January 28, 2021

Some Thoughts on Our “Reformation” Conversation

rome wartbug

Monday, we considered the June 17, 2013 document, jointly published by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation, called “From Conflict to Communion.”  I have decided to make this last post in the series, and in it I want to make some comments about how we discuss matters like this.

An Admission of Disappointment 
I have to say this: I was disappointed in much of the discussion on Monday. Most of the critical comments were either cynical dismissals of the idea of ecumenical dialogue or statements based on Ad hominem arguments. Very few of the comments gave evidence that the commenter had actually read the documents being presented. They were mostly opinions (many very well considered, by the way) that people already held and brought to the table but they failed to seriously engage the actual language of the statement produced by the Catholic church and the Lutheran World Federation.

A large number of the comments reflected this kind of reasoning:

  • The Catholics and Lutherans have issued a joint statement about a unified commemoration of the Reformation.
  • We know who the Catholics are and what they really believe from their history and past statements.
  • Therefore, no matter what they say in this document, we don’t believe them.
  • Besides, look at all these other practices [not brought up in the post], which prove our suspicions.

Now, I don’t expect our readers to download a 100-page document and read it thoroughly in order to participate in a single blog discussion. However, I do expect us to read what is actually included in the post, and if anyone has a question, to either ask it or look at the fuller document for more information.

For example, a lot of statements were thrown around about how the Catholics really don’t believe in justification by faith and use slippery language that sounds good but doesn’t mean what Protestants mean. Some said point blank that Catholics don’t believe the gospel. However, in the post itself was this statement:

Together Catholics and Lutherans confess: “By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works” (JDDJ 15). The phrase “by grace alone” is further explained in this way: “the message of justification…tells us that as sinners our new life is solely due to the forgiving and renewing mercy that God imparts as a gift and we receive in faith, and never can merit in any way” (JDDJ 17).

It would have been nice if someone had responded to words like these from the post, rather than talking about the Council of Trent, or communion, or marriage/divorce/annulment, or some other such topic. These are all legitimate topics in a broader discussion of Protestant/Catholic relations, they just weren’t pertinent to the subject of our posts.

I would have loved to have heard from more Roman Catholics, because they know best what has changed and what hasn’t on the ground level in their churches.

As for those of us who are Protestants, I continue to suspect that most of us remain largely ignorant of the dramatic changes in the Roman Catholic Church brought about by Vatican II. We are 50 years out from Vatican II — a very short time in historical perspective — and what we see today are merely fragile green shoots emerging from the soil of that church council. We Protestants may dismiss the provisional discussions or changes we see along the way, but it is also possible to take a position of good faith, trusting that God may indeed may be doing something new among his people.

If you don’t buy into the idea of ecumenical dialogue, you may have very good reasons for that and perhaps we will explore them in a post devoted to that subject. But I urge you to take the long view and to realize that lasting results from current ecumenical dialogue will probably only be seen long after our lifetimes. It seems short-sighted to me to simply dismiss the process.

As for our own discussions, I encourage us to exercise patience and grace, as well as the willingness to be engaged in fruitful interactions with the actual material in the posts rather than conducting arguments based on Ad hominem thinking.

Though he excoriated the Roman church’s leadership, false doctrine and practices in his day (especially late in his life), Martin Luther nevertheless conducted his reforms and wrote with an understanding that the Catholic church is a true Christian church. He acknowledged his debt to her. Pretty gracious thing to do for someone who had been given a death sentence by the leaders of that institution.

We on our part confess that there is much that is Christian and good under the papacy; indeed everything that is Christian and good is to be found there and has come to us from this source.

For instance we confess that in the papal church there are the true holy Scriptures, true baptism, the true sacrament of the altar, the true keys to the forgiveness of sins, the true office of the ministry, the true catechism in the form of the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the articles of the creed.

Similarly the pope admits that we too, though condemned by him as heretics, and likewise all heretics, have the holy Scriptures, baptism, the keys, the catechism, etc. […]

I contend that in the papacy there is true Christianity, even the right kind of Christianity and many great and devoted saints.

– On Rebaptism

Michael Spencer was also a good example for us in speaking about our Roman Catholic brethren. Though he ultimately decided to remain in the Protestant world, he studied Catholicism seriously and interacted with Catholics often, gaining a great appreciation for the tradition and recognizing that we are all part of the one true holy and apostolic church. As he once wrote:

I have decided to wish the Roman Catholic Church well. I have decided to accept the kindnesses shown to me and to enjoy the status given me in the new Catholic Catechism — separated brother. As much as I can, I won’t be separated. I am part of the church Catholic, and I pray that the new Pope will be a shepherd and teacher of all Christians.

