This series of posts, 6 in all, now compiled into one (so please forgive me for the length), were first written in the period between the 5th September 2014 and 14th September 2014.
Ecclesia semper reformanda est.
The church is always to be reformed.
The purpose of this Latin phrase is to suggest that, for the purposes of preserving the purity and correctness of church doctrine and beliefs, the church should be reformed. Let’s be clear; not every reformation is correct or doctrinally sound. The attempt of Jehovah witnesses and Mormonism to reform the church, at times invoking heresy, is wrong (i.e adding to, like another entire book and changing the words of bible itself).
So let’s go back in history quickly.
The year is 1517. The Catholic Church was the predominant religion of the time and by then, church tradition and doctrinal error had seeped its way into the inner workings of the church. The crusades had happened years before. The European Inquisitions were due to begin. Change was needed. This is when Luther and Calvin, the fathers of Lutheranism and Calvinism stepped onto the scene and in their reading and understanding of the bible and Christian life questioned the authority and teachings of Catholicism. This paved the way for Protestantism to form.
The church I attend, a church of Christ, is a product of the reformation. Protestant churches everywhere, including Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal and Anglican just to name a few would not exist if the Catholic church was not questioned and turned from last millenia. We would be stuck in church traditions sanctioned by Catholicism and not found in the bible.. the world would be a very different place today.
I often hear comments about Catholics and Protestants being the same, because we all believe in the same God and Jesus, right? The differences however, are too major to leave it at just that. Ireland warred between Catholics and Protestants for too many years for it to be left at that. Catholicism killed too many early Protestants for heresy for it to be left at that.
I have friends who have left the Catholic church and have become Protestants because they came to understand the importance of the doctrinal differences and the importance of Jesus over the Pope and the importance of the Bible over tradition. My pastor, and several friends stand as an example.
Do i think a reformation should happen today? A reformation is with the intent on purifying church doctrine and much doctrine at the moment, I believe is biblically sound, in terms of the Protestant church. I believe it is unneeded for that purpose.
That brings me to the essence of this post. My intention is for this to be an outline into the 5 major points of change that came with the reformation in the transition out of the Catholic Church. The plan is to examine Catholic church doctrine with the biblical backing they use to justify such a doctrine in comparison to each of the points of Protestantism.
These 5 points are known as the five solae (also in Latin):
– Sola scriptura = by scripture alone
– Sola fide = by faith alone
– Sola gratia = by grace alone
– Solus Christus = Christ alone (or Solo Christo = through Christ alone)
– Soli Deo gloria = glory to God alone
So let’s launch into it shall we? As before, be warned that this post is massive, as it is a grouping of 6 full length posts.
By scripture alone.
This is the best place to begin in a series of posts on the solae of Protestantism as ‘scripture alone’ is the foundational basis for the split of the church from Catholicism. Sola scriptura comes under serious critique by many Catholics, and it is also worth noting that this is considered to be the reason so many protestant church types exist today.
While not found in scripture itself, the basis of sola scriptura comes from the understanding of the ultimate authority of God in everything and over everything and especially over the authority of His written Word to humankind.
It implies that the bible contains all necessary to attain salvation and holiness and therefore, the only church doctrines permissible are those found in the bible or drawn directly from reasoning of the scriptures. Scripture alone doesn’t retract from the authority of other sources but requires other sources to be submissive to the authority of scripture over them.
There are 4 things to consider on the nature of sola scriptura;
Divine authority; where scripture contains, as the Word of God, the full authority of God and we are thus to be in full agreement with the doctrines found in scripture.
Clarity; the bible presents all doctrine, teachings and commands of the Christian faith clearly which means the Word is clearly accessible to all without any special education. No one needs to wait for a clergyman, the Pope, scholar or council to explain the meaning of any part of the bible for them.
Efficacy; scripture is united in the power of the Holy Spirit which not only demands but also creates the acceptance of its teachings. Scripture does not compel approval of doctrine but rather creates a living agreement.
Sufficiency; The bible contains everything everyone needs to know of salvation and the living of the Christian life. Scripture has no deficiencies that need to be filled by tradition, pronouncements by the Pope, new revelation and so on.
Scripture is said to be self-authenticating, clear to the rational reader, its own interpreter and sufficient to be the final authority on Christian life.
Chapter I, section VII of the Westminister confession of faith says:
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
How is scripture interpreted then, if not by clergymen, pastors or the Pope as the spiritual authorities? Reformers held that the discernment of scripture is the result of the Holy Spirit indwelling within each person and that ‘scripture interprets scripture’ as the Word of God. While these may lead to minor doctrinal differences between Protestant churches which cause the divide, the general consensus of scriptures as lead by the Spirit remains the same and we all remain one singular church.
