|Why Promote Reformation Theology?
by Don Matzat
Since the time of the Reformation, Christians have been divided into
two primary, groups: Catholics and Protestants. Considering the present state
of affairs within the Christian Church, I believe it is time that we begin to
identify three primary groups:
While the three groups do have a great deal in common such as
the Doctrine of the Trinity a proper understanding of the person of Jesus
Christ, and belief in the basic historic events which provide the substance for
the Christian faith, there is also great diversity. You may find this hard to
believe, but when you compare the three groups, Reformation Protestants today
are as distinct from Evangelical Protestants as they arc from Roman Catholics.
- Roman Catholics;
- Reformation Protestants; and
- Evangelical Protestants.
The Protestant Reformation corrected the errors of Rome. For the
Reformers, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. including the forgiveness of sins and
the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the sinner was the focus of
attention. But the Protestant movement was not static. As the years past,
further developments gradually eroded some of the basic truths emphasized in
Protestant Evangelicalism, as we know it, took shape in the
40's and 50's Yet, the movements of the past have left an indelible mark. Many
of the Reformation distinctives have been lost or distorted. Consider the
following table, comparing Roman Catholics, Protestant Evangelicals and
- the Methodist revival in England introduced decision
- the First Great Awakening produced a new type of revival
- the Second Great Awakening introduced the "new measures" of
Charles Finney. Justification was rejected and conversion was a human decision
produced by persuasive techniques;
- Fundamentalism changed the focus from the Gospel to the
- premillennial dispensationalism introduced a distorted view
of the end of the world;
- Pentecostalism arose in 1900, providing the roots for the
modern Charismatic Movement;
- the establishment of the Moral Majority and the Christian
Coalition focused the attention of Evangelicals upon social and political
| Why Promote Reformation
|| ROMAN CATHOLICS
|| REFORMATION PROTESTANTS
|| EVANGELICAL PROTESTANTS
||While claiming a continuous
line of history back to the first
century, many of the clear teachings of
the Apostles have been lost or discarded.
|Initiated in sixteenth century
Germany as a result of Luther's rediscovery of justification by grace alone
through faith alone. Churches of the Reformation are primarily Lutheran and
||Modern Evangelicalism arose in
the 40's and 50's as an effort to return to the basic things of the gospel, to
confront liberalism, and to counter the negativism of Fundamentalists. Four
developments that have shaped Modern Evangelicalism: National Association of
Evangelicals formed in 1942; the rise of the Billy Graham Evangelistic
Association; Fuller Theological Seminary organized in 1947; and the
production of the journal Christianity Today to counter the more liberal
Christian Century. Popularized modern "born again" Christianity promoted
via Christian bookstores, radio, and television. Fuller Seminary led the way in
promoting modern psychology, introducing both the Church Growth and "signs and
| The Church establishes the
authority of Scripture
| Scripture Alone!
||The issue is not Scripture
Alone but rather retaining either a "high view" (conservative Evangelicals)
or "low view" (liberal Evangelicals) of Scripture. Heavy emphasis upon the role
of experience undermines biblical authority.
|As demonstrated in the
catechism, the official position of Rome on key doctrines remains
There is a wide diversity of beliefs
|Creedal statements and
confessional documents clearly state what is believed. Reformation churches are
||Agreement on basic essentials:
bible is the Word of God, creation, virgin birth, substitutionary atonement,
and second coming. Disdain for creeds and confessions opens the door for wide
diversity. Evangelicals generally have an unclear definition of the Gospel and
make no distinction between Law and Gospel. Major Reformation distinctives have
been lost or forgotten.
(What is man's part in salvation?)
|Human nature has been wounded
by original sin. Man, empowered by the
Holy Spirit, cooperates in his
salvation by doing good works.
|Man is dead in his trespasses
and sin. Both Lutherans and Calvinists believe that God, who acts upon the
human heart through the hearing of the Gospel, is solely responsible for
salvation. Grace alone!
|Many Evangelicals are Arminian.
