499 years ago today, Martin Luther, a German theologian, nailed to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, his 95 theses as a protest to the church’s practice of indulgences. Unintentional at that time by Luther, this would launch the beginning of what is called the Protestant Reformation which resulted a division in the church over doctrines and practices. Martin Luther, as well as others like Jean Calvin, were instrumental leaders in the Reformation.
Unfortunately, the Reformation resulted in blood shed from both sides. Catholics killed Protestants and Protestants killed Catholics. These actions were not intended by Luther, and are a sad commentary on the history of the Protestant Reformation. Yet, October 31, 1517 is a day to be remembered, not because of all the blood that was spilled, though that is a horrible fruit that came from it, but because a necessary movement began, a doctrinal paradigm shift in the church. This shift was not a change to a new doctrine, but the beginning of the rediscovery of the beliefs and practices of the apostles and the first century church. Old doctrine, or better said, biblical doctrine was resurrected and brought new life to people as biblical authority, not papal authority, for the first time in hundreds of years, was being proclaimed as a necessary belief.
Today, the pope went to Lund, Sweden in order to meet with Lutheran leaders “to forgive the “errors” of the past and forge a future together” He celebrated mass with the Lutheran church in order to show that they could have communion together. Many see this as a huge step in reconciliation between the two churches and celebrate the efforts made by the pope and the leaders of the Lutheran Church. I think it is important that both Protests and Catholics alike admit that the bloodshed that occurred in Europe during the 1500s and beyond was wrong, sinful, and not glorying to God. Both sides should seek to respect one another as people made in the image of God.
But there is another part to this story that many are either ignorant of, or simply do not want to admit. The Reformation was not about war, but about doctrine. And this doctrinal divide still exists today. Unfortunately differences in doctrine sometimes causes war (or often causes war), but that does not make doctrine unimportant or something to be ignored. While respect and love are commanded by the Lord, we must be clear that communion between Catholics and Bible believing Protestants is simply not possible, regardless of what ecumenists try to claim. The doctrinal divide between Catholics and Protestants, who believe in the authority of scripture, is much more than whether priests can marry or not, or whether one can buy an indulgences or not. There is a greater foundational schism that separates the two. And this is why Reformation Day is a day to be remembered and celebrated. The fruits that have come from this day are much sweeter than any Halloween candy. The Reformation unmasked the unbiblical and ungodly beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. While the pope may want to build bridges of respect and forgiveness between Catholics and Protestants, we must keep one thing very clear in mind. Neither he, nor the Catholic church, has changed their foundational doctrine in the past 499 years. While the pope may have repented of the evils of the Catholic Church did in killing Protestants, they have not repented of the beliefs and practices that are contrary to Scripture, which were at the heart of Reformation. In order for me to have communion with a Roman Catholic, who agrees with the foundational doctrine of their Church, I would have to deny my belief in the authority of Scripture, compromise my belief in the justification by faith in Christ alone, and redefine the biblical meaning of communion. Taking communion together communicates that the people who take it together believe the same things (at least on a foundational level) While on the surface I could physically sing worship songs with Catholics, pray in the same room as Catholics, and eat a communion bread at the same time as Catholics, I would be doing these things only on a superficial level. My “unity” would be in appearance only, for I do not believe the same things as taught in the Roman Catholic Church. Deep down, I am not unified with them due to my belief in the authority of Scripture, justification by faith in Christ alone, and my belief in the biblical doctrine of salvation. Ecumenism preaches the message that doctrine does not matter as long as we have unity. There is only one enormous problem with that. That would not be unity.
Here is just one of many examples of the foundational doctrinal differences between Romans Catholics and Biblical Christianity, taken from an excerpt from an article from DesiringGod.org:
Four times in the book of Hebrews the author underlines and emphasizes the work of Christ in the forgiveness of sins as “once for all.” I love this phrase and the way he uses it (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:10). “He [Christ] has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:27).
So, I will be celebrating that the finished and complete work of Christ in providing imputed punishment for our sins and imputed perfection for our righteousness was once for all and cannot be reenacted in the Roman Catholic Mass so as to become a necessary point of transfer of that decisive grace purchased once for all for us and given to us through faith in Christ alone.
The core of the divide is in the doctrine of the person of Christ. He is our high priest, who offered up Himself for us. We do not need a priest to sacrifice Christ all over again during a mass so that we can have His grace. Catholic mass actually contradicts Hebrews 7, as well as many other passages. Christ is our mediator, intercessor, and high priest. Through faith in Him, and Him alone can we be reconciled to God. This faith is not in a ritual where a man performs a ceremony where he sacrifices Christ again, and then we eat His body. Christ died “once for all”, and everyone who trusts is His death for their sin and rebellion against God, and believe in their heart God that raised Him from the dead, they will be saved. This is a step of faith, not a sacrament given by a priest.
This is just one example. For time sake I will not go on. The point I am wanting to emphasize is that the Reformation was a good thing. A great thing. The gospel was rediscovered and began to be preached. People lives have been changed for eternity. The authority of God’s word has been upheld. It is a day to remember and celebrate!
I have many Catholic friends. Here is my invitation to you (if you made it this far). If you are open to honestly and sincerely looking at what God’s word says about salvation, Jesus, faith, etc., I invite you to give me a call so we can talk. Faith in what God’s Word says about your sin, Jesus’ work on the cross, the resurrection, and faith can free you from all guilt and shame, and give you new life. Not religious life. But the life of Christ, the hope of glory.
«So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.»
Gospel of John, chapter 8, verses 31-33