Monday, October 8, 2007

The Protestant Reformation

October 31 is the most significant date in modern Western history. No, it is not because of Halloween, although it is tragic that more people associate this date with Halloween than with a more important event.

490 years ago, on October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk wanted a public debate concerning 95 theses he presented to the scholarly community. His motive: “Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light . . . “ Unexpectedly, his concerns resonated with large numbers of people eventually producing what we call the Protestant Reformation. Not only impacting religious history, Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation are responsible for many of the political, economic, and personal freedoms we have today.

Now, almost 500 years after this famous event, many evangelical Christian scholars believe the time has come to reunite with the Roman Catholic Church. These scholars believe that the old issues, which have separated Catholicism and Protestants, are no longer relevant.

Yet, have these “old issues” gone away? The recent statement by Pope Benedict on the exclusiveness of the Catholic Church reveals that the issues are still with us.

Although I appreciate the correct theology of Catholicism concerning doctrines such as the Trinity and the Deity of Christ, it is in the area of salvation theology where Catholicism is seriously erroneous. Catholic theology is a theology of addition, adding to what the Bible says, whereas liberal Protestant theology is a theology of subtraction, taking away from what the Bible says.

The sacraments of the Catholic Church are a logical system of obtaining forgiveness. Each sacrament adding one more element to eventual forgiveness. Interestingly, many Catholics I talk to do not believe in Purgatory, yet Purgatory is essential for complete “purging” of all remaining sin.

The crux of the Protestant Reformation and Bible-believing Christianity depends on the word “alone”. Forgiveness of sin against a holy God does not depend on any sacrament or work, but only on the finished work of Christ on the cross. Forgiveness is based on Christ alone, faith alone, grace alone, and the Bible alone. As far as I know, the Catholic Church has not changed its theology on this central issue nor has it changed its condemnation of those who follow the “solas” of the Protestant Reformation.

In the New Testament book of Galatians, Paul teaches that there is only one gospel, not two or three. He gives a double condemnation to anyone who teaches a different gospel. His theme in Galatians is that nothing can be added to the gospel. Adding to the gospel creates a type of legalism which produces slavery to a religious system. In the 1st century, the issue was circumcision and keeping the Old Testament law. In the 21st century, the issue is baptism, confirmation, or sacraments, take your pick.

Some object to the word “alone” by saying that the word is not found in the Biblical salvation texts and therefore is a creation of divisive Protestants. Although the word “alone” is not found in this way, the concept is taught in Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. In the same way, the word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible, yet the conceptual truth of the Trinity is taught throughout the Bible, a truth that Catholics affirm even though the word is not used.

The Protestant Reformation is more than a curious event which occurred almost 500 years ago. The principles of the Reformation are essential for our free society, and, more importantly, essential for the peace and forgiveness which Christ obtained on the cross.

If there is only one gospel, then any addition to or subtraction from that gospel is another version of the gospel and logically cannot be the same. Sincerity is not the issue nor is the personality and character of various people the issue. The issue is very simple: Which view is correct?

The Protestant Reformation maintains that the Catholic view of salvation is incorrect and therefore leading sincere people into an error which has far more serious consequences than just a disagreement in theology or belief. I wonder if today's evangelicals know that.