Influenced by the eighteenth century Methodist revival, the nineteenth century
"new measures" of Charles Finney, and the twentieth century work of Billy
Graham, conversion is seen as an act of the human will. Arminians, reacting
against Calvinism, taught that God's grace extends to all, and man must be
persuaded to make a decision to accept that grace.
contrary to Calvinists, accept universal grace, but believe that man is capable
of rejecting grace. Contrary to Arminians, Lutherans believe that man is
incapable of accepting grace.
does man become righteous before God?)
|Man becomes righteous as a
result of the infused grace of the Sacraments.
Perfection is required for eternal
life. While Purgatory has
lost favor, it remains a necessary part of the system.
|Justification is the defining
truth of the Reformation.
The perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ is,
by the grace of God, imputed to the sinner. The righteousness that saves is an
alien righteousness received by faith.
For Lutherans, justification is
the "cardinal doctrine" by which the church either rises or falls.
|The nineteenth century
witnessed the rise of Evangelical Revivalism. In the Second Great Awakening,
Charles Finney rejected the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ to the
sinner because the doctrine, in his mind, hindered moral reform. While Modern
Evangelicals might not be as heretical as Finney, the doctrine of justification
has all but been forgotten!
The primary issues for Evangelicals are:
"getting saved", "being born-again", and living moral lives.
||Renewed ecumenical fervor.
Protestants are separated brethren and should be encouraged toreturn to
Possibility of eternal life extended to the sincere followers
of other world religions.
|There is a dangerous flirting
with Modern Evangelicalism via the Church Growth Movement and the Promise
Some have chosen to adopt Evangelical style while seeking to
retain Reformation substance.
|There are a number of
interesting trends in Modern Evangelicalism. The document Catholics and
Evangelicals Together indicated how far many Evangelical leaders had
strayed from the Reformation.
A number of leading Evangelicals have
returned to the historic confessions of either Eastern Orthodoxy or the
Reformation. An Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has formed. Their
goal is to call Evangelicals back to the truths of the Reformation.
Why promote Reformation theology, today?
It is a necessary emphasis for three reasons: First, to hold the line
against the errors of Catholicism. Rome's removal of its condemnation of
Protestants does not mean that those Protestants who are committed to the
sixteenth century Reformation must reciprocate. Second, to encourage Lutherans
and Calvinists to remain true to their heritage and not to get caught up in the
glitz of modern evangelicalism. And third, to call Protestant Evangelicals who
have strayed from their roots back to a commitment to the biblical truths of
The necessity for a renewed focus upon the distinctive
truths of the Reformation became very obvious when in March of 1994, the
document Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the
Third Millennium was released. Drafted by Evangelical Charles Colson and
former Lutheran minister turned Roman Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus, the
document stated that Roman Catholics and evangelicals agreed together over the
doctrine of justification by grace through faith because of Christ. Strange
missing from the statement was the key word "alone." Also, the Catechism of
the Catholic Church indicates that Rome's definitions of the words
"justification," "grace," and "faith" arc not the same as the biblical
definitions taught by the Reformers. Even with such evident distortions, the
document was endorsed by many noted Protestant Evangelicals including Richard
Land, Os Guinness, Bill Bright, Pat Robertson, and Richard Mouw.
were these Evangelical Protestant leaders willing to sign the statement? Were
they ignorant of the doctrine of justification? Did they no longer consider
justification to be a key Christian doctrine?
Reaction came from all
over the Protestant world. Michael Horton pointed out that the lack of the word
"alone" made the statement incomplete. Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul stated
that the document exposed a serious rift within evangelicalism. Several of the
signers were censured by the organizations they represented. At first, the
editorial position of Christianity Today was positive toward ECT, but as
time passed they too voiced their concerns.
While the ECT document
focused the attention of Protestant Evangelicals upon the truths that emerged
in the sixteenth century, Reformation. it also indicated how far many of their
leaders had strayed from their Reformation heritage.
Has the time come
to make a distinction between Reformation Protestants and Evangelical
Protestants? I believe so! Drawing lines in the sand is not done for the
purpose of promoting sectarian elitism. but rather for the purpose of
preserving truth for future generations. There is a great deal at stake. The
sixteenth century Reformation restored to the Church vital truths taught in
Scripture. To stray from the Reformation is to stray from the truth of God's