December 5, 2020

Is the Reformation Over? — Part One: A Modest and Growing Engagement

Is the Reformation Over? (part one)
A Modest and Growing Engagement

Is the Reformation Over?: An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism
by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom
Baker Academic (April 1, 2008)

• • •

On Sundays this summer, we will be blogging through Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom’s book, Is the Reformation Over? This work considers changes in the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II and what they have meant for relationships between Catholics and Protestants.

Noll is the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at Notre Dame University. He specializes in the history of Christianity in the United States and Canada. In 2005 he was named by Time Magazine as one of the twenty-five most influential evangelicals in America, and one of his most popular books, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, was Christianity Today’s book of the year in 1996. His coauthor, Carolyn Nystrom, has authored more than eighty books for adults and children. She holds an MA in historical theology from Wheaton College.

In the Introduction, they say this about their study:

It is intended as an evangelical assessment of contemporary Roman Catholicism, with special attention given to the dramatic changes that have taken place since the Second Vatican Council. It deals primarily with conditions in the United States but not to the exclusion of evidence from Canada, Latin America, Europe, and elsewhere in the world. In its pages we do not propose a final, universal, or dogmatic assessment of Roman Catholicism. Rather, we offer first as much helpful information as we can in a volume of modest size. Second, we also hope to provide evangelical interpretations, grounded in both classical Christian theology and the broad history of Christianity, of what we see in the contemporary Catholic Church.

In seeking to answer the question, “Is the Reformation over?” the authors state their intention of using the “classic ideals of the Protestant Reformation to measure contemporary Catholic Christianity: sola scriptura, sola fide, and the priesthood of all believers.” They acknowledge that this question, straightforward as it may sound, is not one that can be answered simply.

Today, we will consider what Noll and Nystrom tell us in chapter one: “Things Are Not the Way They Used to Be.”

“If…you had predicted that one day an Anglican bishop would tell me how the last Roman Catholic priest to whom he talked quizzed him hard as to whether Anglicans really preached the new birth as they should, I would probably have laughed in your face. But this month it happened. Things are not as they were!”

• J.I. Packer, 1983

• • •

The first chapter of Is the Reformation Over? is comprised of a litany of examples to show how perspectives and relations have changed with regard to evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics.

As usual, one person who provides the template for evangelical practice in post-war American evangelicalism is Billy Graham. Prior to the mid-1960s, Graham was staunchly anti-Catholic, though there is evidence that his public stance did not represent some of the changes taking place in his thinking from as early as the late 1940’s. The authors note that Catholics in the 1950s around the world discouraged their parishioners from attending his crusades and there was no participation by bishops or priests. Graham stood with other evangelicals who opposed John F. Kennedy’s presidential bid out of fear that American policy would be ruled by the Vatican should the country elect a Catholic leader. As late as 1962, a Graham associate wrote that Catholic priests were not invited to participate in crusades and that they wouldn’t join in if they were invited.

That changed in 1964, when Richard Cardinal Cushing welcomed Graham to New England, offering a prayer “of Catholics in the Boston area that God will bless his preaching and crusade, and will lead many to the knowledge of our Lord.” After the 1960s, the relationship accelerated, marked by such significant events as a 1977 crusade in Notre Dame stadium, an invitation to the shrine of the Black Madonna in Poland (the first Protestant leader ever to have been invited), preaching in Poland’s Catholic churches and later being granted an audience in the Vatican with Pope John Paul II. The authors observe, “In the 1990s and early twenty-first century, Catholics have made up a considerable portion of the people who attend his meetings, record decisions for Christ, and watch the crusades on television.” The Vatican sanctioned an official delegation to attend a Graham-sponsored evangelism conference in Amsterdam in 2000.

Noll and Nystrom also see cooperation in the “culture wars” as a catalyst bringing evangelicals and Catholics closer. They quote conservative spokesman Gary Bauer as saying, “When John F. Kennedy made his famous speech that the Vatican would not tell him what to do, evangelicals and Southern Baptists breathed a sigh of relief. But today evangelicals and Southern Baptists are hoping that the Vatican will tell Catholic politicians what to do.”