I believe one can be wrong about much doctrine, yet still trust Christ, know Christ, show Christ and belong to Christ. Chesterton. St. Francis. Augustine. Merton. John Paul II. Many of my Catholic friends. I expect to see them all in the Kingdom, and in the meantime, I count them as my friends here on the pilgrim way.


  1. Just because we’re travelling in the post-evangelical winderness doesn’t mean that we left our baggage behind.

    • It’s not baggage, it’s doctrine, it’a tradition. We should discuss it and clarity it with others, but ecumenical dialogue requires precision and clarity, not obfuscation and intentional, misleading ambiguities. Agreement is a meeting of the minds, not having words on a page both only agree to with very different definitions of the words in mind. WHich is what the JDDJ is.

      And, Roman Catholics and Confessional Lutherans agree with this characterization.

      Here’s a pretty smart catholic guy, Cardinal Avery Dulles explaining this: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/08/two-languages-of-salvation-the-lutheran-catholic-joint-declaration–38

      When a priest is permitted to preach a sermon on salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in christ alone, from scripture alone, then we’ll have some agreement.

      • Also, as Roman Catholics like to tell me when we discuss these issues, dogma in Rome has a very precise definition, and none of these ecumenical documents are dogma, so they have little to no binding effect on Rome. If they have a council and say these things, it might mean something.

      • When a priest is permitted to preach a sermon on salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in christ alone, from scripture alone, then we’ll have some agreement.

        You may be right, but… how many evangelical pastors preach a sermon on grace alone/faith alone/Christ alone/scripture alone and then insert qualifiers? Even when they preach on Ephesians 2:8 it always seems to come around to, “now, what must we then DO as followers of the lord Jesus Christ?”

        Recently I heard a guest preacher (old friend of mine, a church member filling in for the pastor) preach on the lordship of Christ and also say, “If your life doesn’t look any different from the world, maybe you aren’t saved.” Not helpful in a hit-and-run sermon, but then again he’s a painting contractor. He may have got this from 1st John 1:4, but, knowing this guy, I think it’s a fundy jab at those who don’t act like they should. It’s all about “obedience” in some circles, and too often it’s obedience to extra-biblical traditions.

        I also notice this phenomenon when preachers insist that a sermon be “expository”, to get the truth and essence of the message only from the scripture itself, to “exegete”—and then they pick and choose scripture to support their point, and end up bringing it around to a topical sermon anyway. Some of this may be from lack of experience, some from dishonesty, but let’s take a look at what evangelicals are saying and not paint the Catholics only with that brush. I’m becoming very annoyed with how works-oriented we evangelicals have become.

        • Ted,
          Paul seemed to come around to what we do as followers of Jesus Christ after Eph 2:8. Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

          I admit we can over emphasize works, and maybe that is being done now as an over compensation for years and years of cheap grace

          • Thanks, Jon. Paul did a good job of balancing things out, “on the one hand this… on the other hand that…and both to the glory of God” (or words to that effect). As in Ephesians 5, “Wives, submit to husbands; husbands, love your wives.” And he prefaces both of these admonitions with “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Then he balances it out with how we should act, out of love for one another and for God, but not as a means of salvation. James too makes this point, although it appears more from the works angle there, and he confuses people. Yes, we should love and help people, and we should act like Christ as much as possible—and, as James says, this demonstrates our faith.

            My problem comes from those who use Ephesians 2:8, or any verse, like a club, turning it into a vehicle for works-righteousness, somehow completely missing grace altogether and going after their victim’s jugular with the sword of doctrine: “If you don’t believe and follow these words to the letter, then you must not be a Christian.” And they don’t even notice the irony.

            I’m not sure I can articulate it well, but I’ve sat through enough men’s Sunday school videos this winter and spring to get soured. Rather than encouragement I see guilt trips, spiritual bullying, and a whole lot of U.S. militarism. We’re told, overtly or subliminally, that this is how we must behave if we want to call ourselves Christians, and a lot of it just ain’t so.

            I’m with you, and with Bonhoeffer, on cheap grace; but a lot of what I’m hearing doesn’t even include grace. It’s the older brother in the prodigal story, all works; but he says he only meant it in love.

  2. Wise words from you, Martin Luther and Michael Spencer. Michael’s words made me teary. Luther’s words made me happy. Your words made me think. All good!