When it comes down to it, the difference here between Catholicism and Protestantism is the sola scriptura of Protestant churches and the use of both scripture and tradition by Catholic churches. The Catholic church holds that scripture and tradition are not separate doctrines but that tradition is what formed scripture. Incidentally, many Catholic church doctrines have a basis in tradition but lack much in scripture.
Let’s briefly have a look at some;
Transubstantiation (the belief that in communion, the bread becomes Jesus’ body and the wine becomes His blood); for one, I’m a little bit weirded out by the thought. Catholics will quote verses such as Matt 26:28, John 6:52-53 and 1 Cor. 11:27 to support this view.This is completely ignoring the fact that Jesus talks a lot on the spiritual side of things and not a literal physical state, and also the fact that Jesus would have contradicted one of the Levitical laws to not drink the blood of any flesh (the new covenant was not yet implemented and thus this was still in effect) in changing the bread and wine both for Himself, as a sinless Jew and His apostles.
Veneration of Mary and the saints; Whether Catholics look to call it worship, or veneration, their actions are the same. The bible is absolutely clear that worship is God’s alone. The apostles refused to be worshiped, as do the angels. Likewise, the bible never tells us to revere anyone by God alone. By all means, respect them and desire to live for Christ like them. But let’s not be robbing God of His glory by partaking in blatant violation of the second commandment, for our ‘God is a jealous God’ (Exodus 20).
Prayer to Mary and the Saints: another unbiblical practice. The position of the church is that they don’t pray to these people, but they pray through them. ie. They pray to God for us. Many Catholics however pray to these people, regardless of the churches apparent position. You won’t find any of this in the bible, while the bible is clear that we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, that there is one mediator between us and God and that is Christ and also that Jesus intercedes for us before the Father.
Purgatory; this isn’t even a thing. Its nowhere in the bible. The verses Catholics use to support it, including Matt 5:24-25,12:32 and 1 Cor. 3:11-15 and the apocrypha are either not implying anything of the sort, or in the case of apocrypha not inspired.
Apocrypha: these, such as the books of Maccabees weren’t included in the Catholic bible until the 1500’s, almost 1500 years after they were written. Why? They support purgatory, offering money for the sins of the dead and weren’t included in the bible canon in the first place due to erroneous nature.
Supremacy and infallibility of the Pope; NO. This is the bit that frustrates me the most. Supremacy of the Pope refers to his full, supreme and universal power over the Christian church, a power which can be exercised unhindered. Likewise, infallibility suggests that the Pope is preserved from the possibility of error. Not only are both of those taking the words of Jesus in Matt 16:17-19 and applying it to someone who is not Peter, but is clearly contradictory to the teaching of the bible and the current Pope’s actions. Colossians 1:18 says Christ, not the Pope, is the head of the church. As do many other verses in the new testament. As for infallibility? The current Pope is a heretic. Feel free to do a Google search on that as i have no patience for reading up more on the Pope’s heresy. Some of the Catholic church believe the seat of the Pope remains vacant.
As we can hopefully see, scripture is vital for checking against doctrine and tradition, not the other way around. To finish up with this post on sola scriptura, here is a verse out of 2 Timothy and out of Hebrews;
“(16) All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (17) that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ~ Hebrews 4:12
The Word of God is important. Let’s not be dishonouring God by treating it insufficiently in our day to day walk with Christ.
But at the same time, let’s be remembering not to worship what God has said over God Himself – that is the most important distinction to be made.
By faith alone.
This is the point of contention between Protestant and Catholics churches on justification; where faith alone is the basis for Protestant churches and faith and works for Catholics. This is also a point of confusion, as the verse often used in support of work-based faith is this;
“(14) What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (15) If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (17) So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (18) But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (19) You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (20) Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? (21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? (22) You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; (23) and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. (24) You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (25) And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? (26) For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. ~ James 2:14-26
Catholicism posits that this means that faith and works are both vital towards justification. This verse would appear to suggest that. However, on the same level there are verses which can be identified in support of sola fide and in actuality, there are more of them. These include;
(16) Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. ~ Galatians 2:16
(8) For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (9) not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~ Ephesians 2:8-9
(4) Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. (5) And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. ~ Romans 4:4-5
This verse above is a part of the section of how Abraham was justified by his faith and not by his works so he has nothing to boast about – his faith was counted as righteousness. I could quote any number of verses from Romans 4, or the entirety of Hebrews 11 to make this point. For each of these verses out of the Pauline letters, and even, Peter’s letter to the Hebrews, we see a very stark contradiction to the Catholic doctrine on the importance of works – and a very clear contradiction too.
How then, are we to understand James 2:14-17 in this context? As other parts of the bible are clear that faith produces righteousness and justification, and because of the fact that the bible cannot be in contradiction with itself, then as we saw from sola scriptura we must allow scripture to interpret scripture and allow logical reasoning of the scriptures to unfold.