The religious publishing industry has seen a growing crossover between the Catholic and Protestant worlds in recent decades. InterVarsity Press, a leading evangelical publisher, now offers The Ancient Christian Commentary series, which is edited by a combination of evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox scholars, and 20% of those who buy its volumes are Catholic. The Pope himself invited evangelical scholars to the Vatican in 2003 to give his blessing on new translations of the series. Roman Catholic parishes are regularly using the Alpha course for evangelism. Catholics and Protestants have found fertile ground for cooperation in the realm of worship music as well, with extensive cross-pollination between traditions. In my own Lutheran congregation, we use contemporary Catholic liturgies by Marty Haugen, whose career is a good example of one whose music transcends traditional boundaries.

The authors also note a development they call “stunning.” There has been a remarkable about-face in the Catholic church in their assessment of Martin Luther and basic Reformation teachings. They point to recent Catholic works that argue Luther’s view of justification was correct and compatible with the Council of Trent, and that the condemnations of Trent are no longer meaningful today. One simple way to see how Rome has changed with regard to Luther himself, the authors assert, is to see the different reactions to two different films about the reformer. In 1953, when a Catholic commentator reviewed the film “Martin Luther,” he said that Luther was “a lewd satyr whose glandular demands were the ultimate cause of his break with the Christian Church.” In the U.S., Catholics in Chicago sought to keep the film off of television. However, fifty years later, a new Luther film, directed by Eric Till, received salutary comments from Catholic critics.

One Catholic, reviewing Martin Marty’s biography of Luther wrote that Luther himself “could not have foreseen that the Church of Rome would some four centuries later, at Vatican Council II, adopt many of the reforms that he championed.” I mentioned on this blog that a highlight of my own silent retreat at Gethsemani Abbey last fall was hearing a sermon on Romans 4 and the subject of justification that would have done Luther proud.

There are a number of other reflections in this chapter about changing relationships between evangelicals and Catholics, including an overview of what is happening in various places around the world. There is wide variation: from even more harmonious cooperation than in the U.S. to deeply entrenched antagonism, argue the authors. But there are many signs of change worth noting, including their surprising statement that Ireland has been the scene of the most advanced movement of evangelicalism within the Catholic Church.” Martha, care to comment?

• • •

The bottom line is: we are now at a place of modest and growing engagement between Protestants and Catholics, a development Noll and Nystrom call “a genuine moment of grace in the long history of the church.”



  1. I attend a Baptist church where the Pastor generally has very positive things to say about Catholics. It is one of the reasons why I decided to attend this church.

    When A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance was criticized for having women speak from his pulpit he responded: “Let God take care of the women, you and I should turn our batteries [of guns] on the common enemy.”

    I feel the same way about those who spend their energy putting down other types of churches. Other types of churches are not the enemy. They might have some things wrong, but then again so do I. We need to focus on making the good news of Jesus Christ known to the world, and we can’t do that when we are fighting amongst ourselves.

    • “Other types of churches are not the enemy. They might have some things wrong, but then again so do I. We need to focus on making the good news of Jesus Christ known to the world, and we can’t do that when we are fighting amongst ourselves.”

      Well-stated, Michael Bell.

  2. Talking about ” a genuine moment of grace”, when will Rome recognize that we are true churches?? That would be a good start…

    • Right, Tom.

      And how about opening their communion rails to those of us who do believe Christ to be present in the bread and the wine?

      Right now, we allow them to commune with us. But it doesn’t work the other way around.

      • In all fairness you could say the same about confessional Lutherans and the Eastern Orthodox.

      • I’m afraid that’ll never happen. Belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is only part of it. Shared communion “absolutely requires full communion in the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments and ecclesial governance.” (Ecclesia De Eucharistia n. 44)

        To share communion is to declare that we are truly one. If we are not truly one, then we shouldn’t be sharing communion. I practiced inter-communion for several years, receiving communion with my Protestant friends, but eventually I stopped. It felt like I was pretending that everything was okay. It was almost like I was trying to delude myself into thinking that everything was okay.

        It pained me to stop receiving communion with my friends, but that pain drove me to prayer and to action to try and heal the divides between Christians.

    • It’s simply a matter of definitions. In the Catholic understanding, to be a Church-with-a-capital-C requires valid sacraments, which requires apostolic succession. Protestant churches do not have this (and most of them do not claim to), so they simply do not fit the Catholic definition of what it means to be a Church. It’s not meant to be denigrating, it’s simply being precise.

