We have people today who title themselves Reformed. We should call them selectively reformed, because they didn't reform the root problem of Catholicism. They held on to gigantic chunks of allegorization of Scripture. Some Reformed today have partially corrected this error. They use a literal hermeneutic in more than their soteriology by also applying it to eschatology, so they are premillennialists. Still, however, they have not rectified the ecclesiology.
Reformed may say that they haven't changed in eschatology or ecclesiology because that wouldn't be historical. Historic Christianity, according to them, believes in justification by faith in contradiction to Roman Catholicism. And yet, how historical is a view of salvation that travels only as far back as 1500 years after Christianity began? Justification by faith isn't historic if it is only 500 years old, and Catholics would have a good argument for their authority, if that were true. And yet, you will hear the Reformed regularly call their doctrine of salvation, the Reformed doctrine of justification, as if it originated 500 years ago.
To be fair, the Reformed say that their belief in justification comes from the Bible, which is the source of all doctrine. And yet, in a sense, they are also then saying that there was some type of total apostasy of the doctrine of salvation, and they, the Reformed, brought everybody back to the true doctrine of justification by faith. If not, justification by faith couldn't be a Reformed doctrine. It was still always around somewhere. If so, where was it around? Were there always believers of justification by faith since the time of the completion of the New Testament?
Some type of total apostasy does not match up with a biblical doctrine of apostasy, but does fit with a common presentation for most cults. Most cults contend for a total apostasy of true doctrine until the cult came along to make the necessary alteration back to the original true doctrine that was lost all those years. Mormons (Latter Day Saints) say that. Jehovah's Witnesses make that point. The Church of Christ also pushes this point of view.
Catholics will argue that they are the original church, that the Reformed don't have any authority. Some evangelicals have recently bought into that position. Probably many have that I haven't heard about, but a well-known "return" to Catholicism from evangelicalism was the head of the Evangelical Theological Society himself, Francis Beckwith. His bio reads:
The 57th President of the Evangelical Theological Society (November 2006-May 2007) , Professor Beckwith served from 2005 through 2008 as a member of the American Philosophical Association's Committee on Philosophy and Law. In January 2008 he was selected as the 2007 Person of the Year by Inside the Vatican Magazine.
The Vatican made him Person of the Year because he left evangelicalism. When you read Beckwith's testimony, the historical aspect was foundational and vitally important to his decision. Would the gates of hell prevail against the true church? They couldn't, so in Beckwith's surmisal, the true church must be Roman Catholicism, as flawed as it might be. Reformed ecclesiology was not enough to keep Beckwith Protestant. I think he really was just trying to be consistent.
Was ecclesiology and eschatology affected by Roman Catholicism? A John MacArthur would say that definitely eschatology was influenced by Roman Catholicism. He among others, who are both Reformed and premillennial in their eschatology, would say that an allegorical hermeneutic of Origen and then later Augustine twisted a literal, biblical eschatology. He and they would say that this is where amillennialism came from, from the Roman Catholic spiritualizing of the eschatological passages. In that sense, are MacArthur and others saying that there was a total apostasy of eschatological truth until after the Reformation? Perhaps. This is one of the major attacks of covenant or Reformed theologians on dispensationalism and premillennialism, that is, that it has no history behind it.
I want to draw attention to ecclesiology. The Reformation selectively reformed soteriology. Later dispensationalists selectively reformed eschatology. I'm saying, come on everybody, let's at least keep it going. Let's reform our ecclesiology too. Let's not take a reformed soteriology (I mean justification by faith), a reformed eschatology (I mean premillennialism), and then take a Roman Catholic ecclesiology (I mean universal church). And if reforming isn't your cup of tea, just go with what the Bible teaches.
Even better would be to reject a Roman Catholic view of history, which says that there was in a sense a total apostasy and the Reformation brought Christianity back to sole Scriptura. I say, Wrong! Scripture teaches no total apostasy. Taking a presuppositional approach, we start with evidence, the Bible, and then we view history based upon the truth. Were there always believers with a non-allegorical, non-spiritualized soteriology, eschatology, and ecclesiology? Yes. We presuppose that based upon Scripture, and then we look to history. We're not promised that everything in history will be preserved, but we can see that there were always assemblies separate from Roman Catholicism. Today they're called Baptists.
So justification by faith is not Reformed historically. Premillennialism is not Dispensational historically. Both continued after the completion of the New Testament even up to the Reformation. And then we come to ecclesiology. We have always had New Testament Christians with a literal, a grammatical-historical soteriology, eschatology, and ecclesiology. I believe we should presuppose that based upon the biblical teaching of no-total-apostasy (Mt 16:18; 1 Tim 4:1).
We can see what an allegorical interpretation has done to the doctrine of salvation. We can see what an allegorical interpretation has done to the doctrine of last things. Are we willing to be consistent here, and see what an allegorical interpretation has done to the doctrine of the church? Let's not be selectively reformed. Let's go all the way. Let's not be biblical in our soteriology, biblical in our eschatology, and then Roman Catholic in our ecclesiology. Let's not. "Let us go on to perfection" in our doctrine, finishing it off with a scriptural ecclesiology.
We really are just casting a blind eye if we are not willing to reexamine our ecclesiology, to see how that Catholicism may have affected it. I believe Catholicism has affected it, but I'm saying "may have" for your sake. You may think that you are keeping your universal church ecclesiology in part because it is historical. But, my friend, isn't Roman Catholic soteriology and eschatology also historical? Isn't that why Francis Beckwith "returned" to Catholicism, back to the mother church? He had his historical reasons. So if you can agree that Catholic soteriology and eschatology are actually not historical---they are not---could you not go one step further and consider whether you are still believing Catholic ecclesiology that the Reformers did not reform? Is it possible that your sole Scriptura hasn't touched your ecclesiology?
To abandon Catholic ecclesiology, we've got to look at the origination of an invisible church. What is an ecclesiology that depends solely on the Bible? What is an understanding of the church that comes from studying its 118 separate usages in the New Testament? How would the people have understood ekklesia who were hearing it in that day? Do we really pull this concept of a universal, invisible church from the text? Does the meaning of the word ekklesia not clash with the ideas of universal and invisible? Isn't the whole point of an ekklesia both in its original usage in secular literature and then in the Bible, local and visible, an absolute contradiction to the universal, invisible church idea?
Catholicism made a wreck of soteriology and eschatology. Can't we take a moment to consider what it did to ecclesiology? Is it possible that the state church philosophies of Calvin and Luther, taken from Catholicism, guided their own ecclesiology and then continue to influence ecclesiology today? State church was what Calvin and Luther knew. It also worked well in their minds to combat Catholicism.
If we are going to reject the state church idea, shouldn't we consider going all the way and rejecting the universal church concept as well? No verse in the Bible teaches infant sprinkling. No verse in the Bible teaches a universal church. There is no universal, invisible Platonic usage of the singular noun in any language, including koine Greek. Is it possible we have been reading that into Scripture? Is it possible that we have been affected in our ecclesiology by selective Reformation, just like men were long affected in their eschatology? Please consider it. Think about it. I'd love to talk to you about it.