Reformation Drift

As we prepare for the Reformation weekend, Pastor Ian presents a sobering fact that we have drifted from Luther's place to another and he exhorts us to set our hearts ablaze again with a renewed passion for the gospel. 

/drɪft/ (noun): a slow, continuous movement from one place to another.

‘Drift’ could refer to almost anything. It could describe what happens to a piece of wood, picked up on a shoreline and carried by ocean currents to a distant beach.  It could describe my focus, worn weary by an overly long meeting.  Even married couples, when overwhelmed by the demands of daily life and desensitised by relational inattention, can slowly drift apart.

On 31 August of this year, the Pew Research Centre published research that clearly demonstrates that 500 years after German reformer Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, Protestants have drifted. In fact the drift has been so significant that the publication of the study led Christianity Today to print this provocative headline: “500 Years After Reformation Many Protestants Closer to Catholics Than Luther!”

The study asked Protestants in the United States and Europe to respond to questions relating to the two ‘solas’ primarily associated with Martin Luther:

  • Sola scriptura (‘Only Scripture’) is the assertion that the Bible is the only reliable authority for our faith (and for the practice of our faith). Luther asserted that neither personal experience nor long-held church tradition could supersede the authority of God’s word.    
  • Sola fide (‘Only faith’) is the conviction that salvation can be secured only through faith in Jesus Christ, and not by some mixture of faith and good works. Luther’s position was that believers must trust entirely in the work Christ did on our behalf, and should not be led to believe that our work on the church’s behalf adds anything to it.

But 500 years later a survey of almost 25,000 Protestants in 15 countries has demonstrated that many Protestants have drifted—in a slow continuous movement—from Luther’s place, to another.  Some notable findings include:

  • More than half of US Protestants (52%) say both good deeds and faith in God are needed to get into heaven, a historically Catholic position.
  • Only 46% of American Protestants believe the Bible provides all the guidance Christians need.  52% say Christians should look for guidance from church teachings and traditions as well as from the Bible, which is again, a historically Catholic position.
  • Only 30% of all American Protestants affirm both sola fide and sola scriptura.
  • And in Germany—Martin Luther’s homeland—78% of Lutherans believe that their beliefs are similar to those of Catholics.

In other words 500 years after Martin Luther’s brave act of spiritual rebellion sparked a reformation that would revive the church and change the course of Western culture, we are in need of a reformation.  Again.

Join us this Saturday as we eat together and watch the documentary, Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German ReformerThis will help us understand the issues that led to the reformation and perhaps even enflame our hearts with a renewed passion for the gospel!

And let me encourage you to get ready for Reformation Weekend by reading 2 Peter 1:3-15 as Pastor Eugene prepares to exhort us, “Remember, Don’t Forget.”