      Similarly, the reason non-Catholics are not permitted to receive Communion is not because they are inferior or unworthy or any such thing. It’s because to do so would be to lie. We cannot share Communion unless we are not actually in communion. As much as we would like to be, we cannot simply pretend that we are in communion when we are in fact not. Sharing Communion will be the result, not the cause, of ecumenical reunion, just as sex is (or should be) the result, not the cause, of marriage.

  3. I read this post with anticipation: I look forward to peace between Catholics and Protestants.

    I grew up Lutheran — well, NOT-Catholic. Meaning, my strongest memories where that Catholics were weird if not bad. I even looked at their churches like places of evil.

    Later I joined the charismatic Church with both Catholics and Protestants who still loved their mother traditions.

    I later went to Wheaton College where “Catholic” was again bad. Well, until Bob Weber taught theology — he later left his Baptist cloaks to become Episcopalian and was a scandal on Wheaton’s campus.

    I later practiced Buddhism and married a Catholic wife.

    I have no vested interest in a shared theology, but instead in a shared world — if a more reconciliation is a step toward universalism, I am all for it.

  4. The only place I attended where Catholics were treated respectfully and wamrly was National Community Church. Whne I went to the Easter service they incorporated Catholic prayer into their service by saying the “Our Father” the way the Catholics do it. I was really surprised.

    Aside from that what the author wrote about I seldom encounrted. In teh Evangelical Free Church I attended Catholcism was viewed as a cult. Same was true in Crusade. I remember going to my frist men’s Bible study in CCC and the director asking where people went to chruch. All the guys were saying “______ Eve Free, ______ Baptist, _______ Church, etc…” Then he got ot me and I said St. Therese and he stared at me for a minute.

    Nothing but silence…

    I wondered if I said something wrong…or committed a crime.

    And with that he moved onto the next person and approved of where they were going to church. It was an akward expereince.

    Other evangelical chruches looked at the Catholci chruch as being misguided, worshipping Mary, un-Biblical, not Christian, etc… i even heard some evangelicals use the pedophile scandal as a means to attack the Catholic priesthood.

    So some of this is a surprise to me. Maybe I was in the wrong bubble….

    • Martin Romero says

      Somehow I can clearly imagine that situation you mention about CCC.

      A few months ago I visited a Catholic church not far from where I live and I really enjoyed the experience. I do like to visit other churches from time to time because I feel it’s “spiritually” helpful for me: I think it prevents me from staying within my “Christian cocoon” and seeing things only from the perspective of my particular congregation. Also, it was good for me because I previously was in a denomination which is particularly anti-Catholic and I was told so many things about “them” that it is refreshing to see the truth.

      Later, as I commented about the experience, I got different responses depending on who I was talking with… There was this guy who didn’t say anything negative about it, but the way he stopped for a second, the so slight change in his expression and the way he said that “yeeeessss” seemed to me as if he were inspecting me and waiting to see if I would come out as a papist and a heretic in the end or not. On the other hand, I chatted with a friend from my church, who’s from the Middle East and comes from a Catholic family, and he mentioned about the many times he had to correct others about their misconceptions about Catholicism in general.

  5. BTW… What is the priesthood of the believer that is mentioned above?

    • In short… the priesthood of the believer is based upon 1 Timothy 2:5 that states: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus”

      A key verse is also 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

      From Wikipedia…

      Most Protestants today recognize only Christ as a mediator between themselves and God (1 Timothy 2:5). The Epistle to the Hebrews calls Jesus the supreme “high priest,” who offered himself as a perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 7:23–28). Protestants believe that through Christ they have been given direct access to God, just like a priest; thus the doctrine is called the priesthood of all believers. God is equally accessible to all the faithful, and every Christian has equal potential to minister for God. This doctrine stands in opposition to the concept of a spiritual aristocracy or hierarchy within Christianity.

      It was an important doctrine for the church that I grew up in the Plymouth (or Christian) Brethren.

    • Part of that understanding comes also from the translation of the bible into the vernacular, something that the Catholic Church initially opposed, preferring to teach the bible and doctrine through the clergy who, presumably, were the only ones qualified to understand it.

