January 26, 2021

Opening a Can of Worms: What are the Reformation’s Gains and Losses?

can_of_worms_aheadYou see by the question mark in the title that I come not opining, but asking because I truly want to know. I’ve shared in a recent essay of my background in various churches that came, not due to purposeful hopping, but rather because I was the child of a broken home and depending on others to deliver me where they would. As a result, I got delivered several different places, both Protestant and Catholic. I was an equal opportunity spiritual seeker and I still am. I find beautiful and truthful expressions of Christian experience in a wide range of writers. Lately, Protestant that I am (though I can’t think of anything I’m really protesting), I have been reading Catholic writers almost exclusively.

To my way of thinking we revere … we worship … we love in common the most holy and perfect expression of God, our Savior Jesus Christ. He is grace to us and, at the same time, mystifying truth. C.S. Lewis likened this tie that binds to dining together at a banquet in a great hall. For our more intimate gatherings we like to adjourn to private little rooms off the great hall … rooms named after our denominational preferences, particular theological schools of thought or for which side of the Reformation we have taken. Some don’t see it this way. Some see these differences as deciding factors in salvation. I recognize this thinking, though it isn’t exactly what I want to talk about today unless you sincerely believe the question I am about to ask has for its answer the issue of salvation at its core.

Martin Luther sparked the Reformation when he nailed his 95 Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. Born into a Catholic household and baptized the day after his birth, Luther seemed a Catholic of Catholics just as the Apostle Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews (Philippians 3:5). He could claim a Catholic childhood as well as a purposeful pressing into Catholicism that led him as an adult higher up and farther in than most. He was dedicated first to Augustinian monastic life, then ordained into the priesthood and finally obtained a Doctor of Theology award from University of Wittenberg where he also spent the rest of his career as Doctor in Bible. So when he nailed those 95 Theses on the door, he was likely looking for small-r reformation rather than plotting the big-R Reformation that would divide the Church and change history.

Conviction that certain practices were leading the Church far afield drove Luther to broach subjects and ask questions that he hoped might restore sight of the central truths of Christianity, namely that righteousness cannot be bought with money or earned by works. Luther contended that righteousness is acquired as a free gift from God only through faith in Jesus Christ. Other points of contention included his assertion that the Holy Spirit guides believers into truth, that popes do not have the sole right to interpret Scripture and are not infallible. He further espoused that believers are priests one to another in the ministering of their various spiritual gifts and in the practice of Christian life and love.

Despite Luther’s little-r mentality, he got big-R results that he didn’t really want. Please forgive the oversimplification of an event that has not ceased in five centuries from being the subject of chronic analysis and that was influenced and complicated by many factors and by many persons besides Luther. What might have started from a spark of scholarly and religious debate became a forest fire aided by the whirling winds of cultural, economic and political unrest.

Whatever the case … intentional or accidental … my question is this: What was gained and what was lost in the Reformation? I invite you to consider not making an either/or response such as “everything spiritually legitimate was lost in the Reformation” or “everything spiritually legitimate was gained in the Reformation.” Could it be that both Protestants and Catholics could consider some things lost and some things gained by it? What would those things be? For example, as a Protestant I lament the loss of unity (no, I do not mean lockstep conformity), both with Catholics and among Protestants. By unity, I mean that thing that allows us dissimilar folks to sit at the banquet table and have a rousing, but civil conversation around the feast of Christ’s saving work … and to gladly pass the bread to the person who can’t in good conscience eat the meat and to scoot over and make room when another person we saw engaged in that questionable activity in the street arrives late. It pains me that we broke in the first place … and it pains me that we Protestants keep breaking. Perhaps in the beginning the breaks were over weightier issues, but we have devolved and degenerated and now we form new churches over ever more narrow issues. Our law seems not to be Love, but zeal over our pet spiritual obsessions.

Several years ago I was reading a commentary on the book of Revelation by J. Vernon McGee. Regarding Revelation 3:2, McGee, a Protestant, equated Protestantism with the church at Sardis, “Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.” Having quoted this verse, McGee went on to say, “This is a frightful condemnation and is a picture of Protestantism today. We need to recognize that all of the truth was not recovered by the Reformation.” He was not explicit in stating his meaning, but it seems clear he viewed the Reformation as an event in which truth was gained, but not fully. These words of McGee’s have stayed with me for a very a long time and sparked the thought that the theology behind my mostly Protestant upbringing might be somehow incomplete in and of itself and not just because of any formational weaknesses, either personal or educational, in me. (Could I pick a better Protestant commentator? Yes, but for this purpose, McGee’s simple but memorable statement was like the string from a ball of yarn that I pulled behind me through a couple of decades and later tied to another idea.)

Reading about Martin Luther clarified certain thoughts for me and muddied up a few others. Was he pure Protestant or conflicted Catholic? My take on him is that he never thought of himself other than Catholic though he was Protestantism’s most famous Protestant. He disliked that term and viewed it as a label better suited to the overzealous hangers-on who tried (and in many ways succeeded) to hijack reform and turn it into a protest that often became violent and ultimately created a rift he was never able to mend, though that is what he longed to do. That rift seems also to have left Luther with a degree of bitterness … perhaps toward himself, perhaps toward his opposition, perhaps toward those seemingly on his side who pushed the movement too far and too fast, perhaps toward God for permitting this strange and unexpected life’s journey or perhaps for a confusing mix of all of the above.

During my quest to figure out what truths were lost or gained in the Reformation, I also began reading the writings of some Catholic writers … and please, I mean some. I’m no historian. My knowledge in this area … okay, in any area … is like a piece of Swiss cheese, more voids than substance.

G.K. Chesterton, a Catholic, wrote in Orthodoxy, “The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.” Although I read this quote many years after reading the comment by McGee above, I instantly linked them in my mind as touching the same subject, though from different perspectives.

Chesterton went on to say, “only one great English poet went mad, Cowper. And he was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination … he was damned by John Calvin.” (Chesterton seemed not to love John Calvin.) Perhaps Chesterton would consider the Protestant embrace of predestination, especially in the 17th century, to be a major post-Reformation loss.

As an aside, I have read in more than one place that both G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis were mightily influenced toward Christian faith by the writings of George McDonald, a Scottish preacher with Congregationalist roots. One might think McDonald’s influence would lead to their faith being in common with his. Interestingly, both men diverged from McDonald, as well as from each other, in faith practice. Chesterton became a Catholic and Lewis an Anglican.

So Monks, as we consider gains and losses resulting from the Reformation, let us be respectful of each other and humble in the offering of thoughts and opinions. Some might come with long comments resulting from extensive knowledge of theology and Church history. Some might come with thoughts and opinions rooted in personal experience and first-hand observation. I pray no one will come disrespectfully. Christendom’s most brilliant thinkers have neither resolved this issue for themselves nor created any significant unity within the Body of Christ over it. We may do no better, but we might have an interesting conversation, an opportunity to gain some perspective and a chance to demonstrate generosity and grace toward each other as we listen.


  1. Robert F says

    There are around 105 different kinds of Mennonites; there are around 110 different kinds of Baptists. It’s very disconcerting, but there is an inevitability about it. As soon as it became possible for more and more people to read, and for more and more people to read the Bible in their native languages (developments that were helped along by the invention of the printing press and the translations of the Bible into vernaculars by Luther and Wycliffe), the genie had been let out of the Bible. The kind of “unity” that Chesterton had nostalgia for can only be had by a church in which the Bible is accessible and interpreted by a tightly controlled cadre of keepers of the text, who make sure that the text stays hermetically sealed in a language that is completely incomprehensible to the vast majority of people both common and aristocratic; in any case, Chesterton’s dating was incorrect, because even that much contrived top-down “unity” actually ended not at the Protestant Reformation but at the Great Schism in 1054 C.E., and was ratified by the Western Schism when in 1378 C.E. two popes were elected within several months of each other by the same college of cardinals. Later a third pope also claimed legitimacy until the situation was resolved in 1414 C.E. But during all those decades the Catholic faithful were faced with the very Protestant dilemma of choosing which authority to obey; it’s no historical accident that the Protestant Reformation blossomed in all its fullness a century later. What was lost was a historically immature top-down contrived “unity” that was more of an appearance than a reality; what was gained is what sociologist (minoring in theology) Peter Berger has called the “heretical imperative,” referring to the root meaning of the word “heretic” which is “able to choose.” And I say all this as a former Roman Catholic who still has great respect for the spiritual riches that the Catholic church carries within its tradition and history, but one who is unwilling to let Mother Church tie me back up in her apron strings. As a Buddhist monk fleeing the invasion of Tibet by Red China in 1950 is reported to have told the young Dalai Lama, “Now everybody had to stand on their own two feet, brother.” What was lost? Christian childhood. What was gained? The POSSIBILITY of maturity. And it’s this kind of maturity that Bonhoeffer meant when he referred to the contemporary world as a “world come of age.”

