Is the Reformation Over?

Intriguing question.

Some have raised it in recent past.

More recently, Dr. R. C. Sproul has revisited the question and offered a resounding “No” in reply in his book Are We Together?: A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism. I finished reading this relatively brief synopsis (129 pages) of the subject during my time in Idaho.

The author explains his purpose this way:

In this book, I have a simple goal. I want to look at Roman Catholic teaching in several significant areas and compare it with Protestant teaching. I hope to show, often using her own words, that the Roman Catholic Church has not changed from what it believed and taught at the time of the Reformation. That means that the Reformation is not over and we must continue to stand firm in proclaiming the biblical gospel (p. 9).

And look he does into six key areas:

  1. Scripture
    In what he calls the fundamental issue of the Reformation, Sproul explains that the basis of authority was the formal cause behind the protests of Martin Luther and company. They raised the rally cry Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, in contrast to Rome’s appeal to Scripture PLUS tradition.
  2. Justification
    Commonly known as the chief article or the formal cause of the Reformation, regarding justification (how God declares the sinner righteous) Sproul masterfully explains the difference between the Reformer’s view of double imputation (that our sin was put on Christ and His righteousness was reckoned to us by faith alone – Sola Fide)  and Rome’s idea of justification as a matter of faith PLUS  works, namely participation in the sacraments (baptism and penance in particular). Especially sobering was the insight Sproul brings out from the Council of Trent (1545-1563), Rome’s response to the Reformation, declaring justification by faith alone as a view of salvation to be anathema (accursed)! He further notes that this is a position yet to be reversed by Vatican I (1869-70), Vatican II (1962-65), or the revisions to the Catholic Catechism as recent as 1995.
  3. The Church
    Sproul takes care as he writes to give credit where it is due throughout the book. He demolishes ill-advised caricatures of Roman Catholicism when necessary. He is no Catholic basher, to his credit. He shows in this chapter a more irenic tone from Rome in the move from labeling Protestants as “schismatics” and “heretics” in Vatican I to “separated brethren” in Vatican II. Still the question lingers as to whether someone can genuinely be saved outside the Catholic communion. Salvation for Rome must involve the sacraments which only an ordained priest may rightfully perform. Protestants appeal to justification by faith in Christ alone. They cannot both be the gospel at the same time.
  4. The Sacraments
    Sproul reviews how Protestants observe two ordinances of Christ – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Catholics on the other hand have seven: baptism, confirmation, matrimony, extreme unction (prayer for the sick and dying), holy orders (for officers of the church), penance (for the restoration of justification when mortal sin kills it), and the Lord’s Supper. He zeroes in on the first and the last noting in the Roman system how baptism allegedly conveys the grace of justification (baptismal regeneration) and that in the Supper with the so-called miracle of the mass, the body of Christ is broken anew. He frankly concludes: Rome is proclaiming things that are repugnant to those who believe and trust the Word of God (p. 84).
  5. The Papacy
    A very interesting aspect of this study involves the development of the doctrine of papal infallibility. Dr. Sproul explains how this came about over time, well after the Protestant Reformation. Still it represents a significant departure from Protestantism, and more importantly the Bible, that declares only One man ever spoke entirely without error in dispensing divine revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ.
  6. Mary
    Like the doctrine of papal infallibility, the ideas related to Mary as “the second Eve” with her immaculate conception, bodily assumption, and coronation in heaven, came about long after the Reformation. And while considerable disagreement exists even within the Catholic communion about some of these things, Mary still takes on significance in their doctrine well beyond Scriptural warrant.

So why belabor all this? Well, for a couple of reasons. Recent movements in evangelicalism in the name of ecumenicism have sought to unite Catholics and Protestants. I would agree with Sproul that while they have their merit in calling the various traditions to stand together on social issues like abortion among others, the terminology contained within these various documents blurs the distinction between who is genuinely a Christian and who is not. Dr. Sproul does a great job in this book of demonstrating that we are decidedly not together and that what is at stake is nothing less than the gospel in the stand we take related to such broad-sweeping initiatives.

Another reason for this lengthy post lies with OGC’s unique location directly across the street from a Roman Catholic church. In all our endeavors to be good neighbors, like last week’s parking give-away, we must never lose sight that our core doctrines do not align and nothing less than the eternal salvation of souls hangs in the balance.

Finally, tomorrow is Reformation Sunday. We will gather to worship and praise our great God and Savior for the recovery of the gospel in the Protestant Reformation, the gospel in which we stand and about which I intend to preach from 1 Cor. 15:1-11. May we give thanks to God for our rich heritage and never fail to keep this precious gospel the main thing. As long the tendency to drift into error exists, the church must remain given to the rally cry semper reformanda (always reforming).

The Reformation is not over. Not by a long shot. It better not be in a church of our tradition.

5 responses

  1. This clear exposé stands as the number one reason why i am a member at OGC. It is good and wholesome to know that the Reformation is not over in our lil’ congregation. Perhaps we need to nail the “95 Theses” on the doors of the building across the street…

  2. I’m not sure that nailing the 95 Theses to our neighbor’s church door is the best way to influence or impact our community for the Gospel. Relational influence that builds gospel credibility may be a better approach.

  3. Guessing some “tongue-in-cheek” to the 95 Theses comment. Besides the message has been delivered in another more appropriate way I think. The free-parking give away a couple of weekends ago helped communicate that while we are on different pages biblically and theologically, we still want to be good, loving neighbors.

  4. I am so glad that God has seen fit to put me in a church family where we seem to always strike the proper balance between love and reverence for their souls. I pray that we never lose that! And yes, the youth would love it if we all showed up at their Reformation Day event!

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