      William Tyndale, one of the early translators into English (16th century), said, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you!”

    • Just this Monday I was explaining the “Priesthood of all believers” to a friend of mine who was received into the Church last Easter. Since I still have my catechism open….

      CCC #1268 The baptized have become “living stones” to be “built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.”(1 Peter 2:5) By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that [they] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”(1 Peter 2:9) Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers.

  6. Well, glad to hear that the outreach that started being preached to the (RC) laity in the 1970’s has thawed some walls between those of us who are RC and the rest of Christains. The pre Vatican-Two Church spent way too much time focusing on how our “sperated brethren” were wrong and different instead of the real comminalities. Eucumenical changes were long overdue……but I see the majority of change recently coming from non-Catholic Christians who have eased off the ugliness that ranged from discomfort and ignorance to full court press hate. It has been a long time since I have been told that I am not Christian, going to Hell, or worship idols. Progress all around!!!

    (With apolgies to the author…I think Chesterton…….”For every person who hates the Catholic Chrurch for what it is, one hundred OTHERS hate it for what they THINK it is!!)

    Some things, however, will remain irreconcilable differrences…..The True Presence in the Eucharist, the authority of the Pope and Church hierarchy, stands on contraception, abortion, and divorce, the place of tradition in understanding the message of God.

    Maybe we can reach the point where we can agree to disagree on how we interpret God’s rules and plans, but agree about his Love, Death & Resurection, life giving Grace, and the world to come. Amen!

    • (I think it was Archbishop Fulton Sheen)

      • It was Archbishop Sheen. The actual quote is something like, “There are not a hundred people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church. But there are thousands who hate what they think is the Catholic Church.”

  7. “It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.”

    G.K. Chesterton

    Sincere RC’s and Prods have found much healing in joking about themselves and each other. That’s healthy. In my experience it’s been Irish Catholics who have led the way. Irish Prods are catching on….


  8. Richard Hershberger says

    A few thoughts, based on this blog post rather than the book, which I have not read, and with the caveat that I am working on my first cup of coffee…

    There seems to be a tacit assumption that Evangelicals own the Reformation, and whether or not it is over is to be answered from the Evangelical perspective. As a Lutheran, I find this startling.

    There also seems to be much discussion over superficial aspects of mutual name-calling. Yes, there is nothing like what there used to be even just fifty years ago, and this is all to the good. But the name-calling was a secondary effect of the Reformation. The two sides keeping civil tongues is not evidence of fundamental reconciliation.

    We also should not confuse effects of Vatican II with effects of later trends. Vatican II set the stage for discussions between Rome and the traditional mainlines. Cooperation between Rome and the Evangelicals have much more to do with the culture wars. Then there is the whole discussion of the place of Vatican II in church history. It was supposed to be a major event, dragging the church into the 20th century. Alas, it looks to me that it will turn out to have been a mere blip, subsequently firmly suppressed (though not in so many words, of course).

    Finally, we ought not be overly impressed by similarities of vocabulary when we hear about stuff like justification. This was brought home to me by the Catholic/Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The final document was issued in 1999 after many years of wordsmithing. On its face it looked like a big deal, with the two sides agreeing on this vital point of doctrine. (This, by the way, gave the Missouri Synod fits, and they would have nothing to do with it.) Supplementary interpretational material showed that no such thing had actually occurred. Rather, the two parties found just enough vagueness in the vocabulary used that they could agree on the words without having to agree on the meaning. This document, predictably, was issued and forgotten, with no discernible subsequent effect.

    In the American context, what I think we have today is a situation where both the liberal and the conservative wings of both Catholics and Protestants have, for various reasons, given up the language of anathema and have incentives to avoid taking it up again. My wife was educated at a liberal Catholic college run by sisters. When we got engaged, she told one of her old teachers she was marrying an ELCA Lutheran. That was just fine with the sister, as she considered us the next best thing, what with our liturgical tradition and ecumenical tendencies. On the conservative side, the alliance with the Evangelicals in the culture wars keeps things civil. I hope that this civility is a permanent development, but I don’t believe it is a sign of any fundamental reconciliation.

    • “There seems to be a tacit assumption that Evangelicals own the Reformation, and whether or not it is over is to be answered from the Evangelical perspective. As a Lutheran, I find this startling.”

