I recently finished watching A Lamp in the Dark: The Untold History of the Bible. I don’t intend to go into any type of review other than to say that it is a well done, well documented source of information — I recommend it. I mention it at the beginning of this post because of a significant lesson that can be learned from it regarding the meaning and purpose of the Protestant Reformation.
In most of the popular histories of Protestantism, the claim is made that the primary issue dividing Protestants and Roman Catholics is justification. And certainly, the Council of Trent did, in its sixth session, condemn the Protestant understanding of justification “by grace alone through faith alone,” but this issue was hardly the only Protestant doctrine to be condemned. Rather, the entire purpose of the council was to refute all of Protestantism and reaffirm those Roman doctrines which the Protestants attacked. Thus, the Council of Trent is correctly regarded as the beginning of the Counter Reformation. And as pointed out in a previous post, and according to various Catholic resources, the declarations of Trent are still in effect. Not only that, but officially, the vigorous defense of Catholic dogma that continues after 450-plus years since is considered a success.
That is to say, Protestants are still heretics and are not fit for the title of Christian. The official position of the Catholic Church is that anyone who is a Christian must be a Catholic. However, if you’re an atheist, a Muslim, or pretty much anybody but a Protestant, don’t worry.
Why all the hate? Why all the anathemas? Justification is important, don’t misinterpret, but atheists get to go to heaven before Baptists? Because of one doctrine?
No. Well, yes, but not the justification doctrine.
This brings me back to the lesson that comes out in A Lamp in the Dark. You see, it’s easy — very easy — to become bogged down in simply trying to disprove or fight back against Catholicism — or any other anti-Protestant, anti-Christian system. But the greatest weapon against Rome, or any other opponent of the Gospel, is the Gospel. And this is what the Reformers learned and did: They preached the Gospel in all of its truth and purity.
And where does one find the Gospel?
In the Bible.
The story of A Lamp in the Dark is the vicious, unrelenting opposition that Rome has for anyone who learns and teaches others directly from God’s Word. Access to God’s Word without distortion, mediation, or tradition is the greatest weapon anyone has against opponents of Gospel Truth.
This was the true issue in the Protestant Reformation. Justification, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, the priesthood of all believers, and every other Protestant bedrock was found by studying the scriptures. Protestantism is a movement based on God’s Word facilitated by access to God’s Word.
Do atheists possess the true Gospel? No.
So they’re all set. They can look to the Catholic Church and actually believe that the Papacy is Vicarius Filii Dei. Because they don’t have the Bible and the truth it contains, they can believe the Pope when he says that they’ll all go to heaven together because they’re holding hands and being good together.
Protestants, not so much.
And that brings me to the point to be made by the title of this post. Catholicism vs Protestantism is illustrated by the symbols of the crucifix and the Cross. We can learn a lot about organizations and institutions by studying their symbols.
Roman Catholicism is an invented religious system in which Jesus is still hanging on the tree. The liturgy of the Roman Rite requires that “on or close to the altar there is to be a cross with a figure of Christ crucified.” If Christ is still hanging on the cross, then his sacrifice is not complete, requiring the repeated sacrifice of the Mass over and over and over again as, the Roman Church claims, a propitiatory sacrifice. Such a sacrificial system requires a specialized priesthood. And their authority for claiming this is based entirely on non-biblical sources.
Numerous scriptures could be cited to refute just this basic heresy. Such as:
Hebrews 7:26-27 regarding the fact that the only priesthood now in existent is the High Priesthood of Jesus: “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.”
1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit . . .”
Romans 6:10: “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.”
Romans 6:9: “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”
If Christ is still hanging on the cross, then he cannot be a risen, active savior accessible to those for whom he died and on whose behalf he mediates in heaven. The Roman Catholic Church needs Jesus to still be on the cross because otherwise, its reasons for existence are no more and the lie that is its theology is found out.
1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
Roman Catholicism, of course, has its own apologetic arguments. But this still begs the question, “Why is the Roman Church historically so against believers having access to the scriptures?” Why, as Roman apologists still do today, so vehemently deny the ability of individual believers to know and understand the Bible for themselves? Why, in their identification of Protestantism as one of the Great Heresies, so closely identify and condemn it along with Sola Scriptura? Why does Rome insist, contrary to Scripture, that believers cannot and must not discover the Bible for themselves?
One apologetic attempt to refute Protestants and assert Rome’s magisterial authority of interpretation does so by flat out denying that the Bible is the sole rule of faith for Christians and simply claiming (with faulty biblical exegesis) that the Bible itself teaches that it’s not the sole authority.
In Jesus’s final prayer before being arrested, he intervened on behalf of his followers praying that God would “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). In this verse Jesus reveals the means of a believer’s sanctification (through the truth) and identified the source of truth (God’s Word).
The Bible tells us that the Word of God is two things. First, it is the Bible itself:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:14-16).
Second, the Word of God is Jesus Christ himself:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14).
Jesus himself commands us, that if we are to know him, who and what he is, then we should consult the scriptures (John 5:39; Luke 24:25-27; Acts 8:32-35). And the New Testament testifies that the scriptures and Jesus are both revelations from God (Hebrews 1:1-2).
Taking all of these into consideration, we learn that we understand Jesus through the Bible and we understand the Bible through Jesus, who is revealed in the Bible. Hebrews 12 calls Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. And since the identities of Jesus and the Bible are intertwined, the Bible, we can safely say, is the sole rule of our faith as Christians.
Hebrews 12 also says that Jesus is “seated at the right hand of the throne of God,” which means that he is no longer hanging on the Roman Catholic crucifix.
No Protestant church, to my knowledge, save a few Lutheran groups, displays the crucifix (Anglicans and the various Orthodox groups are not, strictly speaking, Protestant). Instead, in Protestant churches, we find an empty cross, that goes with an empty tomb.
In the words of the hymn, we serve a risen savior. He’s in the world today. We know that he is with us, whatever men may say.
Jesus is risen. He is active. He is alive. He doesn’t need priests or popes to mediate for us. He doesn’t need to be sacrificed over and over again. He both authored and finished our faith, which makes the ministrations of the Roman Catholic Church meaningless and, quite frankly, blasphemous.
How do we know this? Through the Bible. And how do we tell others? By teaching and preaching the Bible. Yes, it’s important to dispel the false theology and unbiblical dogma of Rome. But the best and only way to do this is to point others to the unstoppable truths of the Bible, the unstoppable truth about an empty, bare cross where Jesus “for a world of lost sinners was slain.”
It is through him, and only through him, that we may approach the Father. Sorry Rome (and atheists, and Muslims, et al).