The Protestant Revolt had many causes including state politics. Also the worldly lifestyle of certain popes, bishops and priests of that time helped to fuel the fire. However, the doctrine, Justification by Faith Alone, was the spark. This heresy exaggerates the truth concerning salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. Even though some members of the Church at that time, such as Tetzel and Erasmus, may not have fully understood the doctrine of salvation, this does not excuse this heresy. It claims that Christians are saved by faith alone. As biblical support, St. Paul is usually cited: “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.” [Romans 3:28] Now this verse does not contain the word “alone.” Martin Luther actually added “alone” to this verse in his Bibles in order to promote this new doctrine. According to the RSV and NAB Bible translations, the phrase, “by faith alone”, only occurs once in the Bible, and that verse condemns this doctrine: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” [James 2:24] The other error is interpreting the “works of law” in Romans 3:28 as all good works. From the context, it is obvious that St. Paul is referring to the Law of Moses, and the “works of law” are circumcision, eating kosher and other Jewish practices (Acts 15:1-21). St. Paul writes elsewhere in the Bible: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” [Galatians 5:6] St. Paul’s understanding of faith, as expressed in the Bible, includes more than a confident trust in God, but also obedience to God (Romans 1:5). Also according to Catholic understanding, good works are not what I do but what God does through me by grace (Eph. 2:10; 1 Cor. 15:10; Rom 2:7), so there is no reason to boast (Eph. 2:9). Even though Martin Luther still understood salvation in terms of grace, some later Christians did not. With the loss of focus on grace, this heresy eventually led to a “faith-alone” version of Pelagianism. This is the reason that some (not all) Protestants reject some or all of the Sacraments, sometimes even Baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3; 1 Peter 3:21).
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