Friday, October 31, 2008

Celebrating the Reformation?

This time of year - "Reformation Day"... Is this something to be celebrated? If the Reformers were right, then we should lament their dismal failure. That is, they intended to reform the doctrine of the Church and the Church did not reform so they left. In terms of a true "reformation", it cannot be seen as anything but failure. On the other hand, if the Catholic Church is right, then we should lament this heresy which leaves millions in schism and false doctrine until this day.

Either way, it is not an event to celebrate. On this day, perhaps we should pray for Christian unity instead of celebrating schism.


Tiber Jumper said...

absolutely Tim. A great tragedy which grieves the heart of God I am sure.

George Weis said...

Funny, my dear Reformed friend actually said "Happy Reformation Day" to me today... I replied "Ok, but are you ready for reunification day?" Hehe... I know that kinda stuff burns him :)


~Joseph the Worker said...

Our local Lutheran priest wished me a happy reformation day. I told him it was fitting to celebrate something so terrible on Halloween.

Neal Judisch and Family said...

I hear where you're coming from. I have to admit that I celebrated 'reformation day' as an alternative to Halloween for several years. Had fun, too. But I never really thought through what I was doing: I was thinking 'post tenebras lux' - here's when we shook off all the medieval accretions and recovered the light. I didn't see myself as being happy that all of the 'medieval accretions' had happened; at the same time, I guess I didn't really care very much that some people (read - the Catholic Church) remained stuck in the mire. Honestly, I guess my little group and I didn't really look outside of ourselves or care very much about the larger schism issues. I think that's probably true of most people who celebrate 'reformation day'. So hard, isn't it, to get people to care about the "larger issues," when we all have such a tendency to be self-satisfied? This is the thing I'm always thinking about - what's the most effective way to make people care?

Tim A. Troutman said...

Joseph - funny.

Dr. Neal - It's interesting, I was thinking along those same lines since writing this. Like many good PCA boys around the country, I too celebrated Reformation day as an alternative although if my memory serves me right, we didn't always call it Reformation day. We always had Halloween alternatives but anyhow...

I think you're absolutely right about the self enclosed nature of those who celebrate such things. If they look at the larger picture - they'll see how small their group is but if their group is the larger picture, there's no limit to how universal that might seem. They don't realize that even the largest Protestant denominations are but small, marginalized fractions of Christianity.

How do we get them to care... Thats a good question to ponder.. Perhaps its time for us Catholics to start thinking in evangelical terms a little more.

Kenny said...

Surely some of your sentiments ought to be agreed upon by everyone and Protestants (and all other Christians) ought to meditate upon this and pray for Christian unity. However, consider this passage:

"If the Reformers were right, then we should lament their dismal failure. That is, they intended to reform the doctrine of the Church and the Church did not reform so they left. In terms of a true "reformation" it cannot be seen as anything but failure."

This fails to truly engage with the antecedent condition ("if the Reformers were right") on a number of levels. Firstly, the Reformers held that the Church had its identity in the fact that the Gospel was preached there, not in the identity of the institution. While they (except the Anabaptists, etc.) believed that it was important that there BE an institutional church, the question of WHICH institutional church was not important, as long as the Gospel was preached. Secondly, the Reformers believed that it was essential for salvation that one grasp and put faith in the Gospel, and they further believe that the Gospel was not being clearly articulated (and in some instances was even being undermined or outright denied) in the Church of Rome. Thirdly, the Reformers believed that it was essential that everyone had access to the Scripture, and saw the Church of Rome as interfering with this.

So "if the Reformers were right" then their 'failure' was not nearly so 'dismal' as you suppose (though Luther and Zwingli, at least, would have been much happier if the old institution had been brought to see things their way), and, in addition, two very serious problems have been remedied. Furthermore, very slowly over the last five centuries, the Church of Rome has, partially as a result of Protestant pressure (no longer having an unquestioned monopoly, having to defend itself from polemics, and having to figure out its identity in contrast to the Protestant churches) addressed, in some degree, many of the concerns of the Reformers. For instance, many practices which were formerly a venue for corruption (e.g. indulgences) have been either placed under greater accountability, or eliminated entirely, the church teaches grace more clearly, and Catholic laypeople are permitted (even encouraged?) to read the Bible at home in their own language. So, if the Reformers are right then, while this prolonged schism is certainly tragic, the situation of the western Church after the Reformation is better than before.

On the other hand, if the Catholic Church is right, the situation is much more complicated. After all, you must concede that it is good that some corruption in the hierarchy was cleaned up and that the doctrines related to grace and salvation were clarified (you do, after all, affirm doctrinal progress). However, I would not go so far as to claim that these goods would outweigh the obvious evil of prolonged schism and an abundance of heretics.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Kenny - thanks for the observation and I agree with you. I guess I was coming at it from a slightly different angle and wasn't careful with my wording.

Here's what I mean. When I say the "reformation" was a failure I mean only a failure of a reformation as such and only a failure in regards to what I assume were the original intentions (particularly of Luther).

Luther wanted to eliminate what he (rightly) saw were abuses. His vision, I take it, was to "reform" the Church not be excommunicated and start a new one (which is what happened). So I mean in those terms, the reformation as such was a failure. I actually took my wording from a friend who is a PCA elder.

I think this business of "church is that which correctly preaches the word" especially per Calvin is an instance of painting a bulls eye around an arrow. It's not carefully planned out ecclesiology and it doesn't even really make sense.

Such a "church" could itself never be reformed because to stand in need of reform would entail failing to "rightly preach the word" and would disqualify itself as a church. You cannot reform church when church by its definition is something which is reformed.

And I agree with you about the reforms that did take place in the Catholic Church as a result of the "reformation". So in this way, I say that the reformers caused, but unfortunately were not part of, badly needed reforms.

But in all this, the Church never did change any of her doctrines and still hasn't which is the most important feature of what I mean to say. So the reforms were only reforms of practice - not doctrine.

Josh McManaway said...

I think Bouyer's, "Spirit and Forms of Protestantism" is a fantatsic read on this subject. His thesis is basically that basically all of the positive principles of the Reformation were found in Catholic teaching and Tradition long before Luther. Inasmuch as we are not Pelagians, we agree with sola gratia, the Church has always given prominence to the Bible on matters of faith and morals, etc.

Schism is not desired by anyone - particularly St. Paul (1 Cor 6, Gal 5, etc). Luther and Zwingli went from wanting Reformation to Deformation, and that's precisely what happened - Protestantism has maintained this pattern of deforming until today.