    • “The kind of “unity” that Chesterton had nostalgia for can only be had by a church in which the Bible is accessible and interpreted by a tightly controlled cadre of keepers”

      And, those keepers hold a sword at the neck of those who teach otherwise.

      • Yes, boaz, I forgot to make explicit mention of the sword, but it always hangs there ready to bring the heretics to compliance; although, it must be conceded, that Luther and most of the other magisterial Reformers were more than willing to wrest that sword away from the Roman Catholics and use it the themselves just as freely to enforce their own version of conformity.

        • The point is, all the sentimental odes to a lost unity are imagining something that never existed. It simply is not unity if it is compelled.

          Unity exists or it does not. We always want to take shortcuts to get unity, but it never works. We try compulsion, to shame, to condemn, and so on to get unity. You can’t create unity with the Law.

          The unity Christ wants for the church is in the Gospel. Are we all sinners that rely on the same Gospel and receive the same sacraments? If yes, then there is unity.

          • Robert F says

            Agreed, boaz..

          • Rick Ro. says

            “It simply is not unity if it is compelled.”

            I was sitting in a church board meeting a couple years back and the area superintendent was in attendance to help facilitate us through a specific contentious issue, one in which I was at odds with the majority. He opened with a devotional that consisted of all the “unity” verses in the Bible. The heavy-handedness of his intentions was as laughable as it was obvious.

            As he leading the devotional, he began handing around slips of paper. I knew that his intent was to have a “secret vote” on the matter and see if we as a Board were “unified,” and chastise those who didn’t vote the party line.

            When he finished his devotional, he said, “Okay, let’s vote. Yes or no. And remember, we want a unified church.”

            I crumpled up my slip of paper and said, “This tactic is wrong. I know what you’re trying to do, and you don’t need to do it. You don’t need to force unity. I’ll tell you up front that I’m voting No, and just because I’m voting No doesn’t mean I don’t believe in unity.” His expression led me to believe he’d never been challenged openly like that before.

            We ended up having a really good discussion. And oddly, we didn’t even end up voting on the issue. It just sort of resolved itself with a couple of us disagreeing with everyone else, but living with the decision.

    • Well, only if unity is found in identical understandings of the text.

      • Or, if unity is found in conformity to certain ritual behaviors and practices based ostensibly on “authoritative” tradition.

    • Before the Great Schism, there was the Council of Chalcedon, which divided Oriental Orthodoxy from, well, Chalcedonian Christianity. Before that there was the expulsion of the Church of the East (the so-called “Nestorian” church), the suppression of gnosticism and other supposed “heresies” by newly-Christian Rome, and for that matter, the intra-Christian rifts recorded in the New Testament.

      (HUG complains of first- or second-century Shirley MacLaines, but in view of the vast divide between the probable religious views of the historical Jesus, and the metaphysical teachings of Christianity, most Christians may, on inspection, turn out to be following trance-channelers or their equivalent. Paul, for instance.)

      The Reformation produced several state churches, which differ from Catholicism mainly in being smaller and more culture-bound (in this respect they resemble the Oriental Orthodox churches); and any number of independent or sectarian groups. It is difficult to evaluate Protestantism in general, while keeping in mind both Anglicanism and Mormonism. Was it all worth it? Who knows.

      One consequence of the Reformation, which was felt within Catholicism as well, was that Western Christianity became less of a folk religion, and more personality driven (by personalities other than Jesus). After Luther and Calvin, Protestantism came to be largely defined according to a never-ending (and ever-narrower) succession of charismatic leaders, even when this was not the intent. Meanwhile, Catholicism came to define itself (on the official level) according to its popes and Thomistic theology (both of which were formally codified in the nineteenth century).

      Yes, there have always been saints, some of which have risen to the level of identity symbols–Gregory Palamas, for example. On the other hand, most exist at the level of folk Christianity. I wonder if our attraction to such figures has paralleled a similar tendency toward hero-worship within romantic nationalism? On that note, many of the developments within Protestantism seem to be products of wider societal forces such as the rise of science and technology (notably the printing press), which would have arisen anyway. Perhaps in some parallel universe where Luther and Calvin never existed, it is the Jesuits and Benedictines who effectively developed into separate churches!

  2. Robert F says

    Make that “Now everybody HAS to stand on their own two feet…,” please.

  3. The Evangelical Protestants have lost a sense of how to organize a local church and not make it into a fiefdom with all the palace intrigues that’s come with such. And the shifting alliances with other fiefdoms and ever more complicated alliances and foes.

    You’d almost think WW I was just around the corner.

    • Nuts. Hit the button too soon. This is not universal. Lutherans seem to do this better than most of us. The SBC seemed to be better IN THIS AREA 50 years ago or so. (Or I was too young to notice the issues.)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The Evangelical Protestants have lost a sense of how to organize a local church and not make it into a fiefdom with all the palace intrigues that’s come with such.

      “Just like I, Claudius, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

      Or more familiar today:

      “Just like Game of Thrones, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

      • I’m sure that mapping Game of Thrones characters to current well known theologians/pastors is already out there somewhere on the internet… (but I’m not going to look).

        (Which Game of Thrones character would Michael Spencer be?)

  4. I’m with Robert F – there has been no real unity since well before the Reformation. The Great Schism of 1054 A.D. was a slow growing crack between the East and West for centuries before it broke off. What I think about the reformation these days is: I think we lost a lot of Orthodoxy in the 13th C. Catholic church. Previous to this, women were ordained (not a priests, but as teachers, prophetesses and healers), the atonement theory was Christ Ransom theory – with no other alternatives – and Hell was more like annihilation than an eternal place to threaten wayward children/teens with at Halloween. Once the Great Schism occurred, the Catholic church wandered far from earlier teachings and toyed with ideas like the Satisfaction theory of atonement. All these changes happened previous to the Reformation. The reformation gave us freedom from the Catholic church, and I am grateful for the options we have, but the underlying spiritual drift came due to the Great Schism.

    From that earlier schism we have less grounding in Orthodox teachings of the church and more reasons to fraction. I think it is because our western reformed view of God, sin and self fits very well in a general reading of the Bible. Due to it’s ill fit, more and more cracks appear as people try to improve on a broken and many times fixed model. If God is love and we are supposed to witness to others about his great love, it is weird to spend so much time trying to convince non-believers they are sinners. Recognizing one’s sinfulness was never a requirement for the gentiles to enter the faith. It is the idea of accepting God’s invite to follow him that allows non-belivers to become believers. And a loving God would not kill a toddler for stealing a cookie, that would be a monster. So, having an atonement theory where God rescues us from the devil is more accurate than saying Jesus (God) was rescuing us from God.

    I realize the Orthodox church is also divided, often by geographical regions, but I think the early church view on certain issues, might sort out some of the reasons churches divide. The average person cannot agree on what the essentials are, so churches split as people leave, trying to find a church that agrees with them. It would be better if everyone was at least taught how all the main denominations got their start and why they are considered Christian. Especially the Eastern Orthodox church. As the early church did not care if one believed in Hell or which atonement theory you followed. Once people see the variety out there and the Orthodox views on God and humans, yet still be Christians would help a lot of people re-think what the essentials are.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      If we are going to dig deeper, the Church hasn’t been unified since a day or two after Pentecost. Come to think of it, Thomas wasn’t on board, so it wasn’t really unified even then. The oldest manifestation of this disunity which survive today is the split not between the Roman and the Eastern churches, but between the Roman/Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox churches and the Church of the East (a/k/a the Nestorian Church). We tend to overlook those last two because they aren’t much seen around here. This split goes to which of the ecumenical councils the respective churches acknowledge as legitimate. Modern Christianity funnels through the early ecumenical councils, but they existed to resolve older splits. And, of course, the Acts of the Apostles is extensively concerned with the topic. So no, Christian disunity is nothing new. But this ought not be taken as a defense of it.

