In response to the explosion of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church responded with their own protest at the Council of Trent in 1547. As we study church history, we must see that the Reformation is more than a historical skirmish over words. At the heart of the controversy is the gospel of Jesus.
The Roman Catholic Church had removed the Bible from the people and forced the people to worship under the directives of Rome. The worship was cold, lacking in participation, lacking in intelligibility, and most importantly—devoid of the true gospel.
The Reformers protested the practices of Roman Catholicism and labored diligently to unleash the Bible. In many ways, the Reformation was the work of bringing the Bible to the people. In doing so, the worship of the Reformation looked vastly different because it involved participation of the people in singing, intelligible preaching, and most importantly the true gospel of Christ was proclaimed.
At the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church responded to the Reformation with protests of their own. One such statement at the Council of Trent remains a dividing line between Protestants and Roman Catholicism.
CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.
The teaching of sola fide (faith alone) during the Reformation had a heavy emphasis on alone. The point was to expose the slavish works of Roman Catholicism regarding salvation. This was highly offensive to Rome because it pointed people to faith, apart from works, for the forgiveness of sins. In short, it provided clear teaching on the doctrine of justification from Scripture that directs man away from a works-based system. Notice what Paul writes about the work of God in salvation:
“he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5–7).
Roman Catholicism is a system that keeps man on a constant treadmill of works in order to please God, but then condemns the idea of assurance along the journey. Not only is that a demonic doctrine, but it also enslaves the minds of people and prevents them from freely trusting in the finished work of Christ alone.
Listen to these words from the Council of Trent in Chapter IX which was committed to addressing “the vain confidence of heretics” in the Reformation:
But, although it is necessary to believe that sins neither are remitted, nor ever were remitted save gratuitously by the mercy of God for Christ’s sake; yet is it not to be said, that sins are forgiven, or have been forgiven, to any one who boasts of his confidence and certainty of the remission of his sins, and rests on that alone; seeing that it may exist, yea does in our day exist, amongst heretics and schismatics; and with great vehemence is this vain confidence, and one alien from all godliness, preached up in opposition to the Catholic Church. But neither is this to be asserted,-that they who are truly justified must needs, without any doubting whatever, settle within themselves that they are justified, and that no one is absolved from sins and justified, but he that believes for certain that he is absolved and justified; and that absolution and justification are effected by this faith alone: as though whoso has not this belief, doubts of the promises of God, and of the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ. For even as no pious person ought to doubt of the mercy of God, of the merit of Christ, and of the virtue and efficacy of the sacraments, even so each one, when he regards himself, and his own weakness and indisposition, may have fear and apprehension touching his own grace; seeing that no one can know with a certainty of faith, which cannot be subject to error, that he has obtained the grace of God.
Roman Catholicism teaches that people cannot have certainty of their faith in Christ and live with assurance of the grace of God. This is devilish. It produces fear rather than confidence in God through Christ. The apostle John writes, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”11 John 5:13
This teachings of Roman Catholicism are purposeful in that they continue to enslave people to their system of works so that people believe they are working and cooperating with God to effect their own salvation. This is why the Reformation is so vitally important and why we must continue to protest. The Reformation is not over.
Martin Luther, in the preface to the New Testament, said the following:
For the gospel does not expressly demand works of our own by which we become righteous and are saved; indeed it condemns such works. Rather the gospel demands faith in Christ: that He has overcome for us sin, death, and hell, and thus gives us righteousness, life, and salvation not through our works, but through His own works, death, and suffering, in order that we may avail ourselves of His death and victory as though we has done it ourselves.2Martin Luther, Preface to the New Testament
Any doctrine of man that directs a person away from faith in Christ alone and condemns assurance of salvation based upon the finished work of Christ is anti-gospel and anti-Christ. Chances are you know someone who is a Roman Catholic. What you must remember is that Roman Catholicism is not a denomination within evangelicalism (like Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists). Roman Catholicism has a completely different gospel than the gospel of Jesus Christ and is therefore not a true church. As you come to see this, it will impact how you engage friends and family members who are enslaved by this false religion.
Ephesians 2:8–9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.