’s authenticity.

Let he who has ears hear.

2. The Ecumenical Awakening – Part 1 π 4. The Christian Life in a United Church – Part 1
Table of Contents

I’d love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

Site Panel π Home π MNQs π New Posts π Songs π Books π Series π Articles π PDFs
Scriptures π Greek Dictionary π Top 25 Scriptures π Top 50 Writings π Twisted Scriptures π Bible Bullets
Authors π Subjects π Titles π Links π Donations