The Reformation: A Return to the Bible?

The Protestant reformers claimed they were restoring Christianity back to its biblical roots. But were there things they forgot to reform?

October 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s reputed action of nailing his “95 Theses” to the church door in Wittenberg (where he was a professor of theology at Wittenberg University). This document criticized certain practices and doctrines of the Catholic Church and is considered the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Luther claimed that the Roman church under the popes had moved away from the truth of the Bible.

To Luther’s credit, his 95 Theses highlighted many legitimate issues with the Catholic Church of his time. However, if the pope had heeded Luther’s critiques, would that have returned Catholicism to the Christianity of the Bible?

The truth is, Martin Luther and the Reformation he began continued to embrace many prominent nonbiblical doctrines that the church they were protesting had adopted hundreds of years earlier.

One of the most prominent unbiblical doctrines Protestants maintained was regarding Sunday as the Christian day of worship. To learn why the biblical Sabbath isn’t Sunday, read “Was the Sabbath Changed to Sunday?

Double standards

Since the Reformation, Catholics have criticized Protestants for the double standard of rejecting Catholic tradition by claiming they relied on “Sola Scriptura” (Latin for “Scripture alone”) while maintaining many doctrines based entirely on tradition, particularly the observance of Sunday.

Notice these quotes from Catholics:

  •  “The Catholic Church for over one thousand years before the existence of a Protestant, by virtue of her Divine mission, changed the day from Saturday to Sunday. … But the Protestant says: How can I receive the teachings of an apostate Church? How, we ask, have you managed to receive her teaching all your life, in direct opposition to your recognized teacher, the Bible, on the Sabbath question?” (The Christian Sabbath, fifth ed., published by The Catholic Mirror of Baltimore, 1893, pp. 29-30, emphasis in original).
  • “Q. Is the observance of Sunday, as the day of rest, a matter clearly laid down in Scripture? 
    “A. It certainly is not; and yet all Protestants consider the observance of this particular day as essentially necessary to salvation. To say, we observe the Sunday, because Christ rose from the dead on that day, is to say we act without warrant of Scripture; and we might as well [incorrectly] say, that we should rest on Thursday because Christ ascended to heaven on that day” (Stephen Keenan, Controversial Catechism, 1846, p. 136, emphasis added).
  • “If Protestants would follow the Bible, they should worship God on the Sabbath Day. In keeping the Sunday they are following a law of the Catholic Church” (letter from Albert Smith, chancellor of the Baltimore Archdiocese, Feb. 10, 1920).

Restoring the true Sabbath

Both Protestants and Catholics ignore the seventh-day Sabbath, instead observing the unbiblical Sunday. Martin Luther and other Protestant reformers criticized some Catholic abuses and doctrines, while maintaining many others. Catholics and Protestants alike would benefit from going to the Bible and reading what it reveals about the Sabbath, instead of relying on their own unbiblical teachings.

To learn about the seventh-day Sabbath and why it should be kept today, read “What Day Is the Sabbath?

About the Author

Eddie Johnson

Eddie and Sandra Johnson serve the membership in the Tonbridge, England, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. He is an ordained elder.