      • Robert F says

        Richard Hershberger,
        Yes, very good points about the earlier splits involving the Oriental Orthodox churches and the Church of the East (I think that recent ecumenical efforts have nearly laid to rest the theological issues involved in accusing the Church of the East of the heresy of Nestorianism). I have the unfortunate habit, like so many, of taking a Euro-centric view when dealing with church history, and weighing those events that directly affected Europe most dramatically more heavily than I should. That means that Chesterton was even more wrong about the Reformation being the sundering of church unity than I said he was.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        Of course Thomas was on board by Pentecost. It was earlier in the process that he needed to be brought up to speed. This is what comes from posting while working through my morning coffee.

    • Robert F says

      I agree with you that the Great Schism 1054 CE was the result of a long-standing fissure between the Western and Eastern branches of the church that belied any appearance of unity at the surface, but I am not as sanguine as you about the openness, flexibility and tolerance of the Church of the first five or six centuries and I think that, when in the late middle-ages the church yielded a reading of Scripture that recognized a satisfaction theory of atonement embedded in the text, that was an advance toward dealing with a theme that truly exists in our Scriptures. The strong currents and undercurrents that moved the church toward the tidal waves of the Great Schism and the Reformation were significantly the result of a church that had never been able to read its own Scriptures (I’m referring only to the New Testament canon here) with fresh eyes, because the enormous exoskeleton of episcopal hierarchy which served as a womb in which the canon grew to maturity and autonomy had ossified into a tradition that could not be satisfactorily harmonized with a plain reading of Scriptures. The husk had to be split open so that the living Word within could exfoliate freely. The Reformation was that splitting open. Please remember that the canon of the New Testament was never OFFICIALLY defined until after the Great Schism by the Roman Catholic church first, and then the churches of the Reformation later; the power and presence that the books of our New Testament exerted in the church of the first millennium was the result, not of the decision of any council, but of their own self-assertion and self-validation, their inherent power and spiritual authority that transcended the exoskeleton of the church that they grew and took shape in. They could not be contained by or restricted to that exoskeleton; they had to take flight. What we are experiencing now in the aftermath of the Reformation is the necessary vertigo of being in free-wheeling flight along with the multitudes of others borne aloft by the Word and Spirit that will not return to any embryonic origin but will turn ceaselessly like starlings in the sky until the New Jerusalem descends to meet us in the clouds. Take your Dramadine.

      • Robert F says

        I meant, Dramamine.

      • Dana Ames says

        HUG, you have a wonderful and needed sense of humor – and this I think has crossed a line.


      • Dana Ames says

        Robert, you’re absolutely right about the early centuries of the church in the East. There were theological battles that devolved into riots in the streets. But that was not because they could not read their scriptures in their own languages – everybody spoke Greek as the lingua franca and could understand what was read to them and what they heard in the Liturgy, even if they couldn’t read. The bible in use was the Septuagint, older than the Masoretic and in Greek. The EO episcopacy, to my knowledge, never forbade private reading of scripture.

        The Oriental Orthodox were not able to attend Chalcedon because of political/travel difficulties, and therefore could not take part in the discussion regarding the language used re Christ as God, but that has never meant that they don’t believe that Christ is God. Great progress has been made in rectifying this problem, as you noted (although the steps being taken are not technically described as ecumenism), and I am hopeful that in my lifetime the OO will become united to EO once more.

        The problems in the East eventually got solved, and continue to be solved, without a Reformation. Atonement theories were not an issue; in the Apostolic Fathers, the very earliest understanding of that “second generation” of Christians was Christus Victor/Ransom, and that has remained the case in the East. I think the internal coherence of hermeneutic is both a cause and result of the internal coherence of Orthodoxy. Over the years, the ways of articulating that have expanded in order to meet the questions of the times, but the core remains the same.

        I became Orthodox because the Eastern church presents a God who is good, an anthropology of the dignity of human persons, and worship and an interpretation of scripture that follows along from 1st century Judaism, as if Christianity actually arose out of it. I could not find those things anywhere in the West. N.T. Wright, interestingly, was very instrumental in my journey.

        Best to you-

        • Robert F says

          Dana Ames,
          When I was referring to inaccessible Scripture, I was referring to the medieval Western church that Chesterton was nostalgic for. I accept that people could hear (not read, because the vast majority were illiterate, and would not have been able to afford a copy of a Scriptural book in any case) and understand the Scripture read to them in Greek during the early centuries of the church, and that the riots in the streets were the result of strongly held theological opinions based on what they heard in church. That, however, does not assure me of the unanimity of the early church in doctrinal or ritual matters; just the opposite. And as far as I’m concerned, the omission of inclusion of a Satisfaction doctrine of the Atonement is a major fault of the early church that was the result of the it not being responsive enough to the New Testament canon that was emerging in its very midst; that and the institutionalization of grace, which indeed is in continuity with Jewish Temple religion, but was something that Jesus Christ set aside by his Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. Remember the tearing of the veil in the Temple; but, in Orthodox churches to this day, a screen is set up to prevent the Holy Mysteries of the Divine Liturgy from being desecrated by profane eyes. How is this not the placing a veil between the people and God just like the veil that God tore asunder when Jesus died on the Cross? I do not look for continuation of Temple type of worship as a necessary marker for the presence of the unity of the true Church. These are among the reasons why the Reformation was necessary in the West and is necessary in the East.
          As for the definition of goodness and how it applies to God, that is a very broad subject which is in dispute among many. I think you and I would probably disagree with each other in that discussion.
          Grace and peace to you,

          • Dana Ames says

            Well Robert, we obviously disagree about Satisfaction, and we would probably go ’round about God as good, too. Not here to argue.

            I do need to challenge this, though:
            “In Orthodox churches to this day, a screen is set up to prevent the Holy Mysteries of the Divine Liturgy from being desecrated by profane eyes.”

            That is absolutely not the purpose of the inconostasis. In fact, the main doors stand open for most of the Liturgy; everyone can see what is going on, and even when the doors are closed, all that is going on is described in many liturgy books that anyone can read; one could even find this on line. Nothing is being kept secret. The eyes of the congregation are certainly not regarded as “profane”.

            Also, in the Orthodox church, grace is not “institutionalized” because grace is understood as the actual action of God the Holy Spirit, not something that is “dispensed”. God is free, and the Wind blows where He wills. The Mysteries are not magick.

            If you wish to understand the core difference between EO and RC, the book “Church, Papacy and Schism” (3rd edition) by Philip Sherrard is very good. If you wish to understand more of the “inner logic” of Orthodoxy, you could read http://www.glory2godforallthings.com, Fr Stephen Freeman’s blog.

            Grace and peace to you as well.

          • Robert F says

            I accept your correction regarding the iconostasis; my apologies. If the wind blows where he wills, then I have no need to seek out any One Holy Church on my journey toward God, so it’s a comfort to hear you are in agreement with my own spiritual understanding of the church as existing beyond ecclesiastical boundaries and that the EO church agrees as well.
            God bless.

          • Dana Ames says

            Well, EO does not agree with you, but as I said, I’m not here to argue. If you want to know how EO understands the Church, see Sherrard.


          • Robert F says

            Dana Ames,
            No thank you, Dana; I’m no more interested in the exclusive claims of the EO Churches than I am in any of the many tracts of which HUG has such an encyclopedic knowledge.


          • OK, odd, I can’t reply to you further down the post, but I can here.

            This reply is about the last post you made where you say “In fact, if I take this idea seriously, that I need to perfect myself (albeit with the assistance of God’s grace) enough so that I’m ready for his coming, then I will perpetually be involved in striving toward the most difficult to attain or define goal possible”

            OK, what about the parable of the 10 virgins who go out to meet the bridegroom? Only five have enough oil in their lamps, and through that parable we are warned to be ready. Not through personal morality – they were all virgins, not through being willing to/answering the call to follow, for all went out to meet the bridegroom, but through having oil in our lamps for dark nights.

