Today is the 499th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
To give attention to this anniversary NPR news ran an article today on Pope Francis’ efforts to heal the divide between Catholics and Lutherans caused by Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. They quote Gerard O’Connell who says, “Perhaps, both sides missed something at the time of the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Church missed ways of reforming itself. Luther and those around him pressed in a way that just couldn’t be taken on board, so, in a way, both sides misspoke.”
Jens-Martin Kruse, pastor of a Lutheran Church in Rome, says the approach Pope Francis is taking is “walking ecumenism.” Kruse continued, “We are moving together, this is a new experience that we are together on this walk. Walking together, we find that we have lots of things more in common than we thought before.”
The effort to reconcile Catholics and Protestants has been on the rise over the past generation. Many well known Protestants and Catholics in America signed a petition in the 90’s called ECT ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together‘ to move toward unity. More so on this day in 1999 a group of Catholics and Lutherans issued a joint statement on the doctrine of justification in Augsburg, Germany stating that “a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics.”
To all of this I want to say…ummm, no.
Perhaps I want to say hogwash because I tend to have a contrary personality, perhaps I want to say hogwash because people have said I can be too stubborn, or perhaps I want to hogwash because I think too many Catholics and Protestants are committing the heresy of being indifferent to doctrine. It is my opinion that someone needs to call this nonsense what it is, foolish. The differences between Catholics and Protestants on the doctrine of Justification, and many other matters, are not just differences of opinion, they’re not just mere disagreements that we can agree to disagree about. Our differences of opinion are too vast to ignore, too deep to sweep under the rug, and too large to push behind us.
Peace is not what is needed, repentance, clarity, and courage is what is needed.
Regardless what Pope Francis says, regardless what a Lutheran pastor in Rome says, and regardless what almost all mainstream Christians are saying today, the reason Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany on this day in 1517 was to call into question the vague and erroneous teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. For doing this, Pope Leo X excommunicated and condemned Luther. And as a response to Luther and the rest of rising Protestantism the Roman Catholic Church had a council in Trento, Italy from 1545-1563 to address the concerns raised by the Protestants.
The result of the Council of Trent was another reformation. The Catholics saw that many of Luther’s concerns were correct and that there were indeed many abuses within the church. But doctrinally, they continued their condemnation of all things Protestant. Look at the following statements from Trent:
-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.”
-Canon 12, “If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified…let him be accursed.”
-Canon 14, “If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.”
-Canon 24, “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 30, “If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.”
-Canon 33, “If any one saith, that, by the Catholic doctrine touching Justification, by this holy Synod inset forth in this present decree, the glory of God, or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ are in any way derogated from, and not rather that the truth of our faith, and the glory in fine of God and of Jesus Christ are rendered (more) illustrious; let him be anathema.
Clearly, in the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church affirmed their previous teaching on the doctrine of the justification and condemned anyone who disagrees with them. In all the efforts towards peace and unity between Catholics and Protestants today why is no one talking about Trent? It has never been revoked by any other Roman Catholic council or creedal statement to date. In fact, because of the affirmations made in Trent numerous Protestants were burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church afterwards. Conclusion?As long as the Council of Trent stands, there can never be unity. As long as the Council of Trent stands, Catholics teach that all Protestants are damned. As long as the Council of Trent stands, we must continue to proclaim the truth, that we are not saved by our works, but by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.
So on the 499th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation many are asking, is it over? Can’t we just get along? Shouldn’t we move forward and push our history behind us? The clear is answer is no. As long as the Roman Catholic Church continue to propagate false teaching and do not repent for such teaching by turning towards the truth revealed by Luther and others, the reformation will not be over. More so, because the human heart naturally moves towards a works based gospel and away from a grace based gospel – the reformation will never be over.
The gospel that was re-discovered under the tyranny and oppression of the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century must continue to be proclaimed today with the boldness, clarity, and courage.
Stephen Nichols reminds us:
What is Reformation Day? It is the day the light of the gospel broke forth out of darkness. It was the day that began the Protestant Reformation. It was a day that led to Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and may other Reformers helping the church find its way back to God’s Word as the only authority for faith and life and leading the church back to the glorious doctrines of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It kindled the fires of missionary endeavors, it led to hymn writing and congregational singing, and it led to the centrality of the sermon and preaching for the people of God. It is the celebration of a theological, ecclesiastical, and cultural transformation.
Today: stand and celebrate the 499th anniversary of the reformation.