The "mainstream" Protestant denominations are losing members by the millions. Other Protestant groups are adopting non-Christian doctrines and practices that would have been unheard of a few decades ago. Why is this happening—and what does it mean to true Christians?
Millions of people have left the "mainstream" Protestant churches! Why? And what does the future hold?
Why have many millions of sincere people dropped out of Protestant churches over the last several years? Why are so many of those who remain willing to ignore the Bible and to embrace ideas from Buddhist, Hindu and "New Age" theories and practices?
A recent survey of Americans' religious affiliation discovered: "Old mainline churches of Protestantism are statistical figments of their graying imaginations. The Episcopal Church represents 1.1 percent of the population. Internet feuds drove away a million parishioners—about a third—from 2001 to 2008. The number of 'Christians, unspecified' grew from 8 million in 1990 to 16 million in 2008, but the attitudinal shift is even bigger…. Indeed, the idea of a personal God is losing ground to a vague, deist force" (Charlotte Observer, March 24, 2009).
Millions of churchgoers are in confusion, and often practice a "cafeteria" approach to religion—choosing a little of this and a little of that. Significant numbers are finding themselves attracted to Roman Catholic teachings about homosexual conduct, the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, the all-male priesthood, and the firm prohibitions against abortion, adultery and fornication. It is very important to realize that Pope Benedict XVI has recently reached out to disaffected Anglicans, warmly inviting them to return to Rome while keeping many of their distinctive traditions—including married priests!
Many observers realize that the perceived stability of Roman Catholicism is making it more and more attractive to former Protestants, who have grown tired of their own sects' "waffling" on so many issues. Students of Bible prophecy will not be surprised to see hundreds of thousands and even millions returning to their "mother church" in the next few years!
For those with understanding, the real issue is the fact that the Protestant reformers and their successors have not actually turned their people back to the "faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Remember the often-stated saying of noted Protestant theologian William Chillingworth, "The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is the religion of the Protestants" (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, article "Chillingworth, W"). Yet most American churchgoers—and Britons as well—have almost no knowledge of the specifics of the Bible!
Jesus Christ commanded His followers, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God" (Luke 4:4). "Yet U.S. citizens know almost nothing about the Bible. Although most regard it as the word of God, few read it anymore. Even evangelicals from the Bible Belt seem more focused on loving Jesus than on learning what He had to say" (Charlotte Observer, March 18, 2007).
Does that last sentence grab your attention? It is vital! It is true that even "Bible Belt Christians" are far more focused on "loving Jesus" than on what He had to say! That is why they are so confused, so divided, and so ignorant about what the inspired word of God is trying to tell them. They simply do not study their Bible like a book on history, mathematics or quantum physics. They just approach it with a sentimental attitude and read bits and pieces—not really reading the entire Bible with a desire and prayer for understanding and asking God for the willingness to obey what He is telling them in its pages!
One can find literally hundreds of examples of this in newspapers and magazines. In June 2006, the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States passed a resolution "essentially condemning the Bible as an 'anti-Jewish' document. Not only does the resolution aim to address perceptions of anti-Jewish prejudice in the Bible and Episcopal liturgy, but it suggests that such prejudice is actually 'expressed in… Christian Scriptures and liturgical texts'" (VirtueOnline.org, June 15, 2006).
Have people gone completely "bonkers"? For when really studied and even half-way understood, the Bible is totally pro-Jewish and is, in fact, an account about how God gave His people a basic way of life in the Old Testament—though only in the letter of the law—and of how Jesus Christ, a Jew (Hebrews 7:14; Revelation 5:4–5) came to "magnify the law" in the New Testament (Isaiah 42:21, KJV).
Jesus Christ—whom any sane person ought to recognize as the genuine Author of true Christianity—referred to the Old Testament again and again as "Scripture." He put His stamped impress on it and certainly on what we call the New Testament as well. But, today, the basic Christian concept of the Bible as the "inspired word of God" is being "watered down," criticized, and virtually eliminated from our professing "Christian" culture in America and Britain! In fact, the vast majority of present-day ministers and religious leaders often teach attitudes and ideas totally contrary to what the Bible actually says! And instead of admitting this is just their own "philosophy," they teach their ideas in the name of "Christianity"! Why do they have to bring Christ's name into it, when it has nothing to do with Christ or what He taught?
A fundamental error that has caused Protestantism to fail in returning to the truth of the Bible is the fact that they started out with a wrong model or "paradigm." A paradigm is defined as, "an overall concept accepted by most people in an intellectual community, as those in one of the natural sciences, because of its effectiveness in explaining a complex process, idea or set of data" (Webster's New World College Dictionary).
