Apologetics by Bob Sullivan
As October 31, 2017 comes and goes, you will see and hear a lot of things which celebrate the 500th anniversary of the start of Martin Luther’s Protestant Revolution.
While most people and most announcements will call it the Protestant Reformation, it wasn’t a reformation because Martin Luther’s efforts did not reform Christianity, they deformed it. Martin Luther and his disciples have continued to deform Christianity for the last five centuries. Their efforts have resulted in a severe fracturing of Christianity to the point where there are not two distinct brands of Christianity (Catholic and Protestant) but an exponential splintering of Protestantism on one side and the Catholic Church on the other.
A third branch has now developed which seems Christian, but isn’t. This branch includes the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religions that deny some of the essential beliefs of Christianity, while accepting others.
Are there now more than 30,000 Protestant denominations in the United States? Maybe, maybe not. People disagree as to how that number has come up. Some point out that the source for that number improperly considers some churches to be different denominations when they are really the same denomination.
However, I suggest that 30,000 is actually very low. I say this because recent national polls and surveys indicate that approximately 23% of American Christians do not belong to any traditional faith. This means that they consider the Bible to be their own authority on matters of faith and reject any claim to authority of all other persons or body of persons (a church). These individuals are called “Nones” because they check the category “None of the Above” when it comes to identifying their Christian church. I consider each “None” to be a church of one because they are assuming the sole authority to interpret Scripture, which is one of the roles Jesus entrusted to the Church in verses such as Matthew 28:20, John 16:13-15 and Luke 10:16. There are about 64,000,000 Nones in the U.S. and it is the fastest growing category in American Christianity. This is why I say 30,000 Protestant denominations is a very low estimate.
Did Martin Luther want Christians to stop going to “church” or services, or whatever they choose to call it when they gather for purposes of worshipping God? The answer is a very clear, “No.” Luther believed in the idea that the faithful should attend regular worship services, led by the clergy and which followed established rituals and practices.
Although Luther advocated for changing some of the Lutheran rituals in order to slightly differentiate Lutheranism from Catholicism, the changes were ever so slight. We know this because even today, you can walk into some Lutheran churches and see that their Sunday service is strikingly similar to the Mass. This is not the case in all Lutheran churches, but there are some who have remained reasonably close to the form and practices that Luther adopted once he was no longer part of the Catholic Church.
However, if you ask one of America’s 64 million Nones whether they go to church on Sunday, many if not most of them will tell you that belonging to a church or attending a religious service is not necessary. They will tell you that they have the Bible as their guide and although they may attend church from time to time, all they really need is the Bible.
Little do they know, their opinion differs dramatically from Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, Wesley and Henry VIII. Who can blame the Nones? They are just the victims of five centuries of deformation.
Luther started a landslide of claims, ideas and beliefs that have led billions of people to believe that Jesus ascended into Heaven without leaving anything but oral tradition as guidance for Christians. These non-Catholic Christians seem to believe that the only source of Christianity for nearly 400 years, was oral tradition and a growing number of letters and memoirs that may or may not be inspired and inerrant. I say four centuries because that is when St. Jerome finished the Latin Vulgate, which was the first full compilation of all 73 books of the Bible, and therefore, the approximate end of the age when oral tradition was the primary means of handing on the faith.
But the Church existed from Pentecost through to today and it is guided by the Holy Spirit. I’m talking about the Church built on Peter as promised by Jesus in Matthew 16:18. We also know that it is this Church that actually compiled, translated, printed and protected the Bible we have today.
Catholics need to emphasize that Jesus promised the Church and He promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. Christ then prayed for unity of faith (John 17), for the pope’s strength in leadership of the Church (Luke 22:31-32) and then he promised the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13).
Where is there a celebration of 500 years of disintegration and deformation in all of that? It just doesn’t exist.
One thing that does exist is truth as we hear in Christ’s promise to the Church in John 16:13. But many of our separated brothers and sisters seem to think that there is either less truth or maybe alternative truths which allow them to teach and believe a wide variety of things other Christian denominations reject and much different than Christianity has believed and taught for 1,500 years before Martin Luther.
Therefore, when you hear someone speak boisterously about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant “Reformation,” you should point out that they are celebrating something totally contrary to the Jesus, who came to “testify to the truth,” but Pilate scoffed (John 18:37-38).