Comparing Roman Catholics, Reformed Protestants, and Evangelical Protestants

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from “Why Promote Reformation Theology?” by Don Matzat of Issues, Etc.

It is a necessary emphasis for three reasons: First, to hold the line against the errors of Catholicism. Rome’s removal of its condemnation of Protestants does not mean that those Protestants who are committed to the sixteenth century Reformation must reciprocate. Second, to encourage Lutherans and Calvinists to remain true to their heritage and not to get caught up in the glitz of modern evangelicalism. And third, to call Protestant Evangelicals who have strayed from their roots back to a commitment to the biblical truths of the Reformation.

Has the time come to make a distinction between Reformation Protestants and Evangelical Protestants? I believe so! Drawing lines in the sand is not done for the purpose of promoting sectarian elitism. but rather for the purpose of preserving truth for future generations. There is a great deal at stake. The sixteenth century Reformation restored to the Church vital truths taught in Scripture. To stray from the Reformation is to stray from the truth of God’s Word.

Luther at Diet of Worms, by Anton von Werner (1843–1915) (click picture to enlarge)

Why Promote Reformation Theology?





While claiming a continuous line of history back to the 1st century, many of the clear teachings of the Apostles have been lost or discarded.

Initiated in 16th century Germany as a result of Luther’s rediscovery of justification by grace alone through faith alone. Churches of the Reformation are primarily Lutheran and Calvinist (Reformed).

Modern Evangelicalism arose in the 40’s and 50’s as an effort to return to the basic things of the gospel, to confront liberalism, and to counter the negativism of Fundamentalists. Four developments that have shaped Modern Evangelicalism: National Association of Evangelicals formed in 1942; the rise of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; Fuller Theological Seminary organized in 1947; and the production of the journal Christianity Today to counter the more liberal Christian Century. Popularized modern “born again” Christianity promoted via Christian bookstores, radio, and television. Fuller Seminary led the way in promoting modern psychology, introducing both the Church Growth and “signs and wonders” movements.

Basis of Authority

The Church establishes the authority of Scripture and traditions.

Scripture Alone!

The issue is not Scripture Alone but rather retaining either a “high view” (conservative Evangelicals) or “low view” (liberal Evangelicals) of Scripture. Heavy emphasis upon the role of experience undermines biblical authority.

Doctrinal Standards

As demonstrated in the new catechism, the official position of Rome on key doctrines remains unchanged. There is wide diversity of beliefs permitted.

Creedal statements and confessional documents clearly state what is believed. Reformation churches are “confessional” churches.

Agreement on basic essentials: Bible is the Word of God, creation, virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, and second coming. Disdain for creeds and confessions opens the door for wide diversity. Evangelicals generally have an unclear definition of the Gospel and make no distinction between Law and Gospel. Major Reformation distinctives have been lost or forgotten.

Doctrine of Sin

(What is man’s part in salvation?)

Human nature has been wounded by original sin. Man, empowered by the Holy Spirit, cooperates in his salvation by doing good works (synergism).

Man is dead in his trespasses and sin. Both Lutherans and Calvinists believe that God, who acts upon the human heart through the hearing of the Gospel, is solely responsible for salvation. Grace alone! (monergism)

Many Evangelicals are Arminian. Influenced by the 18th century Methodist revival, the 19th century “new measures” of Charles Finney, and the 20th century work of Billy Graham, conversion is seen as an act of the human will. Arminians, reacting against Calvinism, taught that God’s grace extends to all, and man must be persuaded to make a decision to accept that grace (synergism). Lutherans, contrary to Calvinists, accept universal grace, but believe that man is capable of rejecting grace. Contrary to Arminians, Lutherans believe that man is incapable of accepting grace.


(How does man become righteous before God?)

Man becomes righteous as a result of the infused grace of the Sacraments.
Righteousness is actual. Perfection is required for eternal life. While Purgatory has lost favor, it remains a necessary part of the system.

Justification is the defining truth of the Reformation.The perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ is, by the grace of God, imputed to the sinner. The righteousness that saves is an alien righteousness received by faith. For Lutherans, justification is the “cardinal doctrine” by which the church either rises or falls.

The 19th century witnessed the rise of Evangelical Revivalism. In the Second Great Awakening, Charles Finney rejected the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ to the sinner because the doctrine, in his mind, hindered moral reform. While Modern
Evangelicals might not be as heretical as Finney, the doctrine of justification has all but been forgotten!The primary issues for Evangelicals are: “getting saved”, “being born-again”, and living moral lives.


Renewed ecumenical fervor. Protestants are separated brethren and should be encouraged toreturn to
the fold. Possibility of eternal life extended to the sincere followers
of other world religions.

There is a dangerous flirting with Modern Evangelicalism via the Church Growth Movement and the Promise Keepers. Some have chosen to adopt Evangelical style while seeking to retain Reformation substance.

There are a number of interesting trends in Modern Evangelicalism. The document Catholics and Evangelicals Together indicated how far many Evangelical leaders had strayed from the Reformation. A number of leading Evangelicals have returned to the historic confessions of either Eastern Orthodoxy or the Reformation. An Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has formed. Their goal is to call Evangelicals back to the truths of the Reformation. MY NOTE: Since this table was written, there have been new trends such as the Emergent Movement, acceptance of the gay movement and same-sex marriage, and universalism.


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