      Perhaps this is because many of the roots of evangelicalism are in the “radical reformation” – those in the 16th Century who felt that the moves of Luther and Zwingli did not go far enough.

    • I don’t think your charge of a “tacit assumption” is completely accurate, Richard. The simple fact is that we here at IM come from evangelicalism and this book is the work of evangelical scholars. Of course it is going to look at things from that perspective. If I find a good one, I’d be happy to blog through a book from the RC point of view.

      As far as “winning” — that whole point of view has been questioned more and more by all concerned. In this process of “modest and growing” engagement, evangelicals have lost a significant number of people back to historic traditions such as Catholicism as well as vice versa. This very blog and its history is testimony to that. And though there are still some issues that perhaps will never be resolved (the role of the Pope, for example), evangelicals like Michael Spencer and myself have embraced a much more “Catholic” view of tradition and question the lack of authority, history of fragmentation and what Christian Smith calls, “the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism” that arises from a purely biblicist approach.

      I remain Protestant, but like most Lutherans, see myself as part of a reform movement within the larger church, not part of a separate tradition. That’s not about “winning,” that’s about semper reformanda.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        “The simple fact is that we here at IM come from evangelicalism and this book is the work of evangelical scholars.”

        Fair enough, but the stated topic of the post was “relationships between Catholics and Protestants.” This is akin to the bad Evangelical Protestant habit of using the word “Christian” as a synonym for “Evangelical Protestant”: some combination of careless, clueless, and openly offensive.

        As for the part about “winning”, I am at a loss as ti where that is coming from.

  9. It will never be over.

    It needs to go on because of our propensity to turn everything back in on ourselves.

  10. David Cornwell says

    Whatever reconciliation has happened or is in the wind, then we must give thanks for it. When we, on both sides of the divide can repent of our own willfulness toward the other, and see is as a sinful rent in the body of Christ, then it is all for the better. May the future find us more together than apart.

  11. I read this post, and I’m hit with so many different feelings. Mostly I just think of all the reasons that unity–real unity, as in undivided, ecclesial, doctrinal unity–is so, so unlikely to happen. Not just in my lifetime, but ever.

    If Catholics and Protestants agree on 80%, Catholics and Orthodox agree on about 95%. All the things that Protestants find sketchy and offensive about Catholicism (Mary, prayer to saints, veneration of saints and relics, praying for the dead, Tradition with a capital T, etc.) are there in the Orthodox church. And the schism between East and West is going on a millennium now. The divide between Protestants and Catholics is so, so much deeper and fundamental. We can’t even agree on what the essentials are, much less how to define them!

    I mean, there have been gains since Vatican II, there really have. But there’s huge difference between playing nice and an undivided Church, you know?

    I feel bad about just throwing cold water on this post…just stating my thoughts.

    • Steve, the key words in the post are “modest and growing.”

      • I think this study may be a bit out-of-date and may even involve wishful thinking. Are the authors aware of the disenchantment within the Catholic Church at some of the changes brought about by Vatican II? The widespread loathing of Marty Haugen and his “worship music”? The concern at what is seen as the “Protestantisation” of the Catholic Church? As a Catholic, I know this is not confined to a loony or elderly fringe. I don’t quite recognise the reality here.

        • Donna, have to disagree with you on the “disenchantment” of the laity after Vatican II, it was mostly getting used to the changes that were cosmetic more thatn theological. Yes, there were the Opus Deai crowd, but they are not a majority, and due to being military have been in over 20 parishes around the country and world.

          Yes, the music got bad for awhile, but it is swinging back and the new responses are more accurate. Maybe if you explain what the “Protestantion” of the Church means to you, it might make more sense, but now I don’t see where you are coming from!

        • Donna, that’s a whole side of the question that is not dealt with in the first chapter. I will keep an eye out for it as we work through the book.

          I realize my own point of view represents just a small sample and anecdotal, but the Catholic churches that I have attended all use Marty Haugen music and other contemporary materials. More traditional congregations are few and far between around here. I recognize a more conservative backlash in recent years in terms of doctrine and social issues, but it has not been my experience to see it in terms of liturgy.

          But the Catholic Church is one of the “biggest tents” in the world and I’m sure you represent one of the streams of thought that’s out there.

