Reformation 500: Your Seven-Day Countdown
Are Protestants Still “Sola Fide & Sola Scriptura”?
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther tacked his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Cathedral ushering in the Protestant Reformation and reshaping Christianity. This revolutionary moment inspired five great doctrines that undergirded the entire Reformation:
Today, Protestants number over 560 million worldwide—more than one out of every three followers. Yet many who fall into the category of “Protestant” no longer believe and practice all the central tenets of the Reformation platform. Inside Protestant Christianity different groups focus upon differing aspects of the “Five Solas” listed above.
Mainline Protestants– tend to no longer hold “Sola Scriptura” in as high a regard, adding “reason, experience and church tradition” to the mix as items equally valid to Scripture in determining God’s will for individuals. This has led to a sharp division between the “Mainline” and the “Evangelical” followers of the reformation.
Evangelical Protestants- still affirm both “Sola Scriptura” and “Sola Fide” in principle as central tenants of faith and practice. Arguments with evangelical circles tend to divide over whether the Bible is “inerrant” (without error) or “infallible” (perfect in conveying the message for which it was written). While many in academics circles have split hairs over these two designations, a commitment and conviction to holding Scripture above all else in determining God’s will for believers has come into decline and steady decay.
A recent report from Christianity Today indicates that 52% of Protestants believe that good deeds are needed to merit salvation. This is a tricky statement, because both Paul and Luther teach that justification with God is through “faith alone” and not based upon works. However, Jesus’ own brother James did remind us, “Faith without works is dead.” A combination approach to justification with God based upon faith and works bring the Protestant Reformation back much closer to the Catholic position it split from 500 years ago.
We see more clearly the gap that has occurred between Luther and today’s typical Protestant in a Pew Survey (pewforum.org, 2017) that indicated only 3 in 10 Protestants world-wide still believe in both “Faith Alone” and “Scripture Alone” as central tenets of their personal theology. In the US these numbers are higher, and interestingly grow even higher among those with a college education. This group of college educated Protestants believe both “Sola Fide” and “Sola Scriptura” at a rate of 65%. This is a great reason to promote Christian Higher Education in our churches!
But there is still much work to be done. When just looking at the Bible as the Word of God, those holding to “Sola Scriptura” has fallen to just 46% world-wide. This data indicates more clearly than anything else that the age of secularism is upon us, and the place of the Bible in forming faith and practice is quickly vanishing not only from the culture but from our churches as well. In America, 88% of the population has a Bible in their home (avg. is 3 per home) but nearly 54% of them are never read. Only 18% of Americans read the Bible daily, 15% a few times a week and 13% once a week (Barna, State of the Bible Research, 2014). The younger a person, the less likely they are to read the Bible regularly.
Today’s Protestant Church is in danger of giving up all that Luther and the other Reformers fought to preserve—and to return again to darker ages. Perhaps the 500tha Anniversary is a great time to recommit to the standard of the Word of God as all-sufficient for directing faith and practice for the church.
QUESTION: What about you? How many Bibles in your home? Do you read the Bible more often as you grow older?