  3. yes we evangelicals have baggage. we can be obnoxious, heavy handed, judgmental, self righteous, pharisaical, but even given those elements, the fact remains that there is some underlying blockage to joint celebration of the reformation. i would venture to suggest that there is an elephant in the room.

    i think that the elephant could be the so called “wars of religion”.

    this was one of the bloodiest times in world history if we look at the statistics as proportions of the population apparently. how ever the problem is finding the statistics. i suggest that this might be because of the size and effectiveness of the cover up and embarrassment factor. everything i have read about these so called “wars of religion” that followed the reformation on the continent or europe at least, suggests that although a few protestants took up arms, mainly reluctantly, on the whole we have to call what happened a genocide. and ethnic cleansing of protestants. it had already happened in Czechoslovakia after the Huss revival. it was at it’s worst in france under king louis IV. the french population had been nearly 43% protestant at the height of the reformation “revival” and went down to under 2% due to massacres, forced conversions, removal and brainwashing of children, legalised persecution by official and non official bodies, death sentence, flight – refugees.

    of course protestants aren’t perfect but what did we do that deserved that ?

    in england at least things happened far more decently over all. even if cromwell sold out on the issue of the poor laws (peasants were still left very nearly in a state of serfdom) but at least the protestants managed to invent the first ever war crimes public trial citing 22 atrocities committed by the king’s side. it had a long way to go as legal affairs go but at least it wasn’t the traditional method of bumping off kings by assassination and the knife in the bed chamber and the motives were out in the open.

    history was rewritten before charles I’s blood had the time to congeal. he was made into a saint and a martyr.

    history was rewritten in ireland and scotland too. these situations were not handled well by any means, tho perhaps not that badly if you compare with the wars in iraq and afghanistan, but in a very similar way the issues were never about those people, but about defensive action against internal and international forces. in the british isles religion it self was not even the deepest issue in my opinion, but defense against alliances wanting to bring rival kings to the british throne – the catholic church backing ousted kings – james II (jacobite rebellion), charles I and II, bonnie prince charlie. the catholic church also encouraged a french invasion of england in the 13th century and by the spanish armada twice.

    despite all this i have little or no problem with individual catholics in the present. i respect their faith and know i have things to learn from their approach to mysticism and other areas. now i know that the elephant is there, i don’t think i can honestly have any dealings with the catholic church as such above priest level until it is dealt with. no one can go back to the past but as the french government has acknowledged in making holocaust denial an illegal act, they even have made it illegal to deny the armenian genocide, so i think there should be public admission of guilt of the protestant genocide. france says things in stone. their public monuments are very important to them. i think there need to be some pillars put up in the towns of some of the massacres of protestants. i think that catholic “saints” who were involved in such things should be demoted by the vatican and the marking of the saint day given to charles I on the 31st january should be abandoned and handed over instead to penitance for the massacres of so called “heretics”.

    i have forgiven. today i shall forgive again. tomorrow i hope i will forgive again. but i can’t accept joint public acts of reformed and catholic groups. it’s like a woman returning to a husband who beats her, and abused child still hoping against hope that the parent is no longer an abuser. they should not be put in the position of having to do the emotional contortion act to try to have to do it. the south african truth commission does not pretend that apartheid never happened. for there to be reconciliation as opposed to brushing under the carpet there has to be some sort of admission of guilt. we are walking round not just small piles of dust under our carpet but a mountain, maybe even and elephant.

    • Liz, in your view, are there any circumstances whatsoever in which you would approve of a reconciliation between the Protestant and Catholic worlds?

      Is there any possibility of allowance for the passage of 500 years and the world the cultures in which both Roman Catholics and Protestants live has completely changed?

      • in concrete terms in day to day contacts i’m all for sharing and do that in practice, but it’s talking about institutions coming together in the post.

    • Liz, this is an example of what I talked about. I understand your position, but you did not interact with the post, you merely stated your opinions about Catholics and Protestants and ecumenical dialogue based on past animosities. Well and good, but why did you want to participate in a conversation about a specific instance of current ecumenical dialogue when you don’t even want to consider the subject?