          • Hi Pattie and Mike

            I don’t live in the United States so maybe that explains my different experience – and proof that blogs have a global audience. Perhaps the study is implying that the Reformation is over in the United States (unless you guys think you are the whole world, of course!)

            The Catholic Church is indeed a very “big tent”. We don’t use Marty Haugen in my parish – not any more. We’ve reverted to traditional hymns with an organ. “Protestantisation” is cosmetic rather than theological, for example the dismantling of altar rails (never fully completed in my parish, although done away with in most). But I found it really interesting and enlightening to attend a Traditional Latin Mass for the first time last year. For the first time in my life I really felt as if I was at a Catholic Mass. It really surprised me.

            • Donna, the focus of the book is indeed on America, though the authors do try to point out broader experiences as well. Thanks for giving us your perspective. I love to hear from folks around the world!

        • Adrienne says

          “Loony or elderly fringe”? Ooooohhhhh – that’s scarey. I remember the time, not so very long ago, when I specifically asked the Lord to lead me to some “elderly” women who could share their journey with the Lord with me. I had been an avid student of the Scriptures but somehow knew I needed their wisdom. He quickly and beautifully answered my prayer and those women stepped graciously into my life and, oh how grateful I will always be.” Some are gone now, home with their Lord, and I miss them terribly. Well, now I stand on the brink of “elderly”- I am in my 60’s – and my former evangelical church made us feel that they were impatiently waiting for us to die and get out of their way. God help us – we need each other.

          • We do indeed need each other, and no offence was intended, Adrienne. I was describing a fringe as elderly and not the elderly as fringe. Which is starting to sound loony.

  12. Yes, the Reformation is over. And, it’s been over for at least a hundred years, literally and figuratively. However, many Protestants are very ardent about keeping their distance from our Catholic brothers. And, many of these same folk feel we are still in a Reformation period. But, I ask… what are we still reforming? Reformed Protestant Christianity has remained in it’s stagnant form for at least a hundred years. No, I believe the Reformers merely reformed the Catholic church rather than revert to primitive Christianity. And now I am led to believe we Protestants now need reforming from our own institutionalized Christianity. Really, I see no difference between the Catholic church and Protestants save for perhaps a few doctrinal issues. Collectively, we have both strayed so far away from vintage Christianity that I’m afraid many of the early church fathers today wouldn’t even recognize the institution that Christianity has become… the very institution that Jesus fought against.

    • Greg, I think there are more thatn you realize theologically. The primacy of the Eucharist and the True Presence, Apostolic succession and celibate male clergy, the Authority of the Church and the Pope, the need for tradition to interpret Scripture, the lack of absolute “truth” in all words in the bible (history, stories, poems, parables, and myths), the sacraments (what they are and what they mean), the communion of saints and intercessionary prayer to them and the Blessed Mother……and that is just the bid stuff I can think up before bedtime.

      Not trying to widen the gap, but there is no need to pretend that we don’t have some validly different ways of looking at what Christ wants for us and from us, and the best way to get there.

      • Tokah Fang says

        I mostly agree, but given the acceptance of Eastern Catholics within the catholic church, I don’t think celibate male clergy would be as big a a sticking point on the catholic side as most of those issues. There is already an established group with married clergy doing seemingly quite well within the catholic communion.

      • These differences you list I would add are issues primarily relating to tradition. Traditions that we Protestants are guilty of having within our own tribe. Taken within the bigger picture, both the Catholics and Protestants have strayed so far from primitive first-century Christianity that it really doesn’t matter who does what. I encourage you to read “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola and George Barna where they expose how much we have deviated from the church that Christ envisioned and Paul had outlined.

        • I think what Pattie is getting at is that those traditions she listed (Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, apostolic succession, veneration of relics, baptismal regeneration, etc.) ARE part of “primitive, first-century Christianity.” Look up the writings of Ignatius of Antioch or Justin Martyr, both of whom were writing in the early second century (i.e. the first generation after the apostles) and you’ll find all of those things there.

