Why The Reformation Still Matters in Big Eva
I keep hearing of Churches that are confusing their members about the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and Evangelical Christians (Big Eva). Even Billy Graham made mistakes by building bridges with priests. And in recent years, efforts like Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) and The Manhattan Declaration (drafted by Church Colson, Timothy George, and Robert George) have made Big Eva question the differences in our doctrine and seek ecumenicalism (i.e. ‘common ground’ between different religious groups). Ecumenicalism has caused so many Christians to suffer theological delusion because of the supposed ‘common ground’ we have in our faiths. Ecumenicalism has caused an eruption within Big Eva where we see un-equally yoked marriages and compromised doctrinal positions for sake of un-biblical unity.
R.C. Sproul explains the matter further, ‘In 2009, a new document was released, The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience. It was another effort to find common cause on such issues…The signers included evangelicals, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox adherents…it calls Christians to unite in ‘the Gospel of costly grace and the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…I do not believe that Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are preaching the same gospel that evangelicals preach.”
Why The Reformation Still Matters Personally
In fact, from personal experience I have been hearing Christians say things like, ‘if it started with Billy Graham and Chuck Colson, it must be with good intention’ and ‘my son married a Catholic and she is a believer, but she will only attend the Catholic Church’ and ‘don’t mention Catholics from the pulpit.’ One reason I think this was happening is because of the support from mega-Churches to endorse ecumenical behavior. Many think if a mega-church does something, then it must be right because the Church is growing, but this is not always a correlation (please read my blog about why I left the mega-Church). I personally interacted with and know of a Church (Kensington Church) where the elders were having a priest from the RCC preach at their services. They also put out a documentary on Amazon Prime for free called ‘Common Ground: What Protestants and Catholics Can Learn from Each Other.’ In this documentary you see the dismissal of God’s Word by a well-known pastor in order to follow the trend of Big Eva in doctrinal compromise (faith and justification) to befriend the RCC. I sat and watched this documentary with my senior pastor and felt ill. It just so happened that we needed to call the Church on an un-related matter, but breached the subject with one of their elders. We attempted to discuss this error, since it was confusing our own members who knew people that attended their Church. However, the elder disregarded our comments and told us that hermeneutics is debatable and we were being judgmental. We offered to speak to the chairman of their elder board and gave our information so we could wait for their response. We were told that we would be contacted within the month. However, we were never called.
I usually don’t name names; but such a public display of wrong teaching is deserving of publicity and I did attempt to reach out to them privately first. My senior pastor and I were saddened by the lack of theological accuracy and awareness in regards to the rich history of councils, confessions, and blood shed by former reformers. We realized that Christians needed to be educated more about the reformation and why it still matters so much. It is time we remind ourselves of the beautiful doctrines that came out of the reformation: the doctrines of grace. Charles Hodge said, “The doctrines of grace humbles man without degrading him; exalts man without inflating him.” Below is an assessment under the authority of Scripture, not man or Big Eva, to explain why the reformation still matters.
Why the Reformation Still Matters Biblically: SOLAS
The Reformation still matters because we caused a necessary division because of Biblical doctrinal clarity. We can’t attempt to reverse biblical division for an unbiblical fear of man or unbiblical doctrine. We can clarify these doctrinal divisions by using the doctrines of grace acronym, that can partly be understood in the solas (I have another article where I deal with the other part – T.U.L.I.P). By assessing these doctrines of grace, we will clarify why we have no ‘common ground’ with the RCC.
- Sola Gratia (Saved by grace alone) – The Bible states that we are saved by the grace of God alone as an unmerited gift apart from any works of our own (Rom. 3:28; 5:1; Eph. 2:8-9). The Bible states that sin pollutes mankind’s being totally (reason, volition, and affection) (Rom 3:9-18) in a way that we are totally depraved; this allows us to see our need for the grace of Christ through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9) according to the will of God alone (John 1:13; Eph. 1:3-11). As the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “Man cannot save himself nor contribute in any way to his salvation.” However, the RCC rejects this view and states in the Catholic Counsel of Trent (1547) “that in the form of baptism, for the remission of sins, is understood to be not true, but false, –let him be anathema.” Therefore, if you agree with unmerited grace to pay for your sin, apart from baptism, the RCC considers you accursed. James Montgomery Boice said that “The doctrines of grace stand or fall together, and together they point to one central truth: salvation is all of grace because it is all of God; because it is all of God, it is all for his glory.” Conclusion – No ‘common ground’ here.
- Sola Fide (through faith alone) – The Bible states that we are justified by faith alone (Rom. 3:28; Eph. 2:8) and that God became the penalty for sin (penal substitution) so that we didn’t have to and then imputed to us righteousness so that we could be forensically declared righteous before God (2 Cor. 5:20-21). The RCC teaches that we are justified by faith, but not by faith alone. The RCC states in the Council of Trent (1547), that “if any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified…that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification…let him be anathema.” Therefore, the RCC states that if you believe that you are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone who justifies you before God, you are accursed (33 times to be exact). Furthermore, the RCC uses the language of the ‘efficacy of baptism to bring a person into a state of grace… [where grace is] infused or poured into the soul.’ The RCC also differs between their view of venial and mortal sins, where baptism covers venial sins, mortal sins can only be covered via sacraments and penance and then be absolved by the priests (a wrong interpretation of James 5:16). Only Christ has the authority to forgive sins (John 3:30), not a pastor or priest. Conclusion – No ‘common ground’ here.
- Solus Christus (in Christ alone) – The work of Christ on the cross, according to Scripture, is ‘Finished’ (John 19:30). Therefore, we are ‘determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2). We preach a message of salvation in Christ alone because he is ‘the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me’ and ‘there is salvation in no one else’ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Christians claim that the work on the Cross is finished because only God’s eternal righteousness in Christ could pay an eternity of sin on the Cross. Christians believe that Christ alone paid the penalty for sin and satisfied God’s wrath. We can do nothing to pay for our sinful state, instead it is finished in Christ alone. The ECT made an affirmation saying ‘we are justified…because of Christ’, but in an attempt to join Big Eva with the RCC they failed to realize that Luther protested the RCC in that ‘justification by faith alone means that justification is by the righteousness of Christ alone, and his righteousness is appropriated by faith alone.’ It has been said that the reformation was ‘simply a struggle for the right interpretation of the Cross. He who understands the Cross right…understands Jesus Christ…He bore our sins.’ Massimo Mollica writes ‘When a Protestant affirms solus Christus, the doctrine that is being affirmed is that salvation is found in Christ alone…the RCC, however, understands this much differently than a Protestant…as [needing] multiple mediators…sub-mediators, like Mary and the Church.’ The RCC explicitly states that Mary is a subordinate redeemer or co-redemptrix (in Vatican II). Conclusion – No ‘common ground’ here.
- Sola Scriptura (according to Scripture alone) – Christians believe that our faith is according to what we know in Scripture alone. We believe that Scripture attests to Christ’s work on the cross and our salvation (Acts 17:2; Romans 16:26; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Christians believe Scripture alone is ‘inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness’ (2 Tim. 3:16). Christians believe in the inerrancy, infallibility, and sufficiency of Scripture alone. During the reformation, Martin Luther was forced to stand in protest to the RCC at the Diet of Worms in 1521 and said “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason- I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other-my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” The RCC has added to the list of authoritative teachings, called the ‘apocrypha’. The apocrypha includes 1 & 2 Esdras, Tobias, Judith, Ecclesiasticus (not Ecclesiastes), Baruch, and 1 & 2 Maccabees. The Council of Trent recognized Scripture as well as tradition as authoritative and stated that if the Pope or the RCC differs in interpretation from the protestants, the protestants are wrong. Conclusion – It doesn’t take long to realize that there is no ‘common ground’ here.
- Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone) – James M. Boice says that ‘The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.’ What does the Bible say about God’s glory? Romans 9:23 states that, in regards to saving His elect, God did this ‘to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory.’ Romans continues to say that ‘For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen’ (Rom. 11:36). Ephesians 1 says that all God’s election is done ‘in Him before the foundation of the world…according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace’ and repeats the theme of glory 5 times through Ephesians 1:6-18. God is the God of glory (Acts 7:2). It is clear that God’s glory is revealed in His plan for salvation. We fail to give God his glory when we give it to the Church or any other figure (pastor, pope, or Mary) who has no role to play in the plan of salvation. The RCC robs God of his glory by over-emphasizing man’s role (priests, Church, Mary) in the plan for salvation. Conclusion – No ‘common ground’ in bringing glory to God.
So Why Are Pastors Trying to Dilute the Reformation?
Many of the Pastor’s that fill the pulpits of evangelical Churches are ill-informed, un-trained, and willing to compromise doctrine for the sake of friendship with non-believers. Protestants of the reformation differ at the core from the RCC. Christians can’t hold beliefs in common with non-believers. Preachers that compromise on the doctrines of grace, will have churches with broad-gate congregations that enter into Church because God will accept their view of Scripture, but never submitting to God’s view according to Scripture (Mt. 7:13-14). In fact, these preachers and teachers who try to create a ‘common ground’ do so without the approval of God and will be judged twice as harsh for their teaching (James 3:1-12; 2 Tim. 2:2).
“3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” - 2 Tim. 4:3-5
How Do We Handle This Emotionally?
I know this may be emotionally difficult to deal with; after all, many of us came out of the RCC and still know loved ones who attend. However, may we learn our lesson and never sacrifice doctrine for the sake of ‘common ground’ with friends or family (Mt. 19:29). Our relational or societal presuppositions should never usurp the clear doctrines revealed in Scripture. Instead, we ought to practice our Church fellowship based on the teachings of Scripture (Acts 2:37-47). I pray that we continue witnessing to these loved ones and teach the doctrines of grace, praying that God effectually calls his elect to himself. Let’s join together in prayer for the RCC, love the RCC, teach the RCC true doctrine, but we shall never surrender to the RCC. Amen!
References:  R. C. Sproul, Are We Together?: A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012), 36.  R. C. Sproul and Michael Horton, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification, Repackaged edition. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2017), 44–45.  Tatlock, Mark, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of the Gospel and Its Impact on the World (The Master’s Academy International, 2017), 49–50.  Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton (Abingdon Press, 1787), 144.  Sproul, Are We Together?, 28.  James Montgomery Boice, Lane T. Dennis, and Eric J. Alexander, Whatever Happened to The Gospel of Grace?: Rediscovering the Doctrines That Shook the World, Reprint edition. (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2009), 151.  Sproul, Are We Together?, 3–4.
David J. Lupinetti is the Associate Pastor at San Tan Bible Church in Arizona. He has a passion for Expository Preaching, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, and Evangelism.