This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It’s a landmark worth remembering.
Although we often go back to Martin Luther nailing his protest to the church door at Wittenburg as the start of the Reformation, the movement itself is much larger than one man — and its beginning is much bigger than a single action.
The Real Story
The real story of the Reformation played out in various ways, through different men across the centuries. Each man played a role.
Some were less-known, but every actor was used by God to advance the recovery of biblical justification as revealed in Scripture alone.
What happened 500 years ago changed history forever. It has shaped Western civilization more than any other single movement.
In light of the Reformation, our call as Christians is clear: as ambassadors of Christ, we present the good news about Jesus Christ and we tear down false ideas that stand between the saving message and an individual’s faith in Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
The world hates our message, but we must not flinch or back down. Luther said,
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
Why Reform was Needed
Before the time of Luther’s reforms, the Roman Catholic religion kept its members in deep spiritual darkness. They prayed to relics and hoped in superstitions.
During those spiritually dark ages before 1517, the Bible was closed to the population. The Catholic Church wouldn’t allow the people to read the Bible. It was a closed book in the Latin tongue of the clergy.
Yet even most of the priests had no knowledge of Scripture or the meaning of its doctrines. For this reason, spiritual darkness dominated the hearts and minds of the Roman Church and the population under its dominion.
A Religion Without Salvation
In the Roman Catholic religion, salvation as taught in the Bible – through faith in Christ alone apart from any works of ours – had long since been abandoned.
Instead, within the Catholic religion, the way of salvation through faith in Christ has been — and remains — diverted to faith in their seven sacraments with prayers to the Virgin Mary and prayers to the saints of ages past rather than prayers exclusively to God as revealed in Scripture.
Works Without Faith
In a 1981 book that was officially approved and authorized by the Vatican called “The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism,” question 462 asks…
How does the Church communicate the merits of Christ’s mercy to sinners?
Answer: “The Church communicates the merits of Christ’s mercy to sinners through the Mass and the sacraments and all the prayers and good works of the faithful.”
Are the sacraments necessary for salvation?
Answer: “According to the way God has willed that we be saved the sacraments are necessary for salvation.”
This is sacramentalism.
Sacramentalism is the position that one can and must be progressively justified by partaking of the sacraments. This is another gospel entirely.
A Religion that Curses the Gospel
Not only does Roman Catholicism continue to have no gospel and no way of salvation within its system, it also condemns the biblical gospel in the Council of Trent, which is the formal response of the Vatican to the Reformers.
Look at this official Catholic dogma. Council of Trent Session 6, chapter 16; canon 9–
“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.”
That completely contradicts Ephesians 2:8-9. Here’s another one:
“If anyone says that the righteousness received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained and not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema.”
Over and over again, the Catholic Church is pronouncing a damnation on the gospel of Jesus Christ. To believe Catholic doctrine is to deny and reject the gospel of Christ. Our Catholic friends and family members need to be warned of this.
Trent remains the official position of the Roman Catholic Church against the doctrine of the justification of sinners through faith alone apart from works.
Why Reform is Still Needed
Today, we still need faithful men and women who will fearlessly and lovingly inform the church as to why the Reformation was needed in the first place.
Most Christians don’t understand that the Roman Catholic Church hasn’t rejected any of its former views as published in the Council of Trent.
That key document condemns anyone who believes in justification through faith in Christ alone, as noted above. In other words, Roman Catholicism still condemns anyone who believes the gospel as revealed in Holy Scripture.
This remains true to the present hour… and Catholics need the gospel!
Inasmuch as Roman Catholicism rejects the only way of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone apart from any works, they remain under the strongest condemnation from God Himself.
Remember, all Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16).
What Jesus Said
Those who were moved by the Holy Spirit to write down God’s Word have given to us the mind of God in written form. Christ was speaking to the church through the Apostle Paul in Galatians 1:8-9 when He said,
8 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.
9 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.”
This is Christ’s double-curse upon all false gospels.
Two Things to Know
For this reason, reformation in the church of today remains the duty of every faithful believer who understands these two things: (1) the true gospel… and (2) anything about the most prominent counterfeit of that gospel as currently believed by 1.2 billion souls today.
Please pray for their salvation and take every opportunity to speak the truth to those who remain in this (or any) religion of works and rituals without the gospel.
Soli Deo Gloria,