The Reformation and the Roman Catholic Church

Greg Strand – October 30, 2015 Leave a comment

Every year on October 31 while many celebrate Halloween, I remember, give thanks and celebrate the Reformation. While Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on October 31, 1517, there were certainly pre-Reformers, such as Hus and Wycliffe, fellow Reformers, like Philip Melanchthon, John Calvin, William Farel, and post-Reformers that the Lord used as instruments to recover the truth and ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But Luther is the person and this is the date that many refer to as the beginning of the Reformation.

In response to the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church responded in the Council of Trent (1545-1563). There are many important differences between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism that were articulated at Trent, and many of those differences remain.

Recently I read one of those contemporary responses against the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church: Reformation Reminders: Rome & Her Desecration of Christ In this post, the author addresses and comments on the way in which the Roman Catholic Church desecrates Christ, which consists of the following ways: (1) The Roman Catholic Priesthood. (2) The Roman Catholic Mass. (3) The Roman Catholic Papacy. (4) The Roman Catholic view of Mary. (5) The Roman Catholic view of justification. (6) The Roman Catholic history of martyring Christ’s people.

I asked Ernie Manges, an EFCA ReachGlobal missionary, who spent many years ministering in the Philippines among Roman Catholics, and who serves as professor of theology and church history, Cebu Graduate School of Theology, Philippines, about his view of this assessment of the Roman Catholic Church. He replied in the following way:

This post is uncharitable and inaccurate.

Under his point 1 on the priesthood he cites a Roman Catholic author and not the official teaching document of the Roman Catholic Church: the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), which does not use the rhetoric he cites here from O’Brien.

Point 2 on the mass and sacrifice ignores the much more nuanced language used beginning with Vatican II (1962-1965)  It is almost as if there has been no further Roman Catholic thought on this issue since Trent (1545-1563).

In point 3 on the Papacy he cites an outdated theology handbook (Ludwig Ott), but I do give him credit for (finally!) citing from the CCC.

The quote from James White misconstrues what the RCC says about those not in communion with Rome.  Again, one only needs to read Vatican II to get a more accurate picture.  Citing a papal document from 1302 (Unam Santam) without including later developments is misleading.

Point 4 on Mary makes a very common error: misreading the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which explicitly says Mary is saved by the work of her Son.

Point 6 on martyrs: well we could add Servetus (Calvin), various Anabaptists (Lutherans and Swiss reformers) to this list.

This is just gleaned from a skimming of the post. Posts like this are why many informed Roman Catholics dismiss evangelical apologetics in general.

Manges is firmly committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and recognizes the eternally-impacting differences between Evangelical faith and the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine. But having studied the doctrine thoroughly and having lived in the Philippines from quite some time, a country that is mostly Roman Catholic, he is rightly concerned that the teaching be accurately understood and appropriately responded to. For an excellent Evangelical response, Manges recommends Gregg Allison’s book Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014).

What thoughts might you have? What would you add?

What do you know of the Reformation? What about the Roman Catholic Church’s response and what they still affirm, and where the differences remain?

Here is the key: At the heart of the Reformation was the gospel of Jesus Christ and justification by faith. This difference still remains.

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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