In 1517, Martin Luther staked his soul on two revolutionary ideas: sola fide, that justification is dependent on faith alone; and sola scriptura, that Scripture is the only ultimate authority for Christian belief and practice and does not need oversight from church leaders or tradition to be read and understood.
The 95 theses Luther nailed to the door at Wittenberg served as the catalyst for one of the world’s largest religious splits, as thousands broke off from the Roman Catholic Church. His legacy, 500 years later, is 560 million Protestants across the globe, making up more than a third of the world’s Christians. But many of them don’t actually agree with him.
Today, half of American Protestants say that both good deeds and faith in God are needed to get into heaven (52%); the same number believe that in addition to the Bible, Christians need guidance from church teachings and traditions, according to two studies released by the Pew Research Center.
The numbers don’t change in Western Europe….“In fact, in every country [in Western Europe] except Norway (where 51% of Protestants say salvation comes through faith alone), belief in sola fide is a minority view even among Protestants,” Pew reported. (For this study, Pew defined sola fide as “faith in God alone is needed to get into heaven,” and defined sola scriptura as the “Bible provides all religious guidance Christians need.”)
About half of Catholics and Protestants in Europe now say that the two religions are “more similar than they are different,” while only about a quarter say they’re “more different than they are similar.”
In America, where many followers of the Reformation fled to escape Catholic persecution, more than half of Protestants now say that Catholicism is more like Protestantism than the two are different (57%).
Though American Protestants were largely able to pinpoint Martin Luther as the inspiration (71%) and the movement’s label as the Reformation (70%), just 3 in 10 said they believed in both sola fide and sola scriptura (by Pew’s definitions).
If Luther has an heir, it appears to be the white evangelical. “White evangelicals are the only Protestant subgroup analyzed in the survey in which most take the opposite position,” Pew said.
Almost 6 in 10 said the Bible provides all the religious guidance Christians need, while almost 7 in 10 said that faith alone is needed to get into heaven.
(Zylstra, “500 Years After Reformation, Many Protestants Closer to Catholics than Martin Luther,” ChristianityToday Online, 8/31/17).
[TBC: We certainly recognize how God used Luther in bringing forward the biblical doctrines by faith alone in Christ alone. As Dave Hunt noted, however, most evangelicals are ignorant of the amount of Roman Catholicism carried over into the Reformation in Lutheran and Calvinist churches. Luther was an Augustinian monk and Calvin a devout Roman Catholic steeped in the teachings of Augustine. Incredibly, both of these leading “Reformers” admired and continued to follow Augustine until their deaths.]