Today you have men who believe justification by faith, who say they believe the reformed doctrine of justification. In other words, they say Roman Catholicism botched up justification for millennia and the reformation came along and corrected the doctrine of salvation. These men believe, they say, a teaching altered by the reformation, which brought people back to the Bible. I don't think that is an exactly true view of history, but I'm fine with their rejecting Roman Catholicism for true justification by faith, which actually saves. I'm happy for them in that way. What they brought along with it were various iterations of John Calvin, which some now also equate with the doctrine of salvation, because they can trace it to that juncture in history. They read like, since it jumpstarted right there, it must be original.
So what do I believe really happened? I don't believe justification is a reformed doctrine, just a biblical doctrine, and that there were always people who believed in justification by faith alone, because that view would not have totally apostatized. The people in history who continued believing justification by faith alone were always separate from Roman Catholicism, but were not always, actually very seldom, either able to write about it or at least having their writings preserved so that we can see that those existed and that they believed this. We can trace believers down through history from writings, but we can't track every single thing that they believed in those centuries. What we do know is that there had been believers, separate from a Catholic state church, traceable through the centuries. Even though there was a reformed doctrine of justification, justification was still winding its way through the annals of history on a trajectory separate from Roman Catholicism.
Yes, the faulty dogma of Roman Catholicism was edited after the invention of the printing press when people could see it for what it really was. Theological white-out and then necessary insertions brought the doctrine of salvation up to biblical speed for reformers, but it was never lost to be found, just like the text of scripture wasn't lost to be found. That viewpoint sets on unscriptural presuppositions. It is actually a faulty method, the wrong approach to history. No one should trace his lineage through Roman Catholicism. When one does, he also gets infant sprinkling, allegorical hermeneutics, spiritualized ecclesiology, pagan liturgy, and wrong church government.
I see the reformed in this as a small child with a silly grin, having gotten his soteriology cleaned up, showing his coloring to his mom with just a tiny bit of scribble scrabbles. This person hasn't arrived. He has rolled a one or a two and is now moving his game piece onto the board. At the most, he's in the game, but he acts like he's already won. When you take a step back, while studying the instruction manual, God's Word, you see how far he's come. It's important. It is. Just because you're mostly on track with your doctrine of salvation doesn't mean you're done or you've arrived.
After the printing press was invented, the Bible began to circulate in the language of the people, translations into a common tongue, and copies spread exponentially. The dark ages stunted the fulfillment of God's cultural mandate. His sovereign plan, as always, continues unimpeded, unabated. Feudalism though trapped people in a tragic hopeless economic system. Everyone acted out with obedience roles protected by the state church. The Reformers did little to stop or change this. Even in the colonial period of America, state church held sway, until masses of converted ones populated New Testament churches, Baptists, who rejected ratification of the United States Constitution without the promise of liberty. That freedom fueled capitalism and acquisition of wealth.
What I'm writing here is that many in this audience should consider that their beliefs need further reform. They still embrace and nurture doctrine concocted by or traced to Roman Catholicism. They reformed in soteriology but not ecclesiology and eschatology. God is one and His truth is one. You can't just believe different about salvation and then preserve the truth about salvation. All the doctrine and not just the doctrine, the affections, must line up with those of God. The trajectory must point to Jerusalem when Jesus gathered His assembly and taught His Words. The church didn't start in Rome and the truth wasn't preserved there.