The main distinctives of the Reformed faith as opposed to that of Rome is summed up in the 5 Solas of the Reformation which are as follows:
1) Sola Fide- Or Faith alone, man is justified before God by Faith in what Christ has done on his behalf alone. (it's the alone that Rome has a hang up with)
2) Sola Scriptura- Or Scripture alone, Reformed Christians hold that the word of God alone is the authority to which we look in matters of doctrine and truth. The Bible alone is sufficient for the health of the church in matters of doctrine and practice. (Again it's the alone that chaps Rome)
3) Sola Christos- Or Christ Alone, Protestants hold that Christ alone is our grounds for righteousness and hope, not any works of our hands shall commend us to God only the worked of Jesus Christ alone. Also, this refers to the authority/mediation of Christ, Christ alone is the ruler over the church not Popes, and Christ alone is our mediator between us and the Father, not any saints or even Mary, so we pray to God/Christ alone. (again its the alone Rome has beef with)
4) Sola Gratia- Or Grace alone, Reformed Christians hold that we are not only saved by faith alone but by grace alone. This meaning that even our faith is not something WE do, it is a gift given by the free grace of God alone.
5) Sola Deo Gloria- To God Alone be the Glory, this is the aim of all of God's works whether creation, His works of Providence, or our salvation it is all for the His glory alone. This is truly breathtaking. God does everything, absolutely everything for the exaltation of His glory, to do otherwise would be unjust of God, because God is the most precious reality there is and it is good to exalt things that are precious, and bad to exalt a lesser glory over a greater.
(I have posted on each one if the reader wants a more in depth treatment of these topics)
Modern "Protestant" Departures From The Reformation:
Today I listened to a wonderful program on this very subject done by Ingrid Schlueter, the truths of the Reformation were heralded and defined. What was most interesting was the the application of these truths today. The guest was commenting on the popular trends in evangelicalism such as "The Prayer of Jabez" and showing how we have really abandoned these truths about a glorious God and His work of salvation and replaced them with man centered self help 12 step "Christian" books. We are a people that love methods, whether steps to approaching God through prayer, or steps to discover one's Purpose we gravitate towards these sorts of literature. (You can listen to the program by clicking here)
Other examples of how these truths are being abandoned are seen throughout many of the television preachers. For example the pastor of the 30,000+ member Lakewood church in Houston Texas begins each message by holding up the bible and have the people recited with him: "This is my bible I am what it says I am I can do what is says I can do...[paraphrase]" yet when the message begins its contents are bereft of any truly biblical content. I literally heard an entire message by Mr. Osteen that did have one bible verse or one reference to the person of Jesus, the topic was dieting.
Still more can be seen through the gross pragmatism that is often employed under the name of "bringing the unchurched in/winning the lost". Many honestly think that the main things that keep people from Christ are buildings, church music, funniness of the pastor etc. So we will create a consumer centered atmosphere to draw people in, whether that means having church in an old movie theater and serving communion in pop corn buckets or changing the message to be culturally relevant (this usually means eliminating words like sin, or cross, or hell and just preaching a pop-psychobabel/self-esteem message).
Some Good News:
All of these examples represent in some way a departure from these truths of the reformation which I outlined above. Now praise God, because there is good news in the midst of all this. I was reading the new Time magazine today and it has an article on the popularity of Jesus among younger people entitled "In Touch With Jesus". What's encouraging to me is that these are not youth who are bouncing basketballs while wearing Jesus rocks T-shirts and calling that a youth group. Rather, these are youth who detest that and want good teaching. These are youth that are tired of having the Christian message marketed to them in some silly package and want the real deal. The article reads:
"But in recent years churches have begun offering their young people a style of religious instruction grounded in Bible study and teachings about the doctrines of their denomination. Their conversion has been sparked by the recognition that sugarcoated Christianity, popular in the 80's and early 90's, has caused a number of kids to turn away not just from attending youth fellowship activities but also from practicing their faith at all...as the exodus has increased churches are trying to reverse the flowby focusing less on amusement and more on Scripture."
Now although the article is written very pragmatically treating this turning to a biblical emphasis in Youth ministries as just another technique to "convert" young people, there is good news here. Well, bad news if you are trying to grow a church based upon amusing people because people will see through it. The good news is that the youth (at least in So Cal where this article focuses) have warmly received the serious bible/doctrine classes proving the pragmatic marketeers wrong. Maybe it takes a certain breed but I just don't know how you can be a Christian and not find studying the bible and doctrines of the Christian faith exciting, more exciting then those stupid TV shows that constantly have stuff blowing up. But hey that might just be me.
Anyway, so I tie it all together on this note: Truth matters. We see many in evangelicalism saying that we need to adapt our message or risk never saving the post-moderns (this is based on an assumed denial of Sola Gratia), and thus many are turning to slick marketing techniques to "win" people. However, there is another voice saying: "Away with all the junk and world imitating cotton candy theology! GIVE ME MEAT AND STRONG DRINK!...Give me the Christ of the Bible!"
It was not long ago that Christianity Today featured the topic of the growing popularity of Reformed Theology particularly among young people. This is happening because people are tired of all the un-authentic representations of Christianity out there, theologically and practically. This is really what drove me to read the dead guys. I heard so much bad theology and teaching that I had to turn somewhere and I found men like Spurgeon, Luther, Edwards, and Calvin to be wonderful guides.
My prayer for the American church this reformation day is just that, a modern reformation, one where we abandon all our man-centered pragmatic attempts to manage salvation, and market the gospel. That we would turn to the sovereign God who is the author and finisher of our faith.
It seems fitting to end this by quoting a part of Martin Luther's hymn "A MightyFortress"
"That Word above all earthly powers
no thanks to them abideth
the Spirit and the gifts are ours
through Him who with us sideth
Let goods and kindred go
this mortal life also
the body they may kill
God's truth abideth still
His kingdom is forever."