I wrote this as a guest entry for Zach Hunt's The American Jesus Blog. I was not selected :( but Zach I am sure had a tremendous amount of entries and was gracious enough to write me a thank you email for my submission.
So it goes on my blog :)
We recently celebrated the informal holiday of “Reformation Day” on October 31st . That day when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door and sparked the Protestant Reformation. As an Evangelical I always recalled this day as a sort of day that my faith tradition took back the Christian Faith from the oppressive Roman overseers. Not knowing much of details, not ever reading the thesis, and not ever questioning why I was not Lutheran or Catholic or anything else, I carried on my life with no real knowledge of what happened in Germany in the 1500’s. I don’t think I was alone in that area as a layperson in Evangelical America. What was the Reformation? And more importantly why are Protestant’s “protesting” the Roman Catholic Church today?
If the goal of the Reformation was to “reform” the Catholic Church, what teachings of the church were in need of Reforming and are those things still at issue today? When we look at some of the 95 theses, I have to wonder if I really understand what was happening back in 1517 in a very different time and place.
Things that perhaps seem so foreign to American Protestants such as:
6. The pope himself cannot remit guilt, but only declare and confirm that it has been remitted by God; or, at most, he can remit it in cases reserved to his discretion. Except for these cases, the guilt remains untouched.
7. God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making him humbly submissive to the priest, His representative.
17. Of a truth, the pains of souls in purgatory ought to be abated, and charity ought to be proportionately increased.
18. Moreover, it does not seem proved, on any grounds of reason or Scripture, that these souls are outside the state of merit, or unable to grow in grace.
27. The pope does excellently when he grants remission to the souls in purgatory on account of intercessions made on their behalf, and not by the power of the keys (which he cannot exercise for them).
And far more of which I find the Catholic Theology today to be in resounding agreement. As I look at Protestant and Catholic relations, I often wonder if modern Protestantism has thrown out the baby with the bathwater on some issues. Perhaps losing grasp with things like liturgy and sacrament in exchange for the rationality and logic forming minds cultivated by a purely scriptural identity with the Christian Faith. At the same time, wondering if the Catholic Faith has deepened division, by dismissing Protestant objections and beliefs.
Although, the Reformation is far too complicated to be fully addressed in 1000 words here and now, I think this is a serious question that is important in putting aside many differences that have accumulated since the Reformation. Atrocities on both sides have led to misunderstandings, mischaracterizations, and plain bigotry in some cases. As the Protestant Churches moved from the Reformation the fact that this was perhaps not so much a reformation as a schism and reinvention have become much more clearer.
Perhaps it is time to reread the 95 theses, and read what Luther’s original discussion points were, and put ourselves in that time and place and ask ourselves, “Does the Roman Catholic Church still have issues regarding these?” If not, I would have to ask the question, “Would Luther have felt the need to write these thesis if he were a priest today and was witness of the Catholic Church today?”
I believe that answer is no. That if Martin Luther was a priest in the Catholic Church today, he would not feel the need to break from the church as he did before. Perhaps the same could be said for Calvin if he had been removed from the confusing blending of Church and State of that time. Although we can never go back to that seemingly innocent moment in 1517, we can evaluate our theology, our history, our commonality, and ourselves and work on placing aside differences in our traditions that hinder, while seeking unity. Both Sects of Christianity have much to learn from each other. For example, Protestants can learn much from formulating a Christian history that is just as full and flourishing before the 16th century as after, and Catholics could learn much from Protestants in taking their beliefs to a more relational and personal level. In returning to the basics, examining our histories, and acknowledging our mistakes, perhaps we can bring healing to a very fractured past.