There are a number of items the reformers diverged on from the Roman Catholic Church. Two of the key points made by not just Martin Luther would be the topics of indulgences and salvation.
For those who do not know: indulgences are grants made by the pope that people can then buy in order to reduce their time to spend in purgatory – a time decided by the weight of the individual’s sin.
Now, there’s a few problems with this. One of those being the many abuses of indulgences in the times before and during Martin Luther’s time. It was effectively used for whatever the Catholic Church wanted which even they will admit today was abused in those times. Interestingly though, the Catholic church still defends the use of indulgences as they see it producing a beneficial effect when not abused.
Another point of contention is found in what it depends on – this idea of purgatory and that the pope has power enough over it to grant these pieces of paper known as indulgences.
The pope has always claimed to be the “vicar of Christ” and thereby said to claim such spiritual authority. The issue: the arguments for this claim are shaky at best. We’ll touch on this more under the Salvation dispute next.
Purgatory, which is this place in between this life and the next involving excruciating waiting times before one day reaching heaven, quite simply has no biblical support. In fact, this is just one reason for why the Roman Catholic church declared the books known as the Apocrypha as part of the bible later – to attempt to have “scriptural” basis to argue for purgatory. Even with this move, I personally (as well as many others) question the argument to be made for purgatory as even the apocryphal literature is vague at best on even the idea – and this is coming from a person who’s actually read the Apocrypha.
So in summation: purgatory doesn’t even exist so the pope’s claims in regards to it go nowhere. I do not provide Scriptural references here because they simply do not exist that would truly support the idea of purgatory.
To be more specific, I am talking about salvation in relation to the Church.
Now, indulgences were a point of corruption that the Catholic church earned a lot of ire about from numerous people, not just Martin Luther and major reformers like him. Even with that in mind, it was the claims about salvation that truly began to draw a line in the sand.
Keep in mind that reformers like Martin Luther never had the original intent to separate from the Roman Catholic church. In fact, they were trying to point out abuses and doctrinal errors in order to have them debated and corrected. The Catholic church though was a world power that effectively had positioned itself as the controlling element in your soul’s existence after death.
So how did this change?
In Martin’s 95 theses, he laid out the case made in Romans about justification by grace alone. In other words, we are not declared righteous by any means of the Catholic church before God but by God’s grace first transforming us alone. This is often referred to as God’s regeneration in us to a state that we can respond to him in faith and it was all brought about by God’s grace – Sola Gratia (one of the 5 Solas of the Protestant Reformation).
What’s more is that all of this was discovered by simply reading and studying the Scriptures, something the Catholic church discouraged by limiting translations and putting the pope as the top interpreter. With the authority of Scripture put back at the center of the faith by reformers and the realization of the work of God’s grace, the other 3 solas of the Protestant Reformation naturally came and dismantled the Roman Catholic’s authority over one’s standing before God – I’m talking about salvation.
God’s grace (by grace alone) is what regenerates you to faith (by faith alone). This faith is not whimsical but is in an actual person who was dead, buried, and raised to life thereby conquering death (through Christ alone). We see this in God’s word, the Bible (by Scripture alone). Ultimately, it all brings glory to God and His awesomeness (glory to God alone).
We are effectively saved by God and His power and no others. We do not need the Catholic church to be saved.
With all this in mind, it is no wonder at all that the balance of power in Europe became forever changed. Not even the rulers of the day had to any longer grovel before the pope for their eternal life but only had to turn to God Himself. Granted, there were plenty of leaders who abused this change to their own ends and the conflicts of the time are the result. Even so, Christianity has never been the same since!
I praise God for the Protestant Reformation brought through the reformers He raised up so that we may know the truth of His Word!
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Hope you guys enjoyed the article. I apologize as it was delayed from my originally intended post of Sunday/Monday but I ran into some serious car trouble. Thankfully, it is resolving itself now. I enjoy writing these posts and look forward to the posts to come. The 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is still on the way!