            That is where the debate can begin. What is that oil alluding to? To the EO’s, from my understanding, that is the oil of charity to others. I may be wrong. I have heard it variously preached (never been to an EO service, so from other sources) as the filling of the Holy Spirit – each of us are responsible to be filled with the Spirit of our own accord, the good works we do when running after Jesus, the love we show the rejected people, etc.

            Whatever it is, it seems to denote something we need to be prepared for. Whether by praying, loving others as if they were Jesus, or good works, it is certainly not something they were not responsible for having. Grace, as a freely given gift, doesn’t fit this parable. So, we need to bring something when we meet our saviour. That is some form of work for us. I am largely unclear – and no, even if you think you have it figured out, I will not assume you do – since this is a bit of a mystery, this oil, but it is certainly something we ought to bring to the bridegroom.

            There are other verses, such as the grafted branches (the Church) on a fruit tree (the Jews), that could be cut off if they cease to produce fruit all laid out as warnings that we better be doing something if we want to meet our saviour. This, of course, is different than salvation, that is a free gift, sure, but once saved we have Kingdom duties to do in order to maintain our citizenship. The issue the Reformers were having with this was: the Church really doesn’t know what those duties are anymore, so they weren’t going to let the Catholic church get the upper hand and start doling out what that meant, it was easier to argue there were no duties than say, well, we haven’t got a clue, but they are something you need to do. The Catholic church had been having a heyday with these versus and using them to bind up huge loads on their adheres, and I like that Martin and co. threw them off, but I think they threw the baby out with the bathwater in this case.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Loo, you sound like “ORTHODOXY! ORTHODOXY! ORTHODOXY! ORTHODOXY!” Have you grown your beard long and started wearing an Eastern-rite monk’s hat & cassock?

      • I think the EO would frown on me taking the hormones in order to grow a beard. I am not sure they are pro-gender reassignment. What are their requirements for women?

    • Dana Ames says

      Loo, your insights are quite intuitive. I started my journey into EO with the question, “What did JESUS say “the gospel” is?” I wasn’t at all looking for “the first century church” – I simply kept going back in history to find out how people interpreted scripture in the first few hundred years, and encountered N.T. Wright, who really rearranged the furniture in my theological “house.”

      Some small points for clarification: you are right that atonement theories weren’t discussed, because everyone saw Jesus as Rescuer and Victor over death. The Experience of the earliest Christians with Jesus, before his death and after his Resurrection, made that clear for them, decades before there were any writings that became the New Testament. And while there is no “hell” as a “place” of eternal torture, the Eastern Church has never endorsed annihilationism, either. Finally, yes, there are divisions in EO, but they are not about doctrine and are not analogous to denominations in the west.

      Good thoughts, thanks-

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Fr Orthocuban mentioned once that some Eastern-Rite speculation on hell and purgatory was fairly similar to the situation in C.S.Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” — both hell and purgatory are the same state of existence, separated from God. If you eventually grow out of it and are able to enter Heaven, it’s Purgatory. If you never grow out of it , it’s Hell.

        • Dana Ames says


          Can’t remember what Fr said, but in general yes, though it’s not regarded as speculation. In EO, there is not a separate “place” called “hell” where people go as opposed to a “place” called “heaven” where people go. When the Lord returns, in the face of His presence and love, knowing as we are known and coming to grips with all the truth about us being uncovered to our own understanding, we will see just exactly what about our lives does not comport with love. That revelation of our lack of love in the unmediated presence of the God who is Love is what will be tormenting. God’s not about paybacks. God’s love is the same toward all. To the extent a person has not developed the capacity for self-giving love, experiencing God’s love will be painful, to say the least.

          What is speculation (theologumenon – a matter not of doctrine, but of opinion) is exactly how long that fiery torment will last. Several saints have posited it will not last forever, that all will eventually come to God without God forcing them to do so (this is not the same thing as universalism). Though the “minority view,” their teachings have not been condemned. I’m sitting with them at the far corner of the table 🙂


          • Robert F says

            Now here is an interesting idea: that we have to strive to achieve a sufficient level of perfection so that when God fully manifests himself to us when he returns we do not experience his loving ardor as hell. You can say that this is not the same as God wrathfully judging those who remain sinful, but the distinctions is just academic, because his love acts as wrath in this case; and those of us Protestants who say that God’s wrath is an expression of his justice never separate his justice from the fact that his justice is the result of his love and passion for his Creation. What’s missing is the keynote of grace, which assures me that I do not need to meet some hard to define standard of perfection so that I’m ready when the Lord returns. In fact, if I take this idea seriously, that I need to perfect myself (albeit with the assistance of God’s grace) enough so that I’m ready for his coming, then I will perpetually be involved in striving toward the most difficult to attain or define goal possible, and I had better get me to a monkery because I’m all too aware of the enormous compromises involved in living, and I’m also aware, as Martin Luther reminds us, that there are sins of the will which do not enter the domain of awareness, to which my inherent sinfulness blinds me, and that I can never purify myself enough to be worthy to stand in the presence of a loving but also just and righteous God.

          • Dana Ames,
            And I must make an apology for my insulting remark yesterday equating EO claims with tracts; I have some awareness of the depth and riches in EO tradition, and I was wrong to be so falsely dismissive of them, although I do continue to doubt the authority of institutions to make any exclusive claims regarding access to salvation or the grace of God. I continue, also, despite your comments, to have doubts about the function of iconostases as screens in the liturgy. None of that, however, excuses my insulting remark. If you’re out there, please forgive this old sinner.

  5. Good question, Lisa.

    McGee’s qoute, “We need to recognize that all of the truth was not recovered by the Reformation” is a good one. As many have noted, the Reformation merely changed the message, not the method. One of the gains of the Reformation is found in the slogan “Semper Reformanda”, which means “always reforming.”

    A gain of the Reformation, then, is that we can keep on reforming past what was accomplished in the 16th or 17th century. A loss of the Reformation, then, is that some people are stuck in the 16th century, or the 17th century. Another way of looking at this is that it is a blessing that “semper reformanda” isn’t one of the “five solas”, yet at the same time it is a curse that it isn’t one of the “five solas.” No matter how you slice it, it is a double-edged sword that does the slicing.

    • Randy Thompson says

      You know, I’ve had it with this “always reforming” business. “Always reforming” is at the heart of liberal Protestantism; which is true heir of “always reforming.” In other words, liberal Protestantism left the building a long time ago, theologically (with apologies to Elvis, who left some other building).

      “Always reforming” has ended up in a theological and ecclesiastical dead end of metaphors cut loose from reality, of aesthetics posing as spirituality, and of progressive politics posing as the Kingdom of God.

      Rant over, and yes, I know that I’ve overstated my case. Still, though. . .

      • Hold on! It’s not just the liberals on that train.

        In praxis hyper-charismatics have cars on the same train. I’m not sure if they even realize that they have doctrine…

        • Randy Thompsonr says

          Fair enough. I’ve had a lot more exposure to liberal Protestantism than the hyper-charismatics you refer to. I’m sure the shoe fits there too.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        You know, I’ve had it with this “always reforming” business.

        Is that anything like Leon Trotsky’s Doctrine of Continuous Revolution?

        • How about the Heraclitian doctrine of continuous change? Whether for the better or worse is a matter of opinion–there being no innate reason for preferring the past to the present, or vice versa.

  6. I think just asking the question is a good place to start. Far too many evangelical think catholic is a bad word.
    In the reformation, we gained an appreciation of the Word of God, and in the days since the reformaion, we lost an appreciation for our own Christian heritage.

  7. What was gained – a badly-needed reform. The violent upheaval meant that a response from the Catholic Church needed to be given right now, and couldn’t be pushed off until the question of the Emperor/the Muslim invasion/the Great Schism/whichever noble Italian family was intriguing to get one of theirs elected pope today was dealt with.

    Hence the Council of Trent.

