This week we celebrate 500th anniversary of the beginning of the protestant reformation. Among the rallying cries of the reformation were “sola fide” (faith alone) and “sola scriptura” (scripture alone).
In proclaiming sola fide, the reformers were affirming the truth of Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV) 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. The church in Rome was teaching that both faith and works were needed for salvation. The works included participation in the sacraments and the buying of indulgences. Even today, the Catholic church proclaims: “salvation is a process that begins with our baptism and continues throughout our lifetimes” (https://www.catholicscomehome.org/your-questions/church-teachings/salvation/#answer1). The classic protestant view is that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, that baptism is to be an outward sign of the inward change that faith in Jesus brings and that good works are the evidence of faith, not a necessary element for salvation.
As for sola scripture, protestants have believed that the Word of God, as preserved for us in the Bible, is the sole rule of faith and practice as Christians. Roman Catholics, however, believe that both the Bible and the extra-biblical traditions of the church constitute the whole Word of God and together compose the rule of faith (https://www.catholicscomehome.org/your-questions/church-teachings/scripture-and-tradition/#answer1).
In light of this, I find it disturbing that a recent Pew Research pole of American protestants found that “About half of U.S. Protestants (52%) say both good deeds and faith in God are needed to get into heaven, a historically Catholic position. The other half (46%) say that faith alone is needed to attain salvation.” (http://www.pewforum.org/2017/08/31/after-500-years-reformation-era-divisions-have-lost-much-of-their-potency/).
Similarly, according to the results of the survey: “U.S. Protestants also are split on another issue that played a key role in the Reformation: 46% say the Bible provides all the religious guidance Christians need, a traditionally Protestant belief known as sola scriptura. But 52% say Christians should look for guidance from church teachings and traditions as well as from the Bible, the position held by the Catholic Church.”
When combined, only 30% of protestants hold to the reformation doctrines of sola fide and sola scriptura. This percentage was slightly higher for white evangelicals (44%) and was 59% for those who said they attended church at least once a week.
One wonders if the continuing decline of the protestant churches in America is due largely to decline in teaching and preaching of the fundamentals of our faith. It appears that the foundations of the original reformation have been seriously eroded and we are in need of a new reformation which will light a fire of renewal within the church and revival throughout our land.