Rather than using the inspired word of God as the fundamental paradigm or "model" of what he wanted to restore, Martin Luther—acknowledged as the primary founder of Protestantism—seemed to be rebelling against certain Roman Catholic practices. Yet, in fact, he intended to carry on many of the basic teachings of Catholicism except those he personally disagreed with! So, Protestantism became a "hodgepodge" of different ideas. Some were held over from pagan practices that had been part of early Roman Catholicism. Others were derived from selective use of some scriptures while ignoring others. Still others were little more than the whim of Luther and his colleagues without benefit of Scripture! It never seemed to occur to them that if they were truly to restore the "faith once for all delivered" they would need to fully return to the teachings of the Bible!
So it is remarkable that in rejecting the doctrine of transubstantiation, Luther declares the absolute authority of Scripture in matters of faith and practice. He states: "For that which is asserted without the authority of Scripture or of proven revelation may be held as an opinion, but there is no obligation to believe it…. Transubstantiation… must be considered as an invention of human reason, since it is based neither on Scripture nor sound reasoning" (Documents of the Christian Church, ed. Bettenson, p. 280).
If Luther had only applied this type of scriptural test to all of his doctrines, the world today might be a different type of place! For when he was charged with inserting the word "sola" (alone) into Romans 3:28, he haughtily replied: "Should your Pope give himself any useless annoyance about the word sola, you may promptly reply: It is the will of Dr. Martin Luther that it should be so" (Manual of Universal Church History, p. 199). And, we may add on good authority, no other reason for such unscriptural changes as these were ever given. When it came to Luther's own personal doctrinal convictions, Martin Luther was truly a self-willed man.
In judging any man or movement, Jesus said, "By their fruits you will know them" (Matthew 7:20).
If one honestly and objectively considers the actual "fruits" of the practice of Protestantism—or Catholicism for that matter—in any nation or area of the world, it becomes obvious that genuine Christianity has not been restored in any of those places. As all students of history know, many of the great wars of the last several hundred years have taken place in Europe. We read of Protestants fighting Protestants, Catholics fighting Catholics. Often, each side's bishops or priests would "bless" the troops as they headed up the ridge to bayonet and disembowel the enemy. Yet the "enemy" might well be a person of their very own religious faith!
Neither Protestant nor Catholic theologians as a whole have ever taken seriously the simple, straightforward teaching of Jesus. For when Jesus Christ was asked by a young man the way to eternal life, He replied, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17). In the famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly stated, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17–19).
Many Christians do not grasp the importance of those words. Christ said, regarding the law, that not "one jot or one tittle"—the tiniest marks in the Hebrew script—would pass from it until heaven and earth pass away. Since heaven and earth have not passed away, we must understand that the law remains. Did His "fulfilling" the law somehow change these commands? Or did they change after Christ's resurrection? No! Heaven and earth did not pass away at His resurrection. And we see that Jesus' own example was to keep all of the Ten Commandments—including the seventh-day Sabbath (Luke 4:16).
In these passages, Jesus was obviously talking about God's law—God's spiritual law—the Ten Commandments. For He clearly refers in this context to the command, "You shall not murder" (Luke 18:20). Similarly, He refers to God's command not to commit adultery, and then states, "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). So, Jesus not only ratified the Ten Commandments as the basis for Christian behavior, but showed that if a man even lusts for a woman, he is breaking the spirit of the law—and that, if he has hate in his heart, he is spiritually committing murder (Matthew 5:21–22).
At the very end of his life, in his final letter, the Apostle Peter specifically warned about how deceived men might pervert the teachings of the Apostle Paul into an excuse to do away with the law of God! Peter describes Paul's epistles as a part of Scripture—yet as a part that "ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men" (2 Peter 3:16–17, NIV).
It is vital for all of us to understand one basic concept: Protestantism went off on a wrong course because confused leaders were led by the invisible Satan the Devil to reject the law of God—the Ten Commandments—as the basis for all right Christian conduct! Rather, they have substituted the idea that "grace," as they understand it, is a vehicle to somehow "do away" with the need to literally obey the Ten Commandments—all ten of them. As indicated above, at the very end of his life Peter was inspired by God to powerfully warn all readers of the Bible that "lawless men" would turn people away from obedience to God.
Do you think for one minute that Peter was talking about traffic laws? Of course not! He was talking about the spiritual law of God—the Ten Commandments. God obviously knew, in advance, that false teachers would rise up—as Peter and Paul warned about over and over—and turn men away from the way of life patterned on the Ten Commandments, which God intended all true Christians to follow. Another entire article would be needed to clearly explain Paul's teachings. But Paul consistently obeyed God's laws—kept the weekly Sabbaths and the Holy Days—and never once said God's spiritual law was abrogated! Otherwise, he would have been contradicting himself when he wrote in God's inspired word, "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters" (1 Corinthians 7:19).
The original apostles of Christ and the Jerusalem Church of God set the inspired "pattern" or paradigm for true Christianity! Contrary to the heretical Protestant ideas that the Apostle Paul was used by God to "reinvent" Christianity, the real Apostle Paul of the Bible constantly showed deep respect for the original apostles and deferred to the leadership of Jerusalem in all major matters (Galatians 2:1–2).
