Archives For Reformation Day

At the heart of the Reformation was the rediscovery by Luther and the Reformers of the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. The doctrine of justification by faith gave a believer assurance of an end-time verdict made real now by faith, i.e. one did not have to wait until the end time as one appeared before the Lord to receive one’s final verdict.

Justification by faith meant that the perfect righteousness of Christ was applied to the life of the believer today by faith. There is a double imputation – my sins are placed on Christ and Christ’s righteousness is reckoned to me. Negatively, not only are my sins not counted against me, but, positively, Christ’s perfect righteous is given to us (2 Cor. 5:21).

It was this truth that was at the heart of the Roman Catholic response at The Council of Trent (1545-1563). In January 1547, under Pope III, the Decree Concerning Justification was written. Here are some of the key Canons Concerning Justification:

Canon 9.
If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.

Canon 10.
If anyone says that men are justified without the justice of Christ, whereby Her merited for us, or by that justice are formally just, let him be anathema. 

Canon 11.
If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and remains in them, or also that the grace by which we are justified is only the good will of God, let him be anathema. 

Canon 12.
If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema. 

Canon 13.
If anyone says that in order to obtain the remission of sins it is necessary for every man to believe with certainty and without any hesitation arising from his own weakness and indisposition that his sins are forgiven him, let him be anathema. 

Canon 14.
If anyone says that man is absolved from his sins and justified because he firmly believes that he is absolved and justified, or that no one is truly justified except him who believes himself justified, and that by this faith alone absolution and justification are effected, let him be anathema. 

Canon 15.
If anyone says that a man who is born again and justified is bound ex fide to believe that he is certainly in the number of the predestined, let him be anathema. 

Canon 16.
If anyone says that he will for certain, with an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance even to the end, unless he shall have learned this by a special revelation, let him be anathema. 

Canon 24.
If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema. 

Canon 30.
If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema. 

Canon 33.
If anyone says that the Catholic doctrine of justification as set forth by the holy council in the present decree, derogates in some respect from the glory of God or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, and does not rather illustrate the truth of our faith and no less the glory of God and of Christ Jesus, let him be anathema.

One of the key promoters and defenders of the Council of Trent doctrine was Cardinal Robert Belarmine (1542-1621). He served as a doctrinal advisor to the Pope. On the issue of justification by grace alone through faith alone that is expressed in the assurance one has before the Lord due to Christ’s righteousness imputed to the sinner, Belarmine wrote the following (De justificatione 3.2.3):

The principle heresy of Protestants is that saints may obtain to a certain assurance of their gracious and pardoned state before God.

If you had been asked what the greatest heresy of Protestants was, how would you have answered? Would you have said it was the doctrine of assurance?

To the contrary, for Luther, the Reformers, the Reformation and Evangelicals, the cardinal truth of the gospel is justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Any deviation from that compromises the gospel such that it is “another gospel” (Gal. 1:6-9).

This remains the greatest divide between Protestants (Evangelicals) and the Roman Catholic Church. I appreciate Sinclair Ferguson’s statement about this:  “The Greatest of All Protestant Heresies”?

If justification is not by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone — if faith needs to be completed by works; if Christ’s work is somehow repeated; if grace is not free and sovereign, then something always needs to be done, to be “added” for final justification to be ours. That is exactly the problem. If final justification is dependent on something we have to complete it is not possible to enjoy assurance of salvation. For then, theologically, final justification is contingent and uncertain, and it is impossible for anyone (apart from special revelation, Rome conceded) to be sure of salvation. But if Christ has done everything, if justification is by grace, without contributory works; it is received by faith’s empty hands — then assurance, even “full assurance” is possible for every believer.

By faith, I rest in the completed work of Christ and proclaim with bold confidence,

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. . . . There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 5:1-2; 8:1).

The Gospel and the Reformation

Greg Strand – November 1, 2015 Leave a comment

The gospel is the heart of the evangel, which is at the heart of the Reformation, which is at the heart of evangelical.

Foundationally, this is the key to Jesus’ teaching: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Paul affirms this time and again. For example, consider the well-known truth of Romans 1:16-17: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

This gospel truth was rediscovered (not discovered!) during the Reformation. Noting this history, Michael Jensen writes of the term evangelical the following:

It’s a word that is built from the Greek word for “gospel” or “good news”, euangelion. In the 16th century, “evangelical” was the term used to describe the churches that broke away from the Roman Catholic Church over the authority of Scripture and the gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone. These reformers, known later as “Protestants”, more usually called themselves “the evangelicals”, and described their churches as “evangelical”.

When Luther posted the 95 theses on October 31, 1517, not only did he seek to reform the church by pointing out abuses, he also constructively grounded his hoped-for-reform in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was this gospel that was the heart of Luther’s message, similar to Jesus’ and Paul’s, and it was this same gospel that was at the heart of the Reformation.

For example, this is what Luther stated in his 62nd thesis:

62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.

Stephen Nichols asks and answers the question what is reformation day?, by focusing on the gospel of Jesus Christ and Luther’s 62nd thesis. Read carefully not only that the gospel is the true treasure of the church, but those issues with which the gospel is contrasted. Furthermore, ponder deeply the effects of this gospel in the lives of individuals and the church, and the impact it has made.

One of Luther’s 95 Theses simply declares, “The Church’s true treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ.” That alone is the meaning of Reformation Day. The church had lost sight of the gospel because it had long ago papered over the pages of God’s Word with layer upon layer of tradition. Tradition always brings about systems of works, of earning your way back to God. It was true of the Pharisees, and it was true of medieval Roman Catholicism. Didn’t Christ Himself say, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light?” Reformation Day celebrates the joyful beauty of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is Reformation Day? It is the day the light of the gospel broke forth out of darkness. It was the day that began the Protestant Reformation. It was a day that led to Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and may other Reformers helping the church find its way back to God’s Word as the only authority for faith and life and leading the church back to the glorious doctrines of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It kindled the fires of missionary endeavors, it led to hymn writing and congregational singing, and it led to the centrality of the sermon and preaching for the people of God. It is the celebration of a theological, ecclesiastical, and cultural transformation.

And this remains true among those true offspring of the Reformation, one of those being Evangelicals.

I give thanks to God for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I give thanks for the rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ at a critical time in history. I pray to remain faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ, that it would be central doctrinally and functionally, in doctrine and life, in proclamation and transformation.

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.