      • i was very pro eucumenism when i first came to france and have actively participated with it at an individual and priest level. however as i have gradually learned about the history – i listen to 2 french historians on french radio, i think there are serious unresolved issues that need to be dealt with for there ever to be and real dialogue on an international and institutional scale.

        you’re coming from the perspective of living in the anglophone world which is strongly protestantised – and included in that is a large degree of religious tolerance. the catholic influence is very very different in southern europe, diluted only with secularism, and a lot of superstitious practices. yes there is now a lot more openness and i’m happy to encourage that but that does not and should not mean that things have changed deep down – and by that i mean high up. there are only 2 bishops in france who are known to have open attitudes. that’s not many. the eucomentical groups that i have been part of have been opposed by the local bishops. in the french dictionary the word eucumenical means having open meetings with other christians to draw them back into the true church. the catholic church in france has been very active in stirring up and encouraging homophobic attitudes as shown in some huge demonstrations in all the major cities in france as far as i know. this is catholicism undiluted by protestantism. before the institutions engage on an international level i want to see some more signs of real willingness to meet a little nearer half way.

    • cermak_rd says

      Those wars of religion were terrible and filled with atrocities, but they weren’t all about dogma. A great deal of them were about who would be in control of the religion (the princes, the pope, the individual believer) and therefore in control of the people.

      These struggles were far more about political matters than they were dogma.

      • yes i agree. that’s the thing, the vatican is a recognised state. it’s a secular power as well as a religious one. it is all the more important to take that side of things into account and hold it to account for it’s actions.

  4. While I have learned the importance of ecumenism and charity towards all who believe in Christ and His Kingdom, I also understand where the critical comments come from. I used to follow that line of reasoning myself. It took ten years of repeated loss of my dreams (of being a seminary professor, of being a great apologist), ten years of many personal failings (which cured me of my delusion that proper doctrine automatically yields sanctification), and ten years of actually getting to know Christians in other “apostate” denominations (Catholic, Methodist, EO, etc) to finally make me consciously renounce my overemphasis (dare I say “idolatry”?) of being doctrinally correct. And I still struggle with it daily. Christ opens His kingdom to children (even infants at the font), the mentally disabled, the least, and the lost. And He calls us to love each other (He said “the world would know we are His by our love”, not by our being doctrinally correct.) Those are lessons that I suspect can only be learned the way I learned them – the hard way.

    I still think doctrine is important, but I have massively narrowed my criteria for accepting another as a fellow believer (the Apostles’/Nicene Creed). And I’ve decided to let the denominational leaderships (of whatever church) go hang. Rebuilding unity in the church is going to have to happen from the bottom up. And I suspect it’s my penance to do so in a congregation in a denomination (Methodist) I long considered unworthy of the name “Christian”. The Good Lord does have a sense of humor…

    • Great story. Your “narrow criteria” is right on, imo. However, take it easy on the denominational leadership. They’re people, too. In fact, they are people who need all the support of the laity they can get. Sometimes the best thing you can do to support them in the work they are called to is to vocally disagree with them and labor to help them understand when they are in err. The political process is inseparable from the organizational church, and the last thing we need is for good men to bury their head in the sand. I’m not saying politics has the answers, but it certainly has the potential to screw things up a heck of a lot less.

      Oh, and BTW, rejecting the delusion that right doctrine automatically yields sanctification happens to be a point of Lutheran doctrine. But hang in there with the Methodists: I really think they’re in for a turnaround, demographically and theologically.

    • Rick Ro. says

      Good stuff, Eeyore. I, too, am trying to shed my need to be “doctrinally correct,” as I’ve seen many people claim to be doctrinally correct about things that leave me scratching my head and/or damage others.

    • my issues aren’t primarily doctrinal. here i’m still considered a heretic as is everyone who is not a practicing catholic. i can’t share the most special and central act of sharing communion together – not cos of what i believe about them but cos of what their institution ordains about people like me.

    • MelissatheRagamuffin says

      I tend to take anyone who agrees with the apostle’s creed as a Christian as well. One of the things I notice about the apostles creed is that there’s no mention of Baptism of the holy spirit, blathering in tongues, or any one of about a dozen or more issues that we tend to get our nickers in a twist over and shout some other group isn’t *really* Christian over.

  5. Michael had a lot of skin in the ecumenist game. I believe Denise converted to Catholicism and he decided not to, the mirror image of my marriage.

    It was great fun to watch him deal both with Catholic wannabe apologists who wanted to convert him and budding Protestant Keyboardlords who wanted to type him back to Ian Paisely-land.

    But it helps to remember that the Reformation never spread beyond the Vistula. It is very much an intramural debate. And in Brazil or Africa the number of people who care a rodent’s nethers about the Ordo Saluti or the Third Use of the Law would disappear in a single charismatic meeting like a drop of ink in the ocean.

    • David Cornwell says

      “in Brazil or Africa the number of people who care a rodent’s nethers about the Ordo Saluti or the Third Use of the Law would disappear in a single charismatic meeting like a drop of ink in the ocean.”

