The Heart of the Controversy
The heart of the Protestant vs. Catholic controversy centers around how sinners like us can be eternally saved and go to heaven. In 1450 A.D., the printing press was invented, and the first book printed was the Bible. Previously unread, Christians throughout Europe gazed upon—for the first time ever—the sacred pages of God’s Book. In 1501, Martin Luther discovered a Latin Bible in a library in Germany. Unbelievable, Luther pondered while reading it, this is different from what my church teaches.
At first, Luther tried to reform the church, but his efforts were viciously resisted. Roman Catholic leaders labeled him a heretic and pressured him to recant, threatening both him and his followers with imprisonment and loss of all possessions. Luther countered that Christians should place God’s Word first, even above the Pope. The war was on. As the conflict intensified, Protestants eventually developed these fundamental principles. Their rallying cry was:
“Sola Scriptura,” by Scripture alone
“Sola Christo,” through Christ alone
“Sola Fide,” by faith alone
“Sola Gratia,” by grace alone
Yes, the Roman Catholic Church also taught (as it does today) the importance of faith, the value of Bible reading, and salvation through Christ and His grace; yet that small four-letter Latin word “sola” (meaning “alone”) became the dividing line between reforming Protestants and Catholicism.
In the 1500s, Protestants taught that a person can reach heaven by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ’s perfect merits alone, based on what is written in the Bible alone; whereas Rome added to the requirements of salvation numerous traditions, such as praying to Mary and dead saints, repeating the rosary, confessing sins to priests, performing works of penance, paying money to release one’s dead relatives from the flames of purgatory, and above all, belief in the supreme authority of the Pope as the successor of St. Peter—the universal head of Christianity. Rome also added the notion that temporal punishment for sin could be reduced by purchasing indulgences.
Catholic leaders admitted that these traditions aren’t mentioned in the Bible specifically, but asserted that they come from the Holy Spirit working through God’s Church. Protestants didn’t buy it. They decided to stick with Scripture. In the 1500s, these issues divided Christendom.