500 years ago some crazy business went down in the world of Christianity. And this Halloween, the 500th anniversary of that business, which we refer to as the Protestant Reformation, will be celebrated by some and mourned by others.
As someone who, just a year and a half ago, crossed the Tiber to become Catholic from a pretty solid Protestant background, all this hubbub about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation brings a lot of thoughts and feelings to the forefront for me as well.
I want to preface this article by saying that I have many amazing Christian friends who are Protestant. I love you all, and there is so much I look up to and respect about your faith. But the Reformation anniversary is hard for me, and my writing here details the reasons why my stomach sinks when I see posts celebrating what happened 500 years ago.
It’s the other side of the coin.
The Good Stuff, In Context
In some ways, I’m glad for parts of what happened. The Church did need some reforming at the time, and I believe that reform indeed occurred within the context of the Catholic Church. Some things were brought to light. Changes were made. Good changes. God changes. There is an excellent series by the Coming Home Network on the Reformation, and it touches on the components of the Catholic Church at the time that were in need of reform, along with many other social and cultural components that led Christianity to the brink of what became this massive division. It’s well worth a read.
I’m also thankful for the Catholic/Lutheran communications in recent years that are reopening the dialogue between us and paving the way for potential future reunification.
But the rest of me feels sad about it all. About all the other repercussions. The unintended ones. The ones that are still sweeping through our world to this day.
I’m sad that so many of my Protestant brothers and sisters today are disconnected from the history of the Christian Church, with the exeption of some of the liturgical and high church denominations. There are many who can’t describe what worship looked like for the early Christians. The Protestant branch of the Christian church has, in some cases, moved so far from its roots that children being brought up in some Protestant denominations won’t even think that understanding those things is even a relevant question. We tread on dangerous ground when we forget our religion’s own Jewish beginnings, how those who lived in the time of Jesus practiced their faith, and those in the generations immediately following. When we forget the example set for us by those at our roots in the name of cultural relevance and keeping up with the times.
I’m sad that Luther is looked upon as a hero, but his very, very Catholic side is underplayed or ignored. On what authority can we say Luther had some things right, but not others? That his Protestant views were right, but his Catholic views were somehow errant leftovers from his Catholic days? The Reformation itself had absolutely nothing to do with some of his most Catholic views, including his beliefs about Mary and the True Presence (though his application of this belief became an area of division). Those things weren’t called into question until after Protestantism was born, until the church had continued to move far away from any authoritative source, eventually leaving thoughts on Mary to a few songs during advent and a statue in a nativity, and the foundational Christian belief in the Eucharist to Communion as merely a symbol.
Even John Calvin held some surprisingly, and often overlooked, Catholic views.
I’m also sad that Bible Alone Protestants don’t take issue with Luther’s interpretive addition of “alone” to the Bible when it speaks of being saved by faith. “Sola Fide” was not a thing until Luther himself made that interpretive decision and added that word. Was Christianity wrong on that until Luther came around? That’s a pretty big thing to have erroneous doctrine on for over 1,000 years if it’s true. And on what authority did Luther make the claim that all those years of Church history were wrong, but his own personal interpretation was right? I know there is a solid Biblical case for an authoritative source for interpretation, but I can’t find a strong Biblical argument that says each man is his own interpreter of scripture. God didn’t promise to preserve individual Christians in all truth- he promised to preserve the Church (John 16:13).
I’m sad that 30,000 plus denominations have split off since the Reformation and that this division was something Luther himself took issue with during his lifetime, writing:
“This one will not hear of Baptism, and that one denies the sacrament, another puts a world between this and the last day: some teach that Christ is not God, some say this, some say that: there are as many sects and creeds as there are heads. No yokel is so rude but when he has dreams and fancies, he thinks himself inspired by the Holy Ghost and must be a prophet”(citation: De Wette III, 61. quoted in O’Hare, The Facts About Luther, 208.)
I’m sad that few of my Protestant brothers and sisters think it important to seek out the answer to whether Holy Communion is a symbol or the real presence of Christ (the sacrament Luther refers to above). That belief was held firmly by Christians from the time of Jesus until after the Reformation, and is still held by Catholics today. The Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 is, I believe, a challenge for anyone who views communion as a symbol. It’s an important question. A very important one. I know, growing up Protestant, that the True Presence is a completely foreign concept to many who live their entire lives only having been taught that it’s symbollic. It’s sad to me, and again affirms the problem of a Christian denomination being so entirely cut off from the historical roots of our faith.
I’m sad that misconceptions about Catholicism abound. By the end of this month, 10,000 people will have visited This Catholic Family’s blog in 2017. A small dent, joined with the work of many, many others, hopefully can help put honest yet loving faces to this faith that doesn’t need to be so much of a mystery.
So if you have questions. I’m Lorelei. I’m very Catholic. I love to talk about it. I know my faith, and read my Bible, and worship only God, and pray to God in Jesus name, and believe I am saved by God’s Amazing and beautiful Grace alone. I also love Confession, and have Holy Water in my home, and believe in the True Presence, and pray the rosary, and believe that my decisions in this life matter and speak to the state of my soul. Do you have questions about those things? Ask them. I’m so happy to answer.
And finally, I’m sad that this year, division is going to be celebrated.
Jesus said that they may be one (John 17:21).