As renowned historian Edward Gibbon wrote, "The first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised Jews; and the congregation over which they presided united the law of Moses with the doctrine of Christ. It was natural that the primitive tradition of a church which was founded only forty days after the death of Christ, and was governed almost as many years under the immediate inspection of his apostle, should be received as the standard of orthodoxy. The distant churches very frequently appealed to the authority of their venerable Parent" (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chap. 15, sec. 1, p. 389).
Frankly, the "little flock" (Luke 12:32)—the true Church of God—has always understood the need to pattern itself after the teachings and examples of Christ and the original apostles.
But very few have ever been willing to truly follow through on this basic concept of Christianity. As Professor Rufus M. Jones wrote—noting how Christ's true teachings were quickly detached from the religion bearing His name:
"If by any chance Christ Himself had been taken by His later followers as the model and pattern of the new way, and a serious attempt had been made to set up His life and teaching as the standard and norm for the Church, Christianity would have been something VASTLY DIFFERENT from what it became. Then "heresy" would have been as it is not now, deviation from His way, His teaching, His spirit, His kingdom.... What we may properly call "Galilean Christianity" had a short life, though there have been notable attempts to revive it and make it live again, and here and there spiritual prophets have insisted that anything else other than this simple Galilean religion is "heresy"; but the main line of historic development has taken a different course and has marked the emphasis very differently" (The Church's Debt to Heretics, Jones, 1924, pp. 15–16).
When any institution or any society rejects the spiritual law of the Creator and the inspired example of Jesus Christ as the absolute basis for all right conduct, it is doomed to failure! This is becoming more and more clear as our American and British societies begin to tumble down—and the rest of the world increasingly comes into a time of chaos, war and cosmocide unless God intervenes (Matthew 24:21–22).
Because of their spiritual blindness, and because so many of their leaders seem unwilling to really "stand for something," millions of Protestants are destined to return to the great "mother church!" Yet, as Luther and the early Protestant reformers clearly realized, the Roman church's foundations are also totally unbiblical. Although Luther, Calvin, Wesley and other great Protestant leaders understood this, they still had a certain sympathy for their former faith—and were unwilling to face the fact that Rome was, in fact, professing many doctrines totally contrary to the teachings of the Bible. So, Protestant leaders compromised—as they are doing today on so many other matters. Luther said, "No one can deny that we hold, believe, sing, and confess all things in correspondence with the old Church, that we make nothing new therein nor add anything thereto, and in this way we belong to the old Church and are one with it" (Lindsay, A History of the Reformation, Vol. I, p. 468).
By their own statements, then, it is proved that the Protestants regarded themselves simply as a continuation of the historic Roman Catholic Church, but under a different and supposedly "purified" form. Luther himself vehemently affirmed their essential oneness with the Roman Catholic Church! Similarly, regarding John Calvin, noted church historian George Park Fisher tells us: "He did not deny that the Christian societies acknowledging the Pope are 'churches of Christ'…. He indignantly denies that he has withdrawn from the Church" (History of Christian Doctrine, p. 304). Indeed, regarding the visible or historic Catholic Church, Calvin wrote: "As our present design is to treat of the visible Church, we may learn even from her the title of mother, how useful and even necessary it is for us to know her" (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII, p. 450).
Protestant leaders' insistence on their basic unity with the Catholic Church—and their identification of Rome as their "mother" church—is most significant!
In early editions of Martin Luther's translation of the New Testament, there are many illustrations that picture the "Babylon" of the book of Revelaton as the Roman Catholic Church. Describing this widely understood interpretation, historian Roland Bainton tells us: "Fallen Babylon is plainly Rome" (Here I Stand, p. 258).
Countless Protestant books, pamphlets, and tracts make that same identification today. They brand the Roman Catholic Church as the "great harlot" of Revelation 17. Yet most of the "mainline" Protestant denominational writers have stopped making this identification. Why? They came to the embarrassing realization that they were telling on themselves, as "daughters" of that "harlot"!
Will your church or your minister return to Rome? In many cases, this may occur much more quickly than you think! For massive forces are being marshaled to bring about a "return to Rome"! A rising "Beast" power in Europe is in its beginning stages and a constant drumbeat of the need for those nations to "return to their spiritual roots" is being sounded again and again.
Yet, somewhere on this earth, God does have true ministers who will teach what the Bible actually says. His true Church is called the "little flock" in Luke 12:32. It is the Church described in Revelation 12 as having to "flee" to safety during the Dark Ages. It is the Church that will be taken to a Place of Safety on this earth at the time of the end (Revelation 12:12–14). So be sure to genuinely study your Bible as never before! And, if you are interested in learning much more about what has happened to the Truth—and what the Truth of the Bible actually is, be sure to contact us at the Regional Office nearest you (listed on page 30 of this magazine), or go online to www.tomorrowsworld.org to request a free copy of our powerful booklet, Restoring Apostolic Christianity. This eye-opening booklet will help you fully understand this entire matter—probably more than anything you have ever read. While there is still time, may God help you to act on the Truth He is now revealing to you!