Protestants interpret what James is saying to mean that our faith, which produces righteousness and justification, is followed by a natural outpouring of works as a result of our faith. This is taken in context with verses such as those above, which are clearly indicative of faith-based justification and righteousness. So therefore, because of our love for Jesus, and our faith in Him, good works surface as the total assurance of the genuine nature of our faith; hence, faith without works is a dead faith.
We need to be clear; what this is not saying is that we are justified and righteous by both faith and works; we are righteous and justified due to the imputed righteousness of Christ onto us.
What this verse is saying is that works are important in salvation. Why? Because works are the proving grounds for genuineness of faith. In other words, works are obvious and visible results of the justification of a person in Christ. If you don’t have any works, what sort of faith in Christ are you really living? A lack of works reveals a spiritually dead heart or an unchanged life.
Works are not the way to salvation; works are the evidence of salvation.Authentic, genuine faith reveals itself by its works.
How good is it to know then, that we are justified and made righteous by faith alone!
By grace alone.
By grace alone is a point where there appears to be no conflict with the teachings of Roman Catholicism, where both views equally believe that grace is and always is a divine gift from God. While this may be the case, there are finer points within a doctrine of the Catholic church that needs addressing here, known as the Catholic doctrine of merit.
So what is merit?
A Catholic encyclopedia puts it like this;
“In the theological sense, a supernatural merit can only be a salutary act (actus salutaris), to which God in consequence of his infallible promise owes a supernatural reward, consisting ultimately in eternal life, which is the beatific vision in heaven.”
Merit in the Catholic church is only a possibility within the state of grace. If you are not in God’s grace, you cannot act in merit. Note that salvation by works is not a belief of the Catholic church, which is a heresy known as Pelagianism. Merititious good works are the result of God’s grace working through someone.
In the words of Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J;
“Divine reward for the practice of virtue. It is a Catholic doctrine that by his good works a person in the state of grace really acquires a claim to supernatural reward from God. “The reward given for good works is not won by reason of actions which precede grace, but grace, which is unmerited, precedes actions in order that they may be performed meritoriously” (II Council of Orange, Denzinger 388).”
Some of this i agree with. The bible does talk a lot about divine reward from God. An inheritance. In fact, this point of the solae is a misunderstanding of the early Protestant church on the Catholic standpoint on salvation. Catholics do by no means believe that works result in salvation, but through salvation we receive grace and thus can be justified by faith and our works, which find their origin in said grace.
As a result of this, we Protestants have argued that the difference here is substantial, whereas its only a minor factor, and hold to the fact that we are accepted totally without any regard for the merit of our works.
Where we could differ though, I believe, is the point of legalism. Whereas Protestant churches will hold that our works are the natural outpouring of our faith and can not justify or change our status before God and therefore do not place high importance on our works, the doctrine of merit may be the cause for many people thinking works are the way to salvation or reward and hence seek to do good works all the more, to the detriment of their faith in Christ.
This is a fact seen in many Catholics, where they place much importance on works and ‘being a good person’. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, the motives would not be grace-motivated or even Christ-motivated as the Catholic church suggests it should be.
I feel that what should be discussed though, is what we deserve.
As what I quoted above says, “to which God in consequence of his infallible promise owes a supernatural reward”.
I’m sorry, but God owes me a supernatural reward? He sure does; its called eternal punishment.
God owes me nothing and to think otherwise is incredibly vain. Sure, He promises reward. But to think God owes us anything other then what we deserve for our sin is why grace alone is such a vital doctrine.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:10
Even Paul asserts that all his hard work was by the grace of God that was in him. In the end, then, our works could not be ‘good’ before a just and holy God if it were not for grace. Reward is ultimately the product of sola gratia – and by the grace of God, we all receive the reward we don’t deserve, not by our works so we cannot boast; eternal life and life with the Son of God.
Christ alone, or through Christ alone.
Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Of all the solae, this one is my favourite one because it places all supremacy on Christ and puts emphasis on the need for relationship with Him. This point of the reformation in particular is in response to the prayers of Catholics to the saints and Mary as intercessors before God and to the specific priesthood of Catholic ministers.
As already addressed in sola scriptura, the Catholic church’s apparent position on praying to Mary and the saints is that they pray through them and not specifically to them. Even in regards to this apparent position, there is zero biblical backing for praying to the saints nor to having them pray to God for us. The bible nowhere instructs people to pray to anyone besides God and never talks about asking people in heaven to pray to God for us. The reason behind this is because Catholics believe that, because these people are already in heaven, having them pray to God for us is more effective then our own prayers.