    What was lost – in some ways, flexibility and an absence of fear. It’s no coincidence the Galileo Affair took place in the middle of the ferment of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation; when Copernicus presented his theory, nobody seemed to think this was Science Disproves Religion, but when Galileo (who had an amazing talent for making enemies out of former supporters) starting making waves (little joke there*) and fighting with the Jesuits over astronomy and mathematics, it dragged in the whole question of sola Scriptura with it.

    It’s not widely known, but the various Reform schools weren’t too enamoured of Galileo’s theory either, as it seemed to flatly contradict the Plain Word of the Bible (and having hung their whole basis for being on the Bible alone, the Bible is trustworthy, and every word of the Bible is true and to be taken in the literal sense, they couldn’t yet manage to resolve the seeming contradiction). This affected Galileo, because of all times not to be seen as being soft on heresy or to be ignoring or flouting the Bible, this was the one that the Church could not afford to let pass.

    So when Galileo was accused of heresy, this had to be investigated. And thus we ended up as the Anti-Science, Anti-Reason, Bad Guys. Never mind that the very reason the Gregorian Calendar is so named is because Pope Gregory XIII reformed and promulgated a more accurate calendar, and one reason some advanced, logical, reason-loving, science-friendly Protestant countries did not adopt it was “No Pope Here!” and not because they had a better one or didn’t see the necessity to reform the calendar.

    Martin Luther – I think he was more the Last Catholic than the First Protestant. He certainly had the cast of mind formed by the older idea of what Robert F. says about the interpretation by a particular system, and when others read the same Scriptures and exercised their freedom under the Spirit and came to different interpretations of the ‘plain sense of Scripture’ than he did, he was most unpleasantly surprised 🙂

    • Robert F says

      Yes, Martha, Martin Luther was the unwitting midwife to Protestantism, and when he saw it taking shape toward the later part of his life, he must have thought in a horror that he could not acknowledge to anyone: “IT’S ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!” He thought that he was God’s definitive conduit for reforming the church, and he thought that what he had been given to understand was all that was needed, a one time thing, perhaps needing some adjustment here and there, and a little development, but more or less the salutary tonic that would settle things and put the church on the right track. He must have been shocked when he saw so many others taking the same prerogative of interpreting Scripture by themselves just he had done by himself. One might say that God sorely misused poor Martin Luther if one believes that God was the motive power behind the Reformation, as I do, because God had other intentions than the ones the poor Doctor thought he did. It’s no wonder that Luther struggled with escalating depression and anger toward the end of his life; as it turned out, he was not who he thought God had anointed him to be: the Seal of the Prophets. Rather, he was just one, admittedly a great one, but one among many coming interpreters of Scripture.

    • Robert F says

      Playing devils advocate, let me say that the Roman Catholic church has been given an undeservedly bad rap in the whole Galileo affair. When you read some of the exchanges that actually went on between the him and the hierarchy, he comes across as somewhat arrogant, wanting to throw over hundred of years of teaching without solid empirical proof of his theories. His interrogators acknowledged that if such evidence was forthcoming, the church would have to change its interpretation of Scripture to align with scientific evidence; but until that time, they practically begged him to be temperate in any public statements he made regarding the veracity of his theories by not affirming them as absolute truths but as hypothesis. None of this touches the question of whether it is right for a Church to have so much political power that it can put a man under house arrest for the rest of his life for his scientific views, right or wrong; no church should have such power. But the caricatured historical picture we are given in many of our textbooks is neither nuanced nor completely fair or true.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      What was lost – in some ways, flexibility and an absence of fear. It’s no coincidence the Galileo Affair took place in the middle of the ferment of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation; when Copernicus presented his theory, nobody seemed to think this was Science Disproves Religion, but when Galileo (who had an amazing talent for making enemies out of former supporters) starting making waves (little joke there*) and fighting with the Jesuits over astronomy and mathematics, it dragged in the whole question of sola Scriptura with it.

      And the Reformation Wars were devastating most of Central Europe at the time. The Church was on a wartime footing, and when you’re on a war footing you crack down HARD on anything that might weaken the home front.

      And it sure didn’t help that in his Dialogue on the Two World Systems, Galileo called Pope Urban an idiot in print.

      (For a Time-Travel/Alternate History Sci-Fi treatment of the Galileo Affair, check out 1634: The Galileo Affair by Eric Flint. One of the main plot drivers is the difference between “what everbody Uptime knows” about Galileo and what really happened.)

      It’s not widely known, but the various Reform schools weren’t too enamoured of Galileo’s theory either, as it seemed to flatly contradict the Plain Word of the Bible (and having hung their whole basis for being on the Bible alone, the Bible is trustworthy, and every word of the Bible is true and to be taken in the literal sense, they couldn’t yet manage to resolve the seeming contradiction).

      “GIDEON SAID TO THE SUN ‘STAND THOU STILL!’ HOW CAN THE SUN STAND STILL IF THE EARTH GOES AROUND THE SUN? IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE!” And if the Earth Did Go Around the Sun, that Contradicted the Word of God and EVERYTHING about the Bible was suspect. Remind you of anything going on today?

    • Absence of fear? Tell that to all the peasants who knew themselves well enough to know that, based on Church teaching, there wasn’t a snowballs chance in hell that they were going straight to heaven, and that, even if they were lucky enough to get into purgatory by the skin of their teeth, which was highly unlikely according to the preachers at the church, which it was their solemn duty to attend each Sunday on penalty of eternal damnation for not doing so, neither they nor their kin had enough wealth even to assure a meal on the table past the end of the week, never mind the wealth to make a pilgrimage or purchase an indulgence for even partial never mind plenary remission of their sins so they could get out of an interminable time in purgatory early. Absence of fear? That was for those who could buy their way out of purgatory and cushion their life with the material resources necessary to avoid committing the same mortal sins again and again: steal an egg for your child, go to hell forever, unless you make a good confession, which means that at the time of confession you honestly believe you would never steal an egg again to feed your child. The question that the disciples asked Jesus in Mt 19:24-25 when he told them how difficult it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God, “Who then can be saved?,” is a question that the peasants of medieval Europe could just as easily have asked, knowing as well as poor first century Palestinians that wealth can indeed make righteousness according to the law easier to attain, whether that law was Torah or Roman Catholic moral law. Absence of fear? I think not.
      For many of those poor peasants, righteousness by grace through faith came as a doctrine of liberation if for no other reason than that it put them on an equal footing with the rich, who by no means could have any advantage over them in this at least.

  8. *Joke about the waves? Galileo proposed an explanation of the tides that was supposed to offer proof of his heliocentric theory; he said that the waters of the sea were moved by the motion of the earth around the sun (as water is moved in a basin when it is carried) and mocked Kepler’s idea that the moon had anything to do with it as a piece of old-fashioned occult mysticism.

    Unfortunately, Kepler and the ‘mystics’ were right on this one, as Newton would demonstrate with his theory of gravity.

  9. I converted to Catholicism after 30+ years of Evangelical protestantism in three or four different denominations. Theologically, I’ve never 100% agreed with any church I have attended. Probably in part because I am a huge reader and a logical thinker, and I actually care about being right in what I believe. In part it was because that was the norm – As a Protestant, switching churches was expected if I felt the doctrine was too far from where I believed the truth to lie. As a Catholic, I am learning that one does not change churches merely because you disagree, any more than you would move to a different country just because your political party lost the election. Instead, you work to change the institutions from within. Schisms gained us the ability to experiment with big ideas, such as a married clergy, much faster than the church was prepared to move. We can see that different ways can work and the church is changing to reflect that. New, good ideas can grow and flourish in accepting ground in their own traditions. The simple beauty of a Quaker service is simply not possible without the Schism. But schism also took from us a fundamental unity in that many no longer see Christians from other denominations as part of God’s family. This is obviously historically true in both Catholic and Protestant denominations. We have divorced each other rather than fighting through, and learning from, our differences while seeing each other as family. In many.

  10. I see the other side of the coin presented to us by Robert F, the proliferation of large numbers of bibles, printed in the vernacular of the area, and available to an increasingly literate populace. People began to read the bible for themselves, absolutley true and revolutionary at the times.

    BUT………to say that many of the bibles “lost something in translation” is an understatement. Which words to substitute for other words that did not have an exact match changed significant passages in the process. Combine this with a limited world-view and expereince (remember, at that time in Europe most people never went more than five miles away from where they were born—and would die) As a result, the misunderstandings and lack of context led to profound changes in meanings from the original Scriptures.

    Therefore, I agree with Lisa; Luther was looking to change some very valid abuses in the Church. Since the volitile political shifts and power-mongering had corrupted large pockets of the hierarchy, cleanup of abuses was certainly in order. Dadly, the baby got thrown out with the bathwater. Not only was unity shattered, the traditions and history of the Church first led by Peter were tossed to the dung-heap. This led to Christians without any rudder except a (possibly poorly translated) book that didn’t make very much sense in many places.

    So now we are left with personal popes.

    I am a Catholic because I am more than aware that greater minds and purer souls throughout the ages may have a better grasp on God’s plans and directions than I do, especially since I do not read Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic or any other ancient language.I read Scripture but understand that I can easily get things wrong, not from malice, but from my own ingnorance and blind spots. The Sacraments remind me that God is not some “pie in the sky” entity but is present and interacting with those who love him in a tangible way here on earth. And, I am a Catholic because of the promise of Christ Himself…..

    “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against Her.”

    • “SADLY the baby got thrown out with the bathwater…”

      • Robert F says

        I’m Anglican for many of the same reasons that you are Roman Catholic (I won’t let you keep the appellation Catholic only for yourself, because as an Anglican I consider myself both Reformed and Catholic); but, in terms of church history, we are all in the position of having to make intentional choices about what church tradition we will live within. The historic church has been revealed as a relative phenomenon that never had total unanimity of practice or belief. Remember that Thomas Cranmer was a scholar of Greek and Latin, as were Luther and Calvin and many others, all Reformers, and they all knew more than you or I do about the original texts, and they disagreed with each other and the medieval church; and remember that the early church fathers disagreed with each other in many areas of interpretation. The early church was not an interpretative monolith; just because you go further back in church history doesn’t mean that you come to a place of total consensus, even in vital issues. For a brilliant church father who was a formative influence in the early church but nevertheless had some of his teachings condemned by church authorities after his death you need look no further then Origen. And you know there were others.
        I also believe the promise of Christ given to all of us through Peter, but I do not believe the fulfillment of that promise is vouchsafed only to the church the commands the Papal office.

        • Robert F says

          And remember that at the first true council of the church, the Council of Jerusalem reported in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter was just one among the council, which made a conciliar decision about the issue at hand and in no way privileged Peter’s perspective.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      So now we are left with personal popes.

      Many of whom are always issuing Anathemas Ex Cathedra.

      • Robert F says

        All popes are personal popes, including the one in the big fancy cathedra in Rome (although at the moment, the big fancy cathedra in Rome is vacant of a personal pope).

    • Pattie, you are spot on in your assertion that the loss of context is a major culprit here. Once the Western Church got their hands on Scripture and began (faithfully but unwittingly) substituting language that no longer conveyed the 3-dimensional meanings once so well understood by the original first-century agrarian Hebrew villager audience, our compass lost its needle. I think that happened well before Luther’s time. Though I have never read Luther, I suspect his “small r” reformation reflects his reaction to that void as well as to the high crimes and power struggles within Catholicism.

      The fracturing of the Faith was inevitable once the language had been drained of its context. The theologizing and denominizing since has been the attempt to reconstitute that uniquely middle Eastern human ambience that so colored the understanding of what had been written in Scripture, all without the slightest idea of what it looked like. We all know that something critical is missing. We have most of the words, but the winks and smiles are nowhere to be found.

      If we could indeed recapture that context, even with the texts available today, epiphany would become a daily occurrence. Bible stories would be understood as history to the appropriate degree. Legend, folklore and allegory would serve as gateways to deeper understanding rather than as obstacles and distractions.

      • petrushka1611 says

        And barring that, we’ll have to do what the 1st Century agrarian (or fisherman) Hebrew villagers had to do, even with their understanding (which didn’t help them with the parables) — trust that Christ gets it all right.

  11. What was gained? I would nominate the doctrine of vocation as one of the most important ideas to come out of the Reformation: that ALL christians are called to completely follow Christ in whatever their jobs, functions, lives are. There is no “basic Christianity” and “Christianity plus,” there is only following Christ wherever he leads.

    Of course, this is completely opposed to the idea of having cloistered monks and nuns spending their time in prayer, study, etc. But there is also something lost when the doctrine of vocation shows its latent “normalization” of all lives. Perhaps some are called to lives of prayer, service, poverty, etc. These are worthwhile perhaps, without being worth more than the “normal” lives God calls most of us to follow him in.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Of course, this is completely opposed to the idea of having cloistered monks and nuns spending their time in prayer, study, etc.

      Instead of spending all their time preaching behind a pulpit, on the mission field (the more Third World the better), or lead vocals of a kickin’ P&W band? That’s the Fundagelical version of Clericalism, and like all Clericalism, the Laity don’t count at all — “Pay, Pray, and Obey!” or “TITHE! TITHE! TITHE!”

      • HUG, being in a “church endorsed” “ministry” has its advantages, does it not? One is only recognized when the leaders control your loving good works.

    • And as Daniel’s article on being radical suggests, some modern Protestants have gone back to the mistaken idea of “basic Christianity” and “Christianity Plus.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        There’s an equivalent of a “basic Christianity” movement in Islam — the Wahabi and Salafi movements who control Saudi and spawned al-Qaeda and the Taliban, trying to force all Islam back to the Pure Islam As It Was In The Days Of The Prophet, in a Perpetual Year One of the Hegira. In a way, it’s Islam’s version of “Pure New Testament Church” plus “Culture War”.

    • Wesley writes, “I would nominate the doctrine of vocation as one of the most important ideas to come out of the Reformation: that ALL christians are called to completely follow Christ in whatever their jobs, functions, lives are.” That’s an excellent point, Wesley! I believe Luther pointed out many errors that the Church was then making (and still does make, in some ways). It’s too bad that the the Church leaders did not choose to seriously consider his points and make the needed changes. It’s interesting to consider what the world would be like if there had not arisen this great division. Probably, there would have been some divisions eventually as more and more people were able to read the Bible for themselves.

      I greatly value the writings of the Church Fathers and have learned from them and yet I still think that there are some changes that the Roman Catholic church can and should make. Peter the apostle was married. Married, Episcopal priests who convert to Catholicism are of course allowed to stay married. Given those two things, does it not make sense to allow Roman Catholic priests to be married? Maybe they would have to make a “rule” that you must be married BEFORE you become a priest so we don’t have the situation of a priest dating, which could lead to a variety of issues within the parish.

      • Isn’t this Catholic doctrine as well? That the married life is equal in dignity to the monastic life…?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Maybe they would have to make a “rule” that you must be married BEFORE you become a priest so we don’t have the situation of a priest dating, which could lead to a variety of issues within the parish.

        I understand that’s the rule in the Eastern Rites, as well as for RCC Permanent Deacons. “A Married man can be ordained, but an Ordained man cannot marry once ordained.”

        The situation could eventually shake down into special Orders of married priests, using the same rule as for Permanent Deacons. Or such portions of the Anglicans/Episcopalians who reunite with the RCC could retain the privilege to marry as part of their “Anglican Rite”; this was done historically with reunited Eastern-Rite churches (such as the Ukranian Catholics). Or a compromise using the rule for Eastern-Rite priests and Permanent Deacons.

  12. johnnycanucker says

    Lisa, this was a wonderful and thoughtful post. I have been thinking about these things alot lately as our fellowship shrinks and another amputated part of the body of Christ rolls into town.

  13. Adrienne says

    There is ALWAYS a price to pay for freedom. I thank God for Martin Luther and all those who still fight to maintain that freedom.

  14. flatrocker says

    Interesting that you should post these thoughts today. The lectionary reading for today is from Luke 11. “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid to waste.”

    Any argument that we are divided? More sobering – is there any argument that we will be laid to waste for our division?

    On a lighter note, the title of your post is “Opening a Can of Worms.”
    Shouldn’t it have read “Opening a Diet of Worms” 🙂

    • Nice one!

