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Some Thoughts on the Reformation

One of the phrases we often hear each election season is the phrase “The most dangerous type of voter is an uninformed one.” This phrase is used in reference to those individuals who will go to the polls and cast their votes without first doing their homework. I believe that there are two key reasons why an “uninformed voter” is dangerous. For starters, because they have not taken the time to do their homework, they really do not have an understanding of what the issues are. And secondly, because they really do not understand what the issues are, they end up supporting something or someone that, had they known better, they would have never supported. In a similar vein, I believe that, when it comes to the church, the most dangerous type of Christian is an uniformed one. But why do I say that? For the same two reason s that I say an uninformed voter is dangerous: They don’t understand the issues and therefore they end up supporting someone or something that, had they done their homework, they never would have supported.

Some 500 years ago, there lived a Catholic monk by the name of Martin Luther. He was a devout student of the Bible who spent many years reading, meditating, and studying the Scriptures. Yet, he never truly had peace with God. For many years he searched the Scriptures, trying to find relief from the uncertainty that gripped his soul, yet he couldn’t find it. Despite his diligent study, he still felt that God was angry with him and that the Lord was far away. He did anything he could to be pious. He journeyed to Rome where he joined himself to the Roman church only to later become disillusioned by the kind of mechanical faith that he found there. He even climbed Pilate’s stairs, where Christ supposedly walked, kneeling in prayer and kissing each one as he climbed. But even then, the uncertainty kept building.

Then, one day as he was studying through the book of Romans in preparation for a series of lectures on the epistle, Paul’s words in Romans 1:17 pierced his heart: “the just shall live by faith.” In that glorious moment Luther realized that it was not by religious works…it was not through kneeling, praying, kissing stairs, going to church, or any other human effort that a man was made right with God. Rather it was by faith alone in Christ alone. However, something else happened at that moment. As Luther pondered the glory of God’s grace in salvation, he also came to realize that there were many teaching and practices within the Roman church that were a clear violation of biblical doctrine. Wishing to start a conversation to discuss these issues, Luther nailed his “95 theses” to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany in which he outlined the teachings and practices of the Roman church that were in direct violation of the Scriptures. Little did he know that his desire for discussion would spark a movement that would drastically shape the face of the church for the next 500+ years. This movement, which later became known as the “Protestant Reformation,” was founded upon five key pillars:

Sola Scriptura: This highlights the sufficiency of Scripture. The Westminster Confession of faith puts it like this: “The whole council of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, men’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence, may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time should be added, whether by revelation of the Spirit, or tradition of men.”

Sola Gratia: This reminds us that we are saved by grace alone because in our totally depraved and sinful state, there is no other way. It is God’s grace that reveals our sin, God’s grace that draws us to Christ for salvation, and God’s grace that gives us the faith to believe in Jesus.

Sola Fide: This is the vehicle through which grace is applied. It is through faith alone that God’s grace is applied to the heart and the life of the repentant sinner, imputing Christ’s perfect righteousness to their account and justifying them before a holy and just God. (Rom. 3:21-26)

Solus Christus: In Himself, Jesus Christ completely fulfilled all the righteous requirements of God’s Law. He alone lived a perfectly sinless life. He alone was able to appease God’s wrath towards sin through His perfect obedience. Therefore, He alone is the only way of Salvation (John 14:6)

Soli De Gloria: This reminds us that everything we have, everything we will be, and everything that happens comes from the sovereign hand of God. Everything from life, to the sending of His Son, to Salvation, to His Word itself…everything is a gift of His grace given to us. Therefore, He alone is the only One worthy of our praise and adoration and He alone is the only object to which our worship is to be directed.

The reason I share this with you is because there is a growing ecumenical movement that is sweeping across our nation which proposes that all who call themselves Christians, regardless of their beliefs or practices, lay their history and their doctrinal differences aside, and just come together as one big community of faith. Catholic, Protestant, it doesn’t matter. All we want to do is unite ourselves into one big unified body of believers. But is it really that simple? Can a true believer just simply “lay aside their differences” and join hands with others who call themselves Christian, despite what they may believe or practice? If we have learned anything from the Protestant Reformation, then the answer must be no. The true church has always held to a certain body of beliefs, or doctrines, which serve to distinguish it from all other so-called faith communities. Among these doctrines are the clear biblical teachings such as the triune nature of God (Father, Son, and Spirit: Deut. 6:4; Matt. 28:19), the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17), the divinity of Jesus Christ ( John 1:1, 14 ), the inherent sinfulness of man (Rom. 3:10, 23), the necessity of Salvation (John 3:3), the reality of heaven and hell (Luke 16; Phil. 3:20-21; Rev. 20:11-15 ), the substitutionary death of Christ (Heb. 9:12-14 ), the bodily resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15), and the appropriation of salvation by grace through faith wholly apart from ANY and all human effort (Eph. 2:8-9).

Along with these affirmations, the true church has denied any notion of salvation by merit or some sort of religious act, it has denied the necessity of an earthly priesthood for the purpose of mediating between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5), and it has denied the notion of grace being conferred to the individual through participation in the sacraments (The Lord’s Supper, Baptism, Confession, etc.) To accept doctrines and practices that contradict or add to the clear revelation of Scripture is to 1, undermine the authority of Scripture. 2, Nullify the centrality of God’s grace in salvation. 3, Ignore orthodox Christian doctrine. And 4, disregard all that the reformers stood for. Therefore, I urge you my brothers and sisters, don’t be an uninformed Christian. Do your homework. Study church history and strive to understand the great doctrines of the Bible. Because it is only then that you will be able to see the issues surrounding the ecumenical movement and it is only then that you will be able to avoid supporting someone or something that, had you known better, you would have never supported.

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