Not All Reformers Are The Same

Derek Ouellette —  December 30, 2009

I have friends in the Catholic Church, and this post is for them.

You often charge: Faith is a work. I agree. You say: Salvation is of God, but conditioned by our response. I say “amen”. Then I scratch my head in bewilderment: what are we debating?

Yes the so-called neo-reformed are out in full bloom. Sure their doctrines of sola fide and sola scriptura have no teeth. But I need to remind you that…


The Reformation stood on principles. PRINCIPLES! We are not crafted in cookie cutter fashion. We do not all agree on doctrines, we agree on principles.

  • Principle 1: Sola Scriptura – Scripture is our highest authority (without rejecting the testimony of Tradition)
  • Principle 2: Semper Reformanda (Always Reforming) – The Reformers recognized that there was much work to be done, and so we are challenged to keep in an attitude of reform, always returning to Principle 1!
  • Principle 3: Sola Gratia – Salvation is by God’s good grace alone. Had God not sent his Son into the world to die for the world of undeserving people, no one would be saved.
  • Principle 4: Sola Fide – Salvation, in order for it to take effect, calls for a response of faith from man. No one is saved by work of moral effort, nor can anyone will power themselves into the Kingdom.

You and I, we have very many differences. But when we discuss our differences, please keep in mind that I may not fit the mold of others you have debated in the Reformed Tradition.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Eric Gregory

    Why is it that Scripture is higher than tradition? It’s not apparent that the apostles, especially St. Paul, believed this to be the case as he often exhorted his readers/listeners to put into practice what he said (which, at the time, wasn’t Scripture, but Holy Tradition).

    It is common knowledge that Scripture was only canonized after several ecumenical councils that included bishops of the Church in the East and the Church in the West, right? It’s only through the tradition of the apostles and the belief in the importance of apostolic succession that we even HAVE Scripture to work with.

    It seems to me that if we place Scripture above Tradition (and not equal to, or the other way around), we make an idol out of the written word that was never intended by God. the Holy Spirit was given to the Church, and not just to individuals to illuminate Scripture – indeed, it is the Church that is called the bastion of truth in the world, not written Scripture.

    Additionally, how are we to know the correct interpretation of Scripture without the tradition of the Church? The common man cannot necessarily understand the intricacies of theology that we now think of as necessary (e.g. the Trinity) from Scripture alone. Indeed, the Early Church couldn’t agree on the Trinity through at least three ecumenical councils with heresies like Arianism and Sabellianism cropping up to suggest that either Jesus was not God or that he was not man.

    Thanks for letting me share!

    • Josh

      Your thoughts and emphasis on tradition are important Eric! We all (Protestants and Catholics alike) have and practice our faith by tradition. And I think many Protestants are ignorant of their own traditions (which include interpretation/exegesis along with practice) and how they live by them. Really, many Protestants are being hypocritical because of this unreflective criticism of Catholicism. Though, the role (and reach) of tradition within Christian theology, interpretation, understanding, and practice is a focal point of Protestant/Catholic dialogue, it’s not really about “tradition” vs “non-tradition” (as many Protestants may ignorantly assume). It’s more about “their tradition” vs “our tradition”.

      SO, this issue is not an easy one for the Protestant. To just simply say “we have (and live by) Scripture and you have (and live by) tradition” is just that – a simplistic answer.

      I do come from the Protest-ant vein of things. Though these days, I find myself only “protesting” that people think deeply about spiritual things (doctrine and practice) and increase/deepen their dialogue with everyone – Protestant, Catholic, and non-Christian alike. I’m learning how much I have yet to learn!

      Again, I am blessed by your perspective and desire to honour God by your faith and practice (desiring to be as pleasing to God through your knowledge of tradition and Scripture). Even still I do view the relationship of the Spirit, the Body of Christ, the “canonical” scriptures, and the historic traditions of the Christian faith differently than you do. I honestly do respect Catholic stances on many issues and their desire to be as accurate as possible to the traditions handed down through the centuries. But I must interject that those traditions have constantly been evolving down through the centuries. And much of what is practiced and believed now, is much different than what was once believed.

      I will give a short example:
      Now it is understood that the Catholic church in it’s theology, it’s tradition is “the bastion of truth in the world, not written Scripture” as you put it. But if the church is absolute and the the belief that the Pope is Christ’s vicar on earth… How can the same church that once tortured and killed Protestants and all others that did not hold to Catholic doctrine (“heretics”), now accept them as brothers and sisters in Christ (though not fully illuminated). And yet still the Catholic…

    • Josh

      And yet still the Catholic church was as absolutely “the bastion of truth” then as it is now (if the Spirit was still completely leading the Roman Catholic Church and it’s doctrine/practice then as it is now). If I was Catholic then, killing Protestants would be honouring God. But now it’s not?

      I think that this sort of sole dependency on the institution and tradition of the Catholic church brings about a sort of doctrinal relativism that is based solely on the desires of a self-perpetuating institution rather than the Word and the Spirit. If the same Spirit, Word, and tradition of the elders could have completely kept Israel (like the church since Christ) from coming into error, why were the prophets sent?! With the kind of immoral popes and outright corruption in the church of the late Middle Ages, maybe Luther and other reformers such as Huss, Tyndale, etc. were prophets sent to the people of God like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and the like. Could it be that though we are being led by the Spirit (desiring to “lead us into all truth”) that God’s people can still get WAY off like Israel of old (it was the same Spirit desiring to “lead them into all truth” as well)?

      I have more thought on all of this, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Thanks for the dialogue Eric! Though I may have a different perspective, I welcome yours and I know I will learn alot from you (and where I am misrepresenting/misunderstanding your perspective). May YHWH bless you as you seek after Him with all your heart!

  • Taunia

    What I find contentious is the words Sola…changing them to something like Prima would eliminate a lot of the so called problems…Scripture, Faith and Grace are the primary but no the only principles. You indicate this when you suggest that you do not want to do away with tradition or that faith without works is dead. I really really do not like the word Sola because to me it suggests solatary or only.

  • Derek Ouellette

    Taunia… I agree. Neither do I like the word “Sola”. It creates confusion and contention. I think most educated protestants mean “primary” but use “Sola” and this makes Catholics up set. Terms suck. If I could convince the whole of Protestantism to change their use of some of their terms I would. Unfortunately they are embedded in tradition (ironically). In the future I will try and make this distinciton more clear. Thanks for the comment.

  • Kim

    God is for His church to come into the knowledge of Christ, and unity of faith. He is for unity, not division. He gave us Himself to help us. 2 Timothy 4:16 tells us that all scripture (old testament, oral teachings and inter-testament writings)is God-inspired and useful for teaching, for reproof, restoration, for training in all righteousness, so that the man of God would be able to meet all demands, since he has been equipped perfectly for every good work. God gave us His Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. So as long as we get the gospel right in our belief systems – salvation by grace through faith in Christ, not by works – then there is a great deal in common. And as we obey His commands to be filled with Holy Spirit, then we will be empowered to allow Him to lead us each day, amen. Love thy brethren. That is God’s message.

    The enemy never tires from his campaign to separate the brethren through both big and little things. Let us rely upon God’s provision to focus on what really matters.