    • flatrocker,
      But the Kingdom of God is spiritual. And if it’s true that God looks not on the external when seeing a human being, but on the heart, then that has to be true when he looks on any body of believers gathered together in his name, despite apparent divisions with other bodies of believers. I think it ultimately depends of what God sees in the heart, whether it’s an individual or a gathered body of believers.
      We would as likely be laid waste for saying “peace, peace, when there is no peace.”

      • flatrocker says

        Robert F,
        Ah yes, who can forget the “visible vs. the invisible” argument. At its core, this is the source of the fundamental Protestant vs. Catholic friction. Did Christ intend his church to be unified in a disembodied spirit of believers? Or did he intend his church to be bound in spirit contained within a visible body? Our answer to this places us on opposing banks of the Tiber.

        Might we rationalize the visible into the invisible so we can sleep at night and avoid the hard work of real life unification?

        • Robert F says

          Now, now, flatrocker: his body is a spiritual body, which cannot be held to the same laws as merely physical bodies which we tend to use as our metaphors for the Church as the Body of Christ, although we shouldn’t. I have no doubt that there is a gift of unity given by the Holy Spirit which unites me as I participate in the Holy Eucharist in my Episcopal parish to the Salvation Army ministry down the street which worships without sacramental Baptism or Holy Communion. We are responsible for discerning the unity that already exists between us and discerning the presence of Christ in each other; where real disagreement exists, we are responsible for being charitable to each other and working in a principled way toward finding an ultimate reconciliation, which may, that is may, not take place in this life.
          As for loss of sleep, that tends to make me curmudgeonly, contentious and a poor dialogue partner, so I avoid it as much as possible for the sake of ecumenicism.

          • flatrocker says

            Robert F,
            A beautiful response on the mystical body that unites us. And I agree we tend to mix our metaphors concerning the body of the church. A more accurate depiction of the body is that of the Bride. It is rather intriguing to think of the mystical presence as the soul of the Church. However, in not falling prey to a gnostic rejection of the need for a physical reality, the more appropriate physical eminence of our church is as the Bride. In this way the Church becomes real and alive – ensouled with the mystical Christ and contained within the manifestation of a bride. To divide her is to diminish her beauty.

            And therein lies our sin. The sin of every schism – be it in 1054 or 1517 or the countless anonymous unresolved church feuds is our active participation in robbing her of the essence of her being. How far are we willing to go in wounding her in the name of reform? If we truly embrace the depth of his bride, we will need to eventually come to grips with this question.

            Yes we have a mystical union. And yes we have a real and present embodiment. To borrow a phrase from the earlier church councils, this is the hypostatic union of her nature. We are attempting to divide that which is indivisible. This may be the only reason why our fractured attempts at division have not made her fall. She is both invisible and visible. The issue, I think, is where do we begin to look?

            from one curmudgeon to another 🙂

          • flatrocker,
            Would I be correct to suspect you of High Church proclivities? I can only hope. Notice, when I referenced the spiritual Body of Christ I said it was not MERELY (meaning ONLY) physical, thereby circumventing the danger of gnostic rejection of the need of physical reality. And we may sleep well in this: the gates of hell shall not prevail against his church.

          • flatrocker says

            Robert F,
            You would be correct to suspect me of being just another stumbling fool who prays for the lessening of distance that seperates us all. Peace to you.

    • Lisa Dye says

      Haha. Yes, the title was a double entendre.

  15. Let me put in a couple of notes here:

    The first council that accepted the present New Testament is the Synod of Hippo Regius in 393 AD. The Third Synod of Carthage later reaffirms that canon in 419 AD. The Decretum Gelasianum in the 6th century gives the same exact list. The Stichometry of Nicephorus in the 9th century lists all books except the Revelation of Saint John. [Note that the East had a problem with the Revelation for a couple of centuries because that book was used extensively by the heretical ecstatics to justify their odd proclamations. Shades of today’s newspaper exegesis!] Thus the Revelation is listed as among the Apocrypha.

    Going back earlier, both Origen and the Muratorian Canon in the 200’s already show list almost identical to today’s New Testament.

    However, the earliest full list of the New Testament, calling the canonical and approved is found in the Easter 367 letter of Saint Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria.

    So well accepted by the 5th century were the New Testament books, that no need was seen by the Church to formally approve the canon of the New Testament. In that sense, it is true that a “formal” declaration of the canon was in the 1540’s by the Roman Catholic Church, the 1550’s by the Protestants, and not until the 1600’s by the Eastern Orthodox. I am not aware of when, if ever, the Oriental Orthodox formally approved the New Testament.

    Now, here is your shocker for the day. There is no ONE Old Testament canon. The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox have one canon, the Roman Catholics have a different canon, the Protestants have a third canon, the Ethiopian Orthodox have a fourth canon. Depending on whom you consult, the Coptic Orthodox may have a slightly variant canon. But, there has never been ONE Old Testament Canon among Christians. Are you shocked?

    • Lutherans have no approved canon. The consistent tradition of the church behind the standard books is sufficient. The more questionable books are handled more carefully.

      • What books are considered more questionable?

        • The Catholic apocrypha includes 1st and 2nd Macabees, the Rest of Daniel (i.e. the episode of Bel and the Dragon), etc. No real doctrinal consequences at stake here, apart from the issue of canonicity itself.

          The Ethiopians recognize the largest canon, including (going by memory here) at least one of the Books of Enoch.

          But all of this presumes a bishop-led, established Christianity. Many of the ancient gnostics would not fit this model.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Has anyone considered that Heirarchy (“a bishop-led, established Christianity”) began as a function of size? You can’t run what was becoming an Empire-wide or International organization like a little informal house church. And even “non-denominational denominations” ended up with larger heirarchic organizations, whether associations or councils or Celebrity Mega-Pastors setting themselves up as mini-Popes over networks of “franchise campuses”.

          • Well, there are other ways to run a largish organization. But Rome made common cause with the most top-down, repressive elements of ancient Christianity; otherwise the ancient Mediterranean might have evolved to look more like India, with nigh-bewildering levels of religious freedom and diversity.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      [Note that the East had a problem with the Revelation for a couple of centuries because that book was used extensively by the heretical ecstatics to justify their odd proclamations. Shades of today’s newspaper exegesis!]

      By this I assume WEIRD interpretations of Revelation are nothing new? There’s a story that both East and West had a problem with Revelation because of the fear that people (the Hal Lindsays & Harold Campings of their day?) would go off on weird tangents with it.

      I experienced the Gospel According to Hal Lindsay in the Seventies, including its corollaries of a 3 1/2-book Bible (Daniel, Revelation, the “Nuclear War Chapter” of Ezekiesl (the 1/2), and Late Great Planet Earth) and “Christians for Nuclear War” attitude.

    • Robert F says

      Fr. Ernesto,
      In my admittedly Protestant understanding, your outline of the gradual growth of authority of the New Testament canon in the early church, without any need seen by the church to formally approve what was already a done deal, illustrates that the NT canon had a self-asserting, self-attesting authority over the church that transcended any need for formal ecumenical agreement; which in turn underwrites my admittedly Protestant understanding that the church is answerable to the Scriptures and that the church’s traditions are to be assessed by their fidelity to Scriptures and judged by and reformed according to the Scriptures.

      • While extant noncanonical literature gives us only the faintest idea of what sources went unpreserved or suppressed, the selection process seems to have been guided not by what we would consider to be scholarly criteria, but by political considerations.

        • Good. The only “scholarly criteria” that should have been used were those subservient to faith in the Lordship of the Risen Jesus Christ, which is a political faith orientated toward the Kingdom of God. But I just know that’s not what you meant.

  16. What was gained:

    A corrected understanding of justification, so that forgiveness and salvation depend completely on Christ’s work on the cross, given by the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament and not through our work. This correct understanding of Law and Gospel underlies all of the Lutheran distinctive doctrines of two kingdoms, vocation, sacraments as God’s gifts, priesthood of all believers, the office of the ministry, and so on.

    A corrected understanding of the church, as subject to scripture, and having no authority to ignore or add to what Christ and the Apostles taught. The church’s authority is co-extensive with sola scriptura.

