As we draw closer to October 31st 2017, the 500 year anniversary of the protestant reformation, an ominous sense urgency is present in the midst of national moral decline, a cultural willingness to celebrate evil, and the echoes of battles long ago fought by men bound by their commitment to Christ and Scripture, seemingly forgotten by this generation. The loyalty to an exclusive Christ by men of old, has largely been trampled over in the pursuit of power, wealth, cultural relevance, and the desire of the Church to be inclusive of those who do not hold to Scripture as their sole authority.
The Christian conscience has been deadened, worn down by the relentless attacks of our culture, and we now hear calls for unity and peace from those within the Church to accept those who reject Christ. Terms of peace have been offered, but they are not ours. These terms are not Christ’s terms, they are not the terms of peace we find in Scripture, but rather, they are terms which demand a rejection of both. There are some who are willing to stand with Christ on the sure foundation of Scripture, no matter the cost. There are still others who cower in the face of ridicule, bending their knee to the conditions of surrender given by our culture, in an attempt to embrace the Church and the culture simultaneously.
Christians preach an exclusive Christ in an inclusive age. Because of that, we are often accused of being narrow-minded, even intolerant. Many paths, it is said, lead to the top of the mountain of religious enlightenment. How dare we insist that ours is the only one? In reality, however, there are only two religious paths: the broad way of works salvation leading to destruction, and the narrow way of faith in the only Savior leading to eternal life (Matthew 7:13-14). Religious people are on either one or the other.¹
The widespread theological revolt which took place in Europe during the sixteenth century was, at its core, an attempt to bring the focus of the Church back to sound biblical doctrine. Reformers such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin railed against the un-biblical practices and heretical teachings promoted by the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther, historically, is given credit for the precipitating event sparking what we now know as the Protestant Reformation.
October 31, 1517 is a date that has been etched across the pages of books for centuries and will continued to be remembered as an event that turned the tide in the battle for Biblical sufficiency. To ensure the preservation of this historic event we need to be diligent in the study of church history and faithful in the proclamation of the whole and unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ. On that day 500 years ago Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany to confront the theological errors of the Roman Catholic Church. What resulted from this theological dialogue has become known as the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was born out of the unwillingness to accept false teachings put forth by powerful and influential “religious leaders” of that time as well as an unwavering defense for the clarity and authority of the true gospel set forth in the divinely inspired pages of scripture. At the very heart of the Reformation were the Five Solas, which were designed to shed light upon the reality that the only reliable doctrines are those which have their origins firmly grounded in the truths of scripture.
Fast forward 500 years and there have been several modern attempts made by evangelicals to cast aside the work of the reformers and embrace the Roman Catholic Church as a legitimate herald of the gospel of Christ. One such event was a document signed in May of 1994 by several prominent religious leaders of Catholicism and Conservative Christianity. The document, Evangelicals and Catholics together, was an attempt to overlook theological inconsistencies between the two groups for the spread of the gospel. However one of the issues that arises out of such an agreement is the fact that the Roman Catholic Church does not present a biblical gospel. They do not preach a gospel that saves.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. -Galatians 1:6-9
Dr. R.C. Sproul gave a helpful examination and explanation of the document Evangelicals and Catholics Together and its resulting implications during a conference shortly after it was made public.
The Roman Catholic Church has long held to a false doctrine of soteriology, solidifying it and declaring damnation on those who disagreed during the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent was an ecumenical council, held between 1545 and 1563, in response to the protestant reformation. The council held in three parts, met twenty-five times, in Trento and Bologna, Northern Italy. During that eighteen year period issues such as the sacraments, veneration of the saints, sacred tradition, original sin, justification, and salvation were addressed. Its main purpose was to condemn and refute the beliefs of the protestants of that time, as well as to clarify what the Catholic Church believed. Of the broad range of topics discussed and decided upon, the most concerning was the affirmations made regarding the doctrine of Justification. The council ruled against Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone, and in doing so rejected the biblical means for salvation.
If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema. (Canon IX).
If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema. (Canon XXIV).²
This decree not only rejects the way of salvation given to us in Scripture, but declares it as heresy and pronounces damnation on anyone who holds to a belief in justification by faith alone in Christ alone.
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. -Romans 3:28
Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. -Galatians 2:16
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9
The Council of Trent also made a decree accepting the addition of the Apocrypha to the Bible and condemning those who do not view these added books as sacred and canonical as heretics and damned.
…If any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.³
Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar. -Proverbs 30:5-6
You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you. -Deuteronomy 4:2
The Catholic Church has never recanted these errant views, but rather, they have re-affirmed the creeds throughout the centuries. At the Second Vatican Council, held between 1962 and 1965, Pope John XXIII clarified that the Catholic Church still held to the doctrines formed at the Council of Trent by saying “What was, still is.”
As the sound of battles formerly fought by those bound by their allegiance to Christ seem to be silenced by the current cultural ideology of tolerance, so also it appears that the desire of many in the Church to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints has also been subdued. Ecumenism is not true unity. Those who reject a biblical soteriology are not co-laborers within Christianity. We preach an exclusive Christ, we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness to the Gentile. We must be valiant in our loyalty to Scripture and bold in our proclamation of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. As slaves of Christ we cannot stand by in silent acceptance of religions that promise people heaven, but damn their souls to hell.
1.John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Acts 1-12 (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1994), 135-136.