“Is the Protestant Reformation of any relevance anymore?” This was a question posed by a friend of mine on Facebook a few months back. He asked it in response to a statement made to him by one of his Roman Catholic friends, a professor of theology:
“…Most of us Catholics know that we are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone!”
If you’re familiar with the Protestant Reformation you’ll realise the impact of that statement. A Roman Catholic Professor just reiterated two of the five solas of the Reformation–the five “alone” phrases or slogans that summarised the convictions the Reformers had about the essentials of Christianity.
- Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.
- Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
- Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
- Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Saviour, and King.
- Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.
When the Protestant Reformation began, not many Catholics knew these solas let alone believed them. But that was 500 years ago. October 31, 1517. Have things changed since then?
According to Catholic philospher, Peter Kreeft, quoted in the Christian Post (May 31, 2017), when it comes to bridging the divide between Catholics and Protestants, “much more ecumenical progress has been made in the last 50 years than in the last 500….God is working especially hard to unify His people in light of how society is crumbling; a new reformation is underway, he says.”
So, is the Protestant Reformation still relevant today? Here’s why I beleive it is. So long as there is a setting of the authority of the Church above the authority of the Word of God, or the power of the State above the power of the conscience, the Protestant Reformation will always be relevant.
You see, while I believe the heart of the gospel was expressed in the teachings of the Reformation, it was the Protest of the German Princes at Spires in 1529, that revealed the essence of the Reformation.
Daubigne (in his ‘History of the Reformation’) explains, “Now this protest opposes two abuses of man in matters of faith: the first is the intrusion of the civil magistrate, and the second the arbitrary authority of the Church. Instead of these abuses, Protestantism sets the power of conscience above the magistrate; and the authority of the Word of God above the visible church. In the first place, it rejects the civil power in divine things, and says with the prophets and apostles: We must obey God rather than man. In presence of the crown of Charles the Fifth, it uplifts the crown of Jesus Christ. But it goes farther: it lays down the principle, that all human teaching should be subordinate to the oracles of God.” Bk 13, Ch 5.
The formal protest was against a proposed decree by the German Emporer at the behest of the Roman Catholic Church. The decree in part required that ministers “preach the Gospel, explaining it according to the writings accepted by the holy Christian Church.”
The Protestants maintained that the Bible is its own interpreter and that anyone, when led by the Spirit of God in their study of the Scriptures, is able to arrive at its essential truths. Moreover, they affirmed that no one had the right to prevent a person from obeying the dictates of their conscience. When you prevent a person from obeying their conscience, you deny them the right to obey God. That is a form of oppression.
As Seventh Day Adventists, and Reformers in particular, we know by experience what oppression of conscience means. Many of the pioneers of the Reform Movement were imprisoned over their right to obey their conscience. Some even paid for that right with their life.
Today, in many countries around the globe, this freedom is being eroded. In some countries it is largley denied. Bible students will recognise that this is to be expected. The apostle John was shown a great movement of relgious opresson in these last days, with a particular focus:
“And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Revelation 12:17)
It is the Word of God that reveals to us the commandments God wants us to keep. It is the fourth in particular that the vast majority of the Christian world ignores. The Sabbath of the Bible, God’s holy day (Isa 58:13), instituted and blessed at Creation (Gen 2:2,3) and proclaimed at Sinai (Ex 20:8-11) as part of the ten commandments, will continue as the day of worship in the new heavens and new earth (Isa 66:23).
While the Christian world continues to ignore this command, upholding Sunday as the day of worship rather than the day God commands us to keep, they are denying the first Sola of the Reformation–Sola Scriptura. The arguments put forward in favour of Sunday are founded either upon Church tradition or the teachings of men — teachings that make the Sabbath commandment of none effect.
That’s why Sola Scriptura will be a distinctive mark of God’s people of the last days. Those who take the Bible to heart, obeying its precepts, will find themselves the object of ridicule and oppression. Sad to say, this oppression will come largley from those who profess to be stewards of Sola Scriptura – our Evangelical friends.
Kreeft is right when he says, “a new reformation has begun”. The problem is, in view of the crumbling of our society, we end up finding the current reformation going on between our Catholic and Evangelical friends more relevant than the one that led to the distinctive truths that make us who we are as a people. While comforting as it may feel in an increasing irreligious society, we need to remember to not allow our commonality with Catholics and Evangelicals deter us from our mission under the third angel’s message.
“There are persons who claim to be guided by the Spirit, and yet they are led contrary to the commandments of God. The spirit by which they are directed is not the Spirit of truth. For the word of God declares, “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected; hereby know we that we are in him.” It is not enough to give a nominal assent to the truth. Its principles must be interwoven with our life and character. And we may well be afraid of those who make exalted professions, but who do not obey the words of God. There is safety alone in taking the Scriptures as our guide of life and action. Says the prophet, “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Martin Luther exclaimed, “The Bible, and the Bible alone, is the foundation of our faith.” It is the work of the people of God to hold up the Bible as the standard of religion and the foundation of hope.” (Review and Herald, November 5, 1889.)
It was a rejection of Sola Scriptura, along with its sacred truths, that led to the Reformation. As long as there are those who place the tradition of the Church or the opinions of men above the Bible, the Protestant Reformation will always have relevance.