To use a little scholastic terminology, the Protestant Reformation was based on, and evangelical religion is defined by, a formal and a material principle. The formal principle was sola scriptura. In the philosophy of religion the basic problem has always been and still is the source of authority. Are controversies of religion settled by an appeal to the pope, councils, and church fathers? Luther emphatically answered no. Is then the content of Christianity determined by mystic experience and individual conscience? Again Luther answered no. He located the source of religious authority in the Bible alone. Other claimants to authority may be and often have been in error; the Bible alone is inerrant. This is the formal principle of the Reformation.
Technically, the material principle is the total contents of Scripture: creation, the history of Israel, prophecies, the resurrection of the just and unjust, and all the rest. But because of the situation in the sixteenth century, particularly exemplified in the papal device of earning salvation by the purchase of indulgences, along with flagellation and other good works, the doctrine of justification by faith alone was popularly regarded as the content or material of the Gospel.
These two principles, taken together, define evangelical religion. Anyone who rejects either the inerrancy of Scripture or faith as the sole means of justification is no heir of the Protestant Reformation and has no historical or logical claim to the name evangelical.
The visible church has deteriorated seriously since Protestantism’s first hundred and fifty years, until today some theologians try to defend erroneous authority. This deterioration has contributed to the development of a society that reeks with ...1
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