2017 marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.After centuries of controversies and strained relationships between Evangelicals and Catholics, the ecumenical friendliness of recent times has created ripe conditions for some leaders in both camps to claim that the Reformation is over -- that the primary theological disagreements that led to the rupture in Western Christianity in the sixteenth century have been resolved.
Why do some people argue this?
2. The historical theological divisions are considered matters of legitimate difference in emphasis, but not sharp points of division that prevent unity.
There are now more friendly relationships and dialogue between Catholics and Protestants, where once there was persecution and animosity.
But the question still remains:
Have the fundamental differences between Catholics and Protestants/Evangelicals disappeared?
The Major Differences
The Protestant Reformation was ultimately a call to:
2. Appreciate afresh the fact that salvation comes to us through faith alone.
1. The Authority of the Bible
Roman Catholicism is a religious system that is not based on Scripture alone. From the Catholic perspective, the Bible is only one source of authority; tradition precedes the Bible, is bigger than the Bible and is not revealed through Scripture alone but through the ongoing teaching of the Church.
The Roman Catholic theological method can be seen in three dogmas (i.e., binding beliefs) that the Church has proclaimed with no biblical support whatsoever: the 1854 dogma of Mary’s immaculate conception, the 1870 dogma of papal infallibility, and the 1950 dogma of Mary’s bodily assumption. Because Scripture does not have the final say, the Roman Catholic Church can, after two millennia, embrace such novelties that contradict the clear teaching of Scripture.
2. Salvation Through Faith Alone
The Reformation taught that salvation is received by grace alone through faith alone. At the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Roman Catholic Church reacted strongly against the Protestant Reformation by declaring “anathema” (cursed) those who upheld justification by faith alone, as well as affirmed the teaching that justification is a process of cooperating with infused grace.
Some argue that the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999 has bridged the divide. While the document is at times friendly towards a more biblical understanding of justification, it explicitly affirms the Council of Trent’s view of justification. All of Trent’s condemnations of historic Protestant/Evangelical convictions still stand.
As was the case with Trent, in the Joint Declaration, justification is a process enacted by a sacrament of the Church (baptism); it is not received by faith alone. It is a journey that requires contribution from the faithful and an ongoing participation in the sacramental system. There is no sense of the righteousness of God being imputed by Christ to the believer, and thus there can be no assurance of salvation.
A Call to Commitment
What is true of the Roman Catholic Church as a doctrinal and institutional reality is not necessarily true of individual Catholics. God’s grace is at work in men and women who repent and trust in God alone, who respond to God’s gospel by living as Christian disciples seeking to know Christ and make him known.
However, because of its unchecked dogmatic claims and complex political structure, much more care and prudence should be exercised in dealing with the institutional Catholic Church. Current initiatives to renew aspects of Catholic life and worship do not indicate that the Roman Church is committed to substantive reform in accordance with the Word of God.
We affirm the following three principles:
1. Encourage CollaborationWhere common values are at stake regarding ethical, social, cultural and political issues, we encourage efforts of collaboration between Evangelicals and Catholics and also other religious groups.
2. Maintain Clear Gospel StandardsWhen it comes to fulfilling the missionary task of proclaiming and living out the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world, Evangelicals must be careful to maintain clear gospel standards when forming common platforms and coalitions.
3. Affirm the Reformation’s Core PrinciplesThe issues that gave birth to the Reformation 500 years ago are still very much alive today for the whole church. Evangelicals affirm, with the Reformers, the foundational convictions that our final authority is the Bible and that we are saved through faith alone.