31 January 2017
Evangelicals and the Reformation - 500 years on
The Reformation, evangelicals and Roman Catholicism: A statement for the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation
Evangelicals should commemorate the Protestant Reformation and recognise its importance, according to a statement released by the Evangelical Alliance marking the 500th anniversary of Luther publishing his 95 Theses in 1517.
The Alliance acknowledges that: "As evangelicals, we owe a great deal of our doctrinal, spiritual and cultural identity to the Reformation."
The statement goes on to note that: "The Reformation was not so much an innovation as a recovery – a recovery of the essential content of the 'evangel' or 'good news' of salvation proclaimed by Jesus Christ himself, and by his apostles. That work of recovery is reflected in our own designation as evangelicals."
Over the past 40 years, although there has been greater clarity about the points of continued divergence between evangelical and Roman Catholic belief, there has also been greater clarity about points of shared conviction and concern and opportunities for collaboration.
The Rev Dr David Hilborn, chair of the Evangelical Alliance's Theology Advisory Group, said: "The 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation is an opportunity to look again at theological convictions that were central to that movement, and are foundational to evangelical belief today. It also reminds us of how the Reformation helped to shape our social, economic and political life – not least with respect to freedom of conscience and religious liberty.
"While significant differences in doctrine and practice remain between evangelicals and Roman Catholics, many evangelicals have found ways in which they can work together with Catholic believers. The statement is clear about the differences, while mapping points of convergence where they have occurred. "
Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, added: "It has been in the area of public policy especially that evangelicals and Catholics have come together over the last 40 years to put pressure on the government and work for the common good. In protecting the beginning and end of life this work has been particularly evident, as well as in many other areas that contribute to our wellbeing as a society."
The statement concludes by saying:
"Five centuries on from the Reformation, it is clear that many of the core distinctions that developed between Luther's understanding and that of the Roman Catholic Church remain between modern-day evangelicals and Catholics. In certain areas, however, there have been significant attempts to foster deeper understanding of the theological and ecclesiastical differences that distinguish each tradition, and to develop this understanding in a less conflictual way. Particularly in the spheres of evangelism and social and medical ethics, there has also been genuine collaboration and co-operation towards agreed ends, not least as defined by shared commitments to the common good."
The statement notes specific points of divergence around:
- The nature and authority of the Church: we do not accept that the Church is expressed definitively by the church of Rome and that evangelicals and others should be classed less definitively as 'ecclesial communities'.
- The papacy and papal infallibility: while some evangelicals belong to churches led by bishops, we reject the narrative of papal supremacy and Petrine succession as without biblical warrant.
- Sacraments: with respect to Baptism and the Lord's Supper, evangelicals would typically disagree with the Catholic notion that they intrinsically or instrumentally mediate regeneration and grace, and would disavow Catholic teaching on Communion as a Eucharistic sacrifice.
- Mariology: there is much that we can glean from Mary's life and witness; yet on biblical grounds we nonetheless regard her, like us, as a pilgrim sinner, and we find no basis for her own immaculate conception or assumption. Nor do we find any biblical grounds for the common Roman Catholic construal of Mary as one through whom we should pray.
Points of convergence and co-operation identified in the statement:
- Creeds: Although not all evangelical churches recite or formally subscribe to the key ecumenical creeds of the early Church, we do share with Roman Catholics the substantive doctrines affirmed by those creeds. Hence the creation and sustaining of the cosmos by God, the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the deity of Christ and his uniqueness for salvation, his conception by the Spirit and birth of the Virgin Mary, his atoning death, bodily resurrection, ascension, universal rule and promised return to judge humanity and usher in a new and eternal order – all are held by evangelicals and Catholics alike.
- Evangelism and renewal: from its earliest days the Evangelical Alliance has promoted religious liberty, and this has included support for the right of evangelicals to persuade Catholics of the evangelical understanding of the gospel. In the past century, however, there has been growing mutual understanding and effort between Catholics and evangelicals in the work of evangelism. Significant numbers of evangelicals and Catholics since the 1960s have also found new depths of fellowship as they have explored the gifts, work and life of the Holy Spirit together.
- Social and medical ethics, and the common good. In the 1990s, Evangelicals and Catholics Together crystallized a good deal of earlier joint action by each community on ethical issues related to the start and end of life, as well as on the classical Christian understanding of marriage and family. Joint work on abortion,euthanasia and marriage is born out of a shared conviction about the sanctity of human life as created in God's image, and the sovereignty of God over life and death, family life and relationships
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Notes to Editors
- The reformation statement was drafted by the Evangelical Alliance Theology Advisory Group and approved by the Alliance Leadership Team and Board.
- Information about the Theology Advisory Group is available online at: eauk.org/tag
The Evangelical Alliance
We are the largest and oldest body representing the UK’s two million evangelical Christians. For more than 165 years, we have been bringing Christians together and helping them listen to, and be heard by, the government, media and society. We’re here to connect people for a shared mission, whether it’s celebrating the Bible, making a difference in our communities or lobbying the government for a better society. From Skye to Southampton, from Coleraine to Cardiff, we work across 79 denominations, 3,500 churches, 750 organisations and thousands of individual members. And we're not just uniting Christians within the UK – we are a founding member of the World Evangelical Alliance, a global network of more than 600 million evangelical Christians. For more information, go to www.eauk.org.