      Makes one think,, maybe we all need the fresh wind of the Spirit. A lot of stale doctrines and dead theologians’ pronouncements blown out the window into the dark past of history.

      …maybe not.

      • The document does make the point that one of the reasons this joint commemoration is happening is because we live in a new “global” age of the church, and that the battles of the 16th century are not necessarily high on the agenda of the growing churches in the Global South.

        • David Cornwell says

          Those finding Christ in the Global South do not have the burden of this history in their memories or controlling their actions. All becomes new in Christ. I’d personally like to know a lot more about what is actually going on in these places. Hearing just bits and pieces I admit my ignorance.

  6. i’ve added to my post and corrected a few of the errors on my blog. http://nontwistedknickers.blogspot.fr/2013/06/celebrations-of-reformation.html

  7. Richard Hershberger says

    I’m one who commented cynically about the JDDJ, so I suppose I should clarify my position on ecumenism. I am actually a fan of it, but more of pragmatic ecumenism in the trenches than statements coming out of dialogues. When this Lutheran boy got married in his fiancee’s Catholic church, the priest didn’t blink. There was slightly more paperwork involved, and a few minor accommodations (e.g. no mass). When half the guests automatically tacked the doxology onto the Lord’s Prayer, he blinked once and rolled with it. I liked (and still like) him, even if it was somewhat disconcerting to be married by a priest with a striking resemblance to Richard Nixon. This is an example of pragmatic ecumenism, made possible by Vatican II on the one side and by general cultural shifts on both sides, not by any joint declarations. I look at the JDDJ and see the product, not the driver of ecumenism. At most it ratifies what we already were doing: It tells us that yes, it really is OK not to shout epithets at those people. Most of us had stopped the shouting decades earlier, and those remaining who still want to shout aren’t going to be stopped by the JDDJ, so the practical effect one way or the other was negligible. I would characterize my attitude toward the JDDJ as mild amusement.

    Call to Common Mission is another matter. I nearly left the church over that, and I still find it offensive some ten years later. But that is a different story.

    • I’m curious why “common mission” would be a sticking point?

      • Richard Hershberger says

        Common mission is a fine thing. Called to Common Mission (CCM) (not, as I incorrectly named it previously, “Call to Common Mission) is a specific document enacted by the ELCA and the ECUSA, which I find personally offensive.

        The Episcopalians, recall, believe in apostolic succession (which seems to be–for reasons I have never figured out–called “the historic episcopate”). This is the pious fiction that there is a lineage of bishops going back to Peter, with a succession of older bishops creating newer bishops. These bishops in turn are necessary to ordain priests. This is why female bishops are a much bigger deal than female priests to conservative Episcopalians. If you believe that a female priest is no priest at all, you can simply not go to a parish with a female priest. But if you believe that a female bishop is no bishop at all, then it follows that anyone–male or female–purportedly created a priest by this non-bishop is no priest at all. You can no longer identify such a non-priest by checking which restroom the person uses. You would need to examine pedigrees, like dog fanciers.

        So, getting back to CCM, this was the ELCA and ECUSA entering into full communion. They had been in partial communion for years. This formally authorized shared communion. There was no bootleg aspect whatsoever to an Episcopalian taking communion in the ELCA church or vice versa. Full communion extends this to the pastorate. An ELCA church can call a Episcopal priest to the pulpit, and vice versa. (I haven’t heard of any actually doing this, but I expect there are some instances.)

        So far, this is nothing I find objectionable, though my LCMS brethren are likely in paroxysms over the notion. The obstacle, however, lay with the apostolic succession. The American Lutheran church has never followed this. (Things get a little more complicated with the various European Lutheran churches.) American Lutheran pastors traditionally are ordained by the congregation. This ties in with the doctrine of the priesthood of the believers.

        This obstacle was overcome through what I regard as a dishonest and cowardly accommodation. All future Lutheran pastors would be ordained into the apostolic succession. (I’m not sure how they did that. My guess is that they at least initially had to import Episcopal bishops.) But all existing Lutheran pastors were grandfathered in.

        To which I respond “Huh?” Either the apostolic succession is necessary or it is not. If it is necessary, then how can we wave our hands, while hitting the smoke machine and strobe lights, and pretend that it wasn’t actually needed for all those current pastors? If it is not necessary, then how is requiring it consistent with Christian freedom? Then there is my personal visceral reaction as the son of a pastor to the implication that my father’s ordination wasn’t really up to snuff: My honest reaction to this is unsuitable for a family blog.

