Today’s post, I’m sorry to say, won’t be the post I’d hoped to write. I’m trying to research the development of Roman Catholic teaching, particularly leading up to 1517, in order to better understand (and thus present to you) why the Reformation needed to take place. Before you roll your eyes and complain that I’m boring, however, consider that we can better appreciate the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation by knowing why the Church needed reform in the first place.
I’ve learned that Roman Catholicism in general is a very complex religion. The Roman Catholicism of 1517 has added complexities due to its political power and its need to tax the faithful for the purpose of building St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I find myself asking where the Papacy came from? How did the doctrine of Purgatory develop? Why did the Roman Catholic Church teach that people had to perform acts of penance?
The Protestant Reformation didn’t happen in a vacuum, but rather it came about by God’s sovereignty as He awakened people to the ways that the Roman Catholic Church had corrupted the Gospel with teachings that wrongfully made salvation contingent on human effort. Although Scripture plainly teaches that Christ alone is the propitiation for sin (1 John 4:10, just to name one verse) and that He is the only mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5-6), Catholicism insists on an elaborate system of merit and priestly authority for its adherents to secure salvation.
Martin Luther originally objected to Roman Catholic doctrine because it exploited poor people by having them pay money so that their departed loved ones could escape Purgatory earlier. But the selling of indulgences was, in actuality, a surface issue. It merely highlighted the sad fact that Catholic teaching deviates from Scripture.
Three years ago, the folks at The Cripplegate blog posted an excellent presentation entitled 5 differences between Catholic theology and the gospel, which offers a brief, easily read, comparison between the two schools of thought. Since I doubt my ability to improve on their post, I’d strongly encourage you to read it for yourselves. Although the writer fails to use Scripture in demonstrating the Biblical gospel, those who are familiar with basic Protestant teaching should be able to see flaws in Roman Catholicism.
The Reformers, like Luther, understood the discrepancies between Rome and the Bible. Yet, he suffered excommunication and exile, firm in his stance that Scripture must be preferred over both tradition and Papal pronouncements. In his own defense, he said:
“Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.“On May 25, the Emperor issued his Edict of Worms, declaring Martin Luther an outlaw.
Would that 21st Century Christians had Luther’s unwavering passion for God’s Word!
Along with other great reformers, Luther pointed Christians back to Scripture’s authority, rejecting the notion that the Pope’s pronouncements held equal weight to God’s Word. His cry of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) serves as one of the lynchpins of reformed theology. Obviously, I’m deeply committed to this lynchpin, and praise the Lord for Luther’s role in making the Bible accessible to all Christians.
In my next post on the Reformation, I’d like to look at the doctrine of Purgatory and the selling of Indulgences to explain why Luther wrote the 95 Theses that ignited the Protestant Reformation. Hopefully, I’ll find time to study the matter. Next Tuesday, however, John has an important appointment in Boston, so I’ll probably just post a video on the subject. At any rate, by October 31st, 2017, all of us should better understand the reasons for celebrating the Reformation.