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Thralldom in the Modern Church

Posted on Nov. 20, 2013

Thralldom is a disposition of servitude, submission, or a state of complete absorption in things unbiblical. During the protestant reformation, the Roman Church had become “Thralldom Central,” with the popes adding one thing after another to keep the people and the money coming. Calvin attacked these thralldoms of the Roman church and appealed for a return to Scripture. John Knox also assailed them saying, “All worshipping, honouring, or service invented by the brain of man in the religion of God, without his own express commandment, is idolatry. The Mass is invented by the brain of man, without any commandment of God; therefore it is idolatry.”1

The leaders of the Catholic Church knew what modern mega-churches understand: if you can enrapture and thrill the people, they will become addicted to your inventions and keep coming back. Like modern evangelicalism, the Roman Church created itself as it went along and whatever worked was practiced, whether it was candles for worship, infant exorcisms at baptism, or complex and costly “programs” (such as pilgrimages).

The Reformers would have nothing of this, so out went the litany (prayers to the saints), pilgrimages, benefices, indulgences, sacerdotalism, altars, kneeling at communion, auricular confession, the cult of Mary and the saints, the celebration of holy days and feast days, prayers for the dead, pictures of Christ, icons, and crosses. Out went the belief in purgatory, the sign of the cross, crucifixes, images and elaborate rituals, surplices (or choir dress), and Eucharistic vestments. Out went popes, bishops, archbishops, monks, friars, canons regular, cathedral dignitaries, archdeacons, rural deans, canon lawyers, prebendaries, and chaplains. Out went hierarchical titles from archbishop to acolyte of the archbishop, the “tonsure” (the monk’s haircut), the obligation of clerical celibacy, clerical dress, clerical estate, clerical lifestyles, and clerical privilege (including immunity from the secular courts).

The Reformation came a simple service based on preaching and Bible study. Prayers were offered and the Psalms were sung to popular tunes. The people, formerly passive spectators, became active participants. They were encouraged to sing God’s praise with all their hearts. They were seated corporately at the communion table, to receive both wine and bread.

In came biblical church government. Elders and deacons were appointed to handle church affairs. Congregations gave consent for hiring and firing of ministers. There was softening of the clergy and laity distinction. There were ministers rather than priests. With one stroke they challenged the whole system.

Consider the need for reformation in our time and the addictive thralldoms we have created in order to thrill the people in the meetings of the church with practices that have no command, principle, or pattern in Scripture. I recently published a book on the subject titled Counterfeit Worship which contains writings from myself along with Kevin Reed and John Knox. Click here for more details.

1. [Knox, John, The Works of John Knox, Vol. 3, “A Vindication of the Doctrine that the Sacrifice of the Mass is Idolatry,” collected and edited by David Laing (Edinburgh, Scotland: 1854), 29-70.]