        There were some procedural shenanigans I could go into, but this is the gist of it. I nearly left the ELCA over it. What stopped me was the realization that did I leave, I would probably end up going Episcopalian. This isn’t as inconsistent as it might seem. I don’t object to the pious fiction per se: merely to having it imposed. But the prospective irony was enough to keep me in place.

        In actual practice I have barely heard CCM so much as mentioned in the past ten years. So far as I can tell it is regarded as a formality. It is a ticket that needs to get punched, but it has little if any practical effect.

    • Intermarriage between Protestants and Catholics is one of the contributing the factors the document mentions as to why the situation has changed to allow more cooperative participation between the institutions in our day.

    • i like the expression pragmatic ecumenism Richard Hershberger. i’m a great fan of that.

  8. I think my skepticism comes from the fact that Magesterial infallibility prevents repentance.

    The whole matter could be solved by the Pope coming out and saying “We were wrong. Trent was a repudiation of the Gospel, and we repent of that”. Then we could have real ecumenism.

    • Should Lutherans and other Protestants then also come out and repent for calling the Pope the Antichrist and spreading all kinds of false information about Catholicism over the past 500 years? And is there a reason we shouldn’t go first?

      • If those Popes didn’t want to be called Anti-Christ, they probably shouldn’t have worked so hard against the Gospel 🙂

        But seriously, if we say something untrue, we should certainly repent of that. But it is true that Trent repudiated the Gospel, and we shouldn’t stop saying that.

        • nedbrek, you keep saying that about Trent. Did you read the current document? Here, for example, is what it says in one place:

          While the Council of Trent largely defined Catholic relations with Lutherans for several centuries, its legacy must now be viewed through the lens of the actions of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). This Council made it possible for the Catholic Church to enter the ecumenical movement and leave behind the charged polemic atmosphere of the post-Reformation era.

          • Does that sound like repentance? I know of Catholics who claim that V2 is less authoritative than Trent (they are a tiny minority, but they exist). What is needed is a clear statement against Trent, not talk of evolution.

            • I don’t think that is the way it works when it comes to past Councils. In saying that the “polemical era” is over, they are withdrawing from the oppositional stances taken in Trent.

              And if you want statements of repentance:

              Pope Paul VI, in his opening speech at the second session of the Second Vatican Council, asked pardon from God and the divided »brethren« of the East. This gesture of the pope found expression in the Council itself, above all in the Decree on Ecumenism and in the Declaration on Relationship of the Church to NonChristian Religions (Nostra Acetate).

              In a Lenten sermon, »Day of Pardon,« Pope John Paul II similarly acknowledged guilt and offered prayers for forgiveness as part of the observance of the 2000 Holy Year. He was the first not simply to repeat the regret of his predecessor Paul VI and the council fathers regarding the painful memories, but actually to do something about it. He also related the request for forgiveness to the office of bishop of Rome. In his
              encyclical Ut Unum Sint, he alludes to his visit to the World Council of Churches in Geneva on 12 June 1984, admitting, »the Catholic conviction that in the ministry of the bishop of Rome she has preserved in fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition and faith of the Fathers, the visible sign and guarantor of unity constitutes a difficulty for most other Christians, whose memory is marked by certain painful recollections.« He then added, »As far as we are responsible for these, I join with my predecessor Paul VI in asking forgiveness.«

              I know this falls short of the “retraction” you are demanding, nedbrek. But, as I said before, I don’t think that is how it works with church councils. At any rate, what you are asking could only be hammered out if Protestants would be willing to sit down at the table with Roman Catholics and work through the issues. This process has been going on for 50 years now — as I said earlier — a relatively brief historical span. Who knows what the future will bring? I argue that we proceed in good faith, starting with rejoicing in the progress already made.

          • I don’t think that is how it works with church councils.

            That’s because institutions can never admit to err (unlike Synodical presidents).
            Withdrawing from polemics is NOT a concession of any kind. All that means is that we will now be nice to each other, despite the fact that we still believe the same truths and our doctrine has not changed. Here is the progress that has been made (which, FWIW, IS indeed a good thing): We’ve left behind the polemics of “you’re wrong, and you’re going to hell, spawn of Satan!” and conceded that, since we can now recognized that we are Christian brethren, albeit separated, we can now peacefully agree to disagree on many things. This is progress. But it is not confronting the oppositional truth claims which were the cause of the original conflict. Personal relationships don’t heal like this. