Getting out of the church” has been a cheap remedy for frustrated tempers throughout many periods of history. Apparently the habit began in the first century. But the Middle Ages witnessed something of much greater moment than this. The Christian Church split into the Eastern and Western churches, neither having any regular communion with one another. When, the Pope of Rome, therefore, later excommunicated from the Western church that “drunken German monk,” Martin Luther, why did not Luther simply give his allegiance to the Eastern Orthodox Church? Would that not have been the simplest and most Christian action?

The answer to that question should be stated with some care. Luther was forced out of the Roman church because he refused to stop publicizing convictions at which he had arrived after much agony of mind and heart. They were convictions that concerned the very core of the Gospel. He had found no peace in the official doctrine of the Roman church. After his “tower experience” he had arrived at joyful peace. But that had been preceded by years of study and struggle. The conclusions that he had reached were centered upon two basic convictions. The first was that the final standard of authority was not the Pope or the Church in General Council but only the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. The second conviction was that man, according to the Scriptures, could never stand at peace before a holy God by virtue of his own efforts, but only through the pardon which God freely grants to him who trusts in the work which Christ accomplished on the cross.

These were convictions that no church organization had set forth for centuries. Individuals for some time had been discovering them for themselves or for their own small circles, ...

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