    Religious freedom was born, though it took a long while to grow.

    The most beautiful music and liturgies ever written.

    What was lost:

    A lot of lives.

    I don’t say unity because true unity never existed in the church, and won’t until the second coming. Unity enforced by force, or by political agreement without theological agreement, is not unity.

  17. Bill Metzger says

    It’s a good thing that all Lutherans are seamlessly united in doctrine and practice! 🙂

    • As are the Anglicans!

      But none are more united than the Orthodox. Because if some group disagrees with the other group, one of them (inevitably, the other one) is obviously not really Orthodox!

      • Meh. The hallmark of Anglicanism is the primacy of concern for doxology over theology. Hence, you can do whatever you want, as long as you do it according to the Book of Common Prayer. The 39 Articles are possibly the least restrictive of all the Reformation confessions, and the vast majority of American and European Anglicans hardly bother to give them much input in their thoughts about God. There is benefit to this approach, but imo, the drawbacks outweigh.

        • Robert F says

          Oh, Miguel, we do need to have a discussion.

          • Robert F says

            Lex orandi, lex credendi; the law of prayer is the law of belief: Miguel, this means that the unified body of doctrine that we find in the Creeds and the ecumenical councils and arising out of our reading of the Bible developed in the context of worship in the history of the church of the first four or five centuries. In the midst of that worship of God discerned in Jesus Christ through the offices of the Holy Spirit the belief of the church took shape and definition; Moses does homage to the Presence of God at the Burning Bush before the law is revealed to him, and this was the pattern of development of doctrine for the church as well. This privileges the worship of the church in the first five centuries as being crucial for the development of true doctrine, which is expressed in the Creeds and the ecumenical councils; it in no way invests worship experiments of the later church with the same doctrinally formative power, although many errant provinces of the Anglican Communion act as if that were so nowadays.

          • Ain’t that the truth!

        • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

          The problem we’ve historically had in Anglicanism (and even more so today) is that the Formularies (BCP, Articles, Ordinal and Books of Homilies) have often been blown off wholesale. The doxology of the BCP and other Formularies is a rather specific theology, especially when you consider all of the Formularies together as opposed to playing out-of-context-proof-text with them. Granted, it’s not as systematic a theology as that of Westminster, Augsburg, Heidelberg, etc. But it’s there nevertheless for those that are willing to submit to it. More often than not, we Anglicans are either willfully ignorant of the Formularies or have bought into revisionist versions of Anglicanism that would like to get rid of them.

          I read an interesting take the other day, that I think is pretty accurate as far as today’s Anglicanism is concerned. Those who are most in line with the theology of the classical Books of Common Prayer (i.e. pre-American 1979) tend to never use the classical BCP. Those who tend to use the classical BCPs more often than not ascribe to pre-Reformation theology that is at odds with the BCP’s theology. And then you have those who don’t care a lick for either, who seem to be the majority here in the West.

          • I agree that their is a lot of rich theology in the traditions of Anglicanism. But in some editions of the BCP there is very little that would blatantly contradict the theology of a Presbyterian or Roman Catholic lay person (aside from Justification in the 39 articles). And those are two polar opposite groups. Anglicanism seems to me to be geared towards bare-minimum orthodoxy at times: Their communion includes would be papists (non derogatory), Calvinists, charismatics, and those who consider themselves Orthodox. There is just room for more diversity under that tent than there is under a strict adherence to the Book of Concord. Lutheranism and Presbyterianism are possibly the two most specific and detailed doctrinal schools in Protestantism, but both strict confessional subscription and the wide tent approach have pros and cons.

  18. What was gained? Freedom. Freedom from the religious/spirituality ascendancy project. And freedom for the neighbor.

    What was lost? Unity.

    Unity is great.

    But never at the expense of the pure gospel.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And just what is the Pure Gospel?

      All too often it’s one of those “Two Jews, Three Opinions” situations.

  19. As an aside, I wish there was less focus on Luther, and more on the doctrines confessed. The Lutheran church has always viewed itself as small-c catholic. It used the church fathers in debating theology, rather than Aristotelian logic. Read Chemnitz’s response to Trent (all 3 volumes) in which he shows how Trent greatly departs from the church fathers. Roman Catholics have spent 400 years trying to answer his arguments and still have no authoritative response.

  20. I admit I only skimmed the above comments and did a quick word search on the page to see if anyone else mentioned them, but here are three areas I’ve long thought we lost:

    – private confession: accountability would be the substitute, along the lines of the priesthood of all believers, but I’m not sure it has the same affect
    – fasting: sometimes we fast (kind of), but probably not for the right reasons; it’s a very un-modern/American concept
    – church fathers, saints, historic wisdom/teachings: along the lines of unity

  21. The loss of monasticism as an path of vocational holiness.

    The sacking of the monasteries in the process (enriching many a Protestant ruler in the process.)

  22. 1) There has never been complete or even majority unity in the church. Read the first three chapters of Revelation, or about how Paul got in Peter’s face. The Armenian Apostolic Church, which predates Rome, walked out of Chalcedon, favoring a miaphysite Christology. So, it is historically uninformed to posit that the Reformation broke the unity of the church.

    2) For 1,000 years various monks, prophetic voices, and writers tried to clean up the Roman church. Greed, open adultery, blasphemy, and more were regular occurrences in some times and places in the church. Just because St. Francis of Assisi was Catholic doesn’t mean he was unified with the church. He had some pretty harsh words for it. So did Benedict and the Cistercians and Gregory (and the other Gregory) and others. So at what point does disagreement become disunity? When a new congregation is formed? When a new denomination is formed? What about the SBC? You have egalitarian Arminians and patriarchical Calvinists giving to the same mission fund. Are they unified? Or not? Rome is a great example of people who belong to the same denom but often have radically different views of things. Is that unity?

    3) The difference between Luther and his predecessors was that Luther thought the solution to the corruption was not behavioral, but doctrinal. But, he never intended to leave the church. He wanted the power of the truth to change lives, not to break the church apart. But I’m not sure you can have both. To give credit where due, points 2 and 3 are based on Julio Gonzalez’ “History of Christianity”.

    4) Having said all that, I think the greatest gain of the Reformation is the separation of church and state. I think the biggest loss is the way in which so many people use their freedom as an excuse to separate over perceived slights and set up their own glory-hogging church or denom or whatever.

    • I don’t think your last point is historically accurate. The separation of church and state was an American innovation, not a Reformation one. The official religion of Denmark is the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark, and the official religion of the UK is the Church of England (with Queen Elizabeth as its titular head). Lutheranism has also been the state religion of Norway and Finland. (I could probably find more countries, but I’m at work and should stop googling European religious history.) I believe Luther himself benefitted greatly from the favor of a German prince. And Calvin’s Geneva was not known for its religious freedom.

      I suppose there’s a case to be made for the separation of church and state to be an indirect consequence of the Reformation, in the same way as the Enlightenment. But from Constantine to 1776, church and state were bedfellows by default, with no blips until 250 years after the Reformation.

      • Yes, I did mean consequentially, in the same way that my other point is also a contemporary phenomena that probably resulted from the Reformation.

  23. Lisa Dye says

    Sorry to be late checking in. My day job was keeping me busy and then I was at the eye doctor thinking I needed to have a “mote” quite literally removed from my eye. Fortunately, it was less complicated.

    I am grateful for your thoughts and comments. They have been enlightening and beautifully articulated. Truly, I am learning so much from you all as I knew I would. I look forward to meditating upon what you have written for days to come.

  24. What did we gain? TULIP of course!

  25. Matt Purdum says

    The most dangerous creature anywhere is a man alone with a Bible.

  26. ps I think, having looked at pictures of nests of vipers, the expression can of worms is the nearest english equivalent – all those tiny snakes winding and twisting in and out of each other, knotting and squirming 🙂

  27. Chesterton’s take on Cowper’s affliction is one that I had never considered. That he was one of the chosen lost. And this drove him to madness. Having been in that great darkness myself I would have to say that even if Cowper were a Catholic he would still have considered himself one of the damned. That is what a deep depression will do to a person.

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