Matthew Hennessey reported on a Pew study for The Wall Street Journal. Here is an interesting statistic:
“Catholics aren’t the only ones dealing with religious illiteracy. Pew found that 53% of American Protestants couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the man who inspired the Reformation. (Oddly, Jews, atheists, and Mormons were more familiar with Luther.) Fewer than 3 in 10 white evangelicals correctly identified Protestantism as the faith that believes in the doctrine of sola fide, or justification by faith alone” (emphasis added).
There are two issues here.
The first issue is historical literacy. Evangelicals ought to know that one of the driving forces of the Protestant Reformation was the doctrine of justification apart from good works (especially all the ones required by the Roman Catholic Church). That is about as basic as knowing the name of our planet. That so few Evangelicals know that very basic fact demonstrates the failure of (1) sending generations of Christian students to atheist government schools (“public schools”); (2) Christian homes to teach children the history of their faith; (3) the Churches to educate their congregations; (4) individuals to educate themselves (this is the most serious one).
I would say that most Christians have forgotten their Christian history, except it is more likely they never learned it to begin with. We know all about the latest celebrity breakup or who threw the ball better at a sporting event, but we don’t know basic Church history.
The second issue is doctrinal fidelity. In other words, the simple reason why so few Evangelicals are even aware that Protestantism believes in justification by faith alone is because their churches do not teach that doctrine.[i] Instead of faith alone, they teach faith plus. They believe we are saved by a mixture of faith, works, obedience, baptism, communion, commitment, experiences, intentions, struggle, decisions, perseverance, and so on.
How many Evangelicals actually believe in justification by faith apart from works? Maybe 3 out of 20? Or 3 out of 50? Or more likely, how about 3 out of 100?
How do you measure up?
Do you know that Protestantism is supposed to be identified with sola fide?
Do you know about, or believe in, that doctrine?
If not, I hope you realize it is unlikely that anyone is going to spoon feed you. It’s up to you to educate yourself. “If everyone swept in front of their house, the street would be clean.”
[i] To be technical, I would not consider myself a Protestant and I would argue most Evangelicals do not belong to Protestant churches. The Protestants (e.g., Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, and Anglican churches) were part of what historians call the Magisterial Reformation, because these men appealed to the government (the magistrates) to enforce the Reformation. But there was another wing, what historians call the Radical Reformation, that did not appeal to the state to advance the Reformation, but to freedom of conscience and studying the Bible for yourself. This mostly consisted of Anabaptists (e.g., Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish, etc.), as well as other dissenters. Modern day Baptists, Plymouth Brethren, Charismatics, Fundamentalists, Quakers, Pentecostals, Bible Churches, and so on, owe just as much, if not more, to the Radical Reformation than to the Magisterial Reformation.