"The Protest is Over!" At least that is what Anglican Bishop Tony Palmer declared at a Kenneth Copeland pastoral leadership conference on January 21, 2014. "The Protest is over," repeated Palmer, "and if there is no protest, how can there be a Protestant Church?"
It seems to me that the line between Protestant and Catholic gets blurred more and more every year. Attitudes and opinions of the Roman Church by Protestants are softening. A mere 60 years ago the country was concerned about electing a Catholic President of the country. Today, religious affiliation has little or now influence on voters. In fact, according to an August 31, 2017, article by Pew Research, "Most American Protestants now say the two Christian traditions are more similar than different, religiously, and many U.S. Protestants espouse traditionally Catholic beliefs on some issues." In fact, the article went on to state that a full 36% of Protestant Americans do not believe in either sola fide (faith alone) or sola scriptura (Scripture alone).
He talked about how the brothers had money, but no food, so they came to Joseph. It's interesting, in the original story, the brothers came and bowed down to Joseph. The unity the Roman Church has always sought is one where the world church bows at her feet.
What have the last 500 years taught us? Is the Protest really over?
When Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, it was an attempt to have conversation and dialogue about the corrupt attitudes and practices of clergy within his Roman Catholic Church. I don't think Luther for a moment initially thought he would begin a whole new denomination. He was seeking reform from within his mother church.
Luther wasn't the first to disagree with the Roman Church. Reformers had come before him, men like Peter Waldo, John Huss, John Wycliffe, and Jerome of Prague. It's just that with Luther, a whole movement gained traction. The invention of the printing press made it possible to spread the word quickly, so that the world which had only before known one brand of Christianity, was now seeing two.
Luther's 95 Theses were 95 points of disagreement. But we can narrow the document down to five points for the sake of space and time. Those five points are: solus Christus, sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, soli deo gloria--or only Christ, only Scripture, only faith, only grace, and only glory to God.
However, today these five "solas" are under fire. Many argue the protest is over because on October 31, 1999, the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church signed a document entitled, "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification." Read the document and you'll notice friendlier language regarding the doctrine of justification for Lutherans. However, you'll also notice that the document explicitly confirms the position of the Roman Church at the Council of Trent (1545-1563) on the doctrine. It should also be noted that the Council of Trent was the Church's response to the Reformation, and began what we call today, the "Counter-Reformation." Thus, all previous condemnations of the Protestant view of "only faith" still stand, however, if you will accept the Joint Declaration, you can have an exception. On an interesting side note, the Methodist Church signed a similar agreement with Rome in 2006.
Look back at the last 1500 years of Christianity and consider how many "heretics" were thrown to the animals in the coliseums? How many burned at the stake? How many hung or beheaded? The Medieval Church was one of violence to those who disagreed. Thus it will be in the days just before Jesus comes, that a one-world religious organization will rise up and decree their way is the only way. Non-compliance will most certainly result in the death penalty.
Today the Roman Church teaches that only she can provide salvation for people. As a result, she is actively working to bridge the gulf between Catholic and Protestant divides.
Which brings me to the point of the Reformation. Because for me, the protest is not over. Let me illustrate using the five solas of Martin Luther:
The final sola, soli deo gloria, is the reminder that we do all to the glory of God. Taking away from Christ, or His Word, undermining faith and grace all bring glory to the individual. It is impossible to bring Glory to God without making Christ the center of all theology, relying on the Bible and the Bible only as the rule for faith, and accepting grace and Christ's righteousness in place of our own.
Thus, I would argue, 500 years after Martin Luther, that what the church needs today is continued reformation. As they would have argued: ecclasia reformata, semper reformanda--the church reformed, always reforming. We should all the more loudly, boldly, and lovingly, proclaim the truths the reformers came to embrace. For only then, will the world truly understand the love of Christ and the depth of His sacrifice so that He could save us!