This totally ignores what the bible says. Let’s have a look at a few verses which suggest that this is both unbiblical and ineffective.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” ~ Hebrews 4:16
“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” ~ Hebrews 7:25
Hebrews 4:16 doesnt say “Let us pray to people who can draw with confidence near the throne of grace..”. It says let us!. We can draw near the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace in our time of need. Likewise, 7:25 doesn’t say that the saints or Mary make intercession for us. It very clear says that Christ does!
Many Catholics will continue to defend this doctrine by suggesting that asking Mary or the saints to pray for you is akin to asking someone here on earth to pray for you, which I imagine would be the main reason such an unbiblical doctrine still stands today. So obviously, this needs closer examination. So as sola scriptura demands, lets have a look at the bible.
The apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:19 asks other Christians to pray for him. Verses such as 2 Timothy 1:3, Philippians 1:19 and 2 Corinthians 1:11 describes Christians praying for each other. And you guessed it, the bible nowhere advocates that Mary or the saints pray for us. It never even says they can hear our prayers and it would be foolish to think they can. These men and women of faith were never risen from the grave (yet!) like Jesus and technically in the strictest sense of the word are not ‘alive’ as Jesus is. The only time the bible says someone responded while dead, someone whose name was Samuel, says he was summoned by sorcery and wasn’t too stoked about being disturbed. All activities involved in reaching the dead are condemned in the bible.
Because of solo Christo, it is important to understand then, that priests become irrelevant, not only because everything can and will be done through Christ alone, but also because in the bible there are no such thing as priests to perform sacraments for us, or for us to confess sins to.
The bible actually says the opposite about priests.
(4) As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, (5) you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. ~ 1 Peter 2:4-5
All believers in Jesus are privileged to be a royal priesthood, which means we have access to the inner room of the temple; that is, privileged access to God Himself. We do not need a priest to provide intercession for us, nor to enter before us, as the high priest already has. We have unlimited access to God all thanks to the cross.
This is tantamount to the Christian faith and unlike a specific Christian priesthood, is biblical.
Soli Deo gloria
Glory to God alone.
The last of the five solae of Protestantism. Soli Deo gloria. Glory to God alone makes an incredible amount of sense to me, as per my understanding of the Christian faith and of God Himself.
Such an idea makes sense for the most holy, most glorious and most powerful being in all of the universe. And as such, we recognise that God is the only being deserving of glory and being glorified.
So it begs the question – why did Protestantism adopt this aspect of the solae in response to Catholicism? I believe that we have already covered part of these to an extent in the previous sola, especially on the unbiblical nature of them.
Soli Deo gloria recognises that because salvation is due to God alone, by His will and sovereign action, all glory is therefore due to Him – not only for the ultimate atonement of Christ on the cross but also the coming of faith within the heart of the believer, where the Holy Spirit Himself has been at work.
Therefore, this is the point of the reformation that totally excludes and retracts the veneration (reverence) of Mary, the Saints and all the angels and retracts all glory from created things and our good works. It retracts the supremacy and infallibility of the Pope over the church. All saints canonized for their good works by the church, former Popes and even the angels themselves are thus unworthy of any glory accredited to them.
Why? A sovereign Creator resides over all created things. Our good works and those of the saints of old are only good because of the sanctification and righteousness imputed by the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Angels can only act within the sovereign will of their King.
Humans and created beings should not be exalted or given any glory, when all glory should be attributed to our God and King.
Let’s have a look at some bible verses on the glory of God.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. ~ 1 Corinthians 10:31
…whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. ~ 1 Peter 4:11
…and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. ~ Revelation 1:6
…to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. ~ Ephesians 3:21
…saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” ~ Revelation 7:12
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen ~ Romans 11:36
You would have noticed a general trend in each of those verses. For one, there is no glory attributed to Mary, the saints, the angels and most certainly not us. That’s because you won’t find any of that in the bible, as all glory is due to God and to God alone. And secondly, you will notice the words “to Him be glory forever and ever” or some variation of that in every verse. To God be glory forever and ever. The writers of the bible recognised that only God is worthy of glory and praise and not the works of man, and also that God is worthy of glory forever and ever, which He will most certainly receive forever and ever.
I want to examine the Romans 11:36 verse in particular, which says “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” To Him and through Him and from Him. All things. Mary, the saints, the angels, us, creation. Everything. Ultimately this means that all glory that we think could be theirs is rightly accredited to God, as He is the only one worthy of it.
So, lets not be cheating God of the glory He deserves by accrediting it to created things.
If you’ve made it to the end, congratulations! I know not all too many people will be that interested in this (and some might even disagree or have corrections to pull me up on), but if you’ve made it here, thanks for reading!
Some food for thought to finish, from the words of John Piper;
God is most glorified by us when we are most satisfied in Him