      • > “the lack of absolute “truth” in all words in the bible (history, stories, poems, parables, and myths)”

        I’m not really sure what you mean here…

        “Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. Therefore “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text)” – Dei Verbum, 3, 11

  13. dkmonroe says

    I believe that in one important sense, the Reformation has been over for quite a long time, in that it was over ever since a consensus (of sorts) was reached that it was possible for institutional Christianity to exist in the West apart from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

    I think what is happening now is perhaps a healing of the rift between the Roman Catholic Church and the various Protestant communities and faith traditions. This seems inevitable in light of what has been a dissolving of what was once a general Christian consensus in the Western world. As the general culture moves farther away from Christian positions on most areas of thought, Christians who hold onto traditional positions are much more inclined to seek agreement where they can rather than seek conflict over those things with which they disagree.

    Now, all of these things are relative – the “Christian consensus of the West” has never been a monolithic thing and the emerging agreement between Catholics and Protestants on many issues is by no means absolute, but the future seems to be one in which these cultural tensions which have persisted for many years have shifted and realigned. These are, in that sense, fascinating times.

    • > “it was over ever since a consensus (of sorts) was reached that it was possible for institutional Christianity to exist in the West apart from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church”

      Was that really the question of the Reformation though? Could Institutional Christianity survive apart from Rome? The Orthodox Churches had survived apart from Rome for some time by this point.

      I’ve always thought that the Reformation could only technically be “over” if the Protestant world was fully united, thus vindicating the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura”.

      • dkmonroe says

        I specified “institutional Christianity in the west.” The east is a very different situation. As any analysis of the history of the Reformation reveals, there were severe consequences to splitting from Roman authority and I think it obvious that there was some question as to whether it was actually possible to do so without being literally annihilated.

        The problem with a vision of a united Protestantism is that the concept of “Sola Scriptura” is not really a uniting principle. I mean, we can all agree that correct doctrine needs to come from or be directly validated by Scripture, but as we all know, this commitment does not guarantee unity at any level. It simply means more and more divisions according to various interpretations of Scripture. Nearly, if not practically, all of the Protestant denominations claim some variant of “Sola Scriptura”, yet they all find other things to divide over.

        • > “I think it obvious that there was some question as to whether it was actually possible to do so without being literally annihilated”

          I’m afraid it doesn’t seem obvious to me. What makes you think this?

          > “‘Sola Scriptura’ is not really a uniting principle…It simply means more and more divisions according to various interpretations of Scripture”

          Agreed, that’s one of the reasons why I’m Catholic. Can we therefore agree that the Reformation will never be over?

          • dkmonroe says

            We are arguing at cross purposes here. I say that the Reformation is over, simply because it has done the only thing it could do, which was to explode Christianity in the West into a thousand factions. The idea of having one institution of Christianity emerge from the Reformation is (IMO) actually counter to its original philosophical goals, which was to “free” Christianity from institutional control. This is a gross oversimplification of course, but these comboxes are only so big.

            I think it is obvious that Protestantism could have been persecuted out of existence, just as the Cathars were. That’s what I mean by saying that there was some question over whether one could establish a Christian movement apart from Rome. I understand that the Cathars were much more divergent than the Reformers were, but I think that the Catholic Church was no less willing to stamp them out.

          • >> “The idea of having one institution of Christianity emerge from the Reformation is (IMO) actually counter to its original philosophical goals”

            I’m afraid that for me this flies in the face of Christ’s prayer that his Church should be one. Also, the cacophony of conflicting voices is one of the largest impediments to evangelism (John 17:20).

            In addition I suggest that this “philosophical goal” wasn’t actually the intention of many Reformers. Luther and Calvin were not against “institutional” Christianity, they just wanted *their* vision of it rather than Rome’s.

  14. I think as long as ‘Christ +’ Christianity exists, then the (R)eformation will never cease.

    The reforming of the church started with St. Paul, and has really never ended…nor do I see it ever ending because we have a inate desire to add something to the finished work of our Savior.

    Whether it be Popes, or the right fingertips (historic succession), or the right ‘decision’ for Christ, or our seriousness, or inerrant Bibles, or…whatever. These things all water down the gospel and reshift the focus to us in some way. They work against faith and the Word, alone.

    So we keep proclaiming Christ alone and the battle continues. This is not to say that we don’t believe that these add-on folks are not Christians (even though many of them believe we are lacking)…but that we want them to have the freedom (Gal.5:1) that Christ died to give them…and to be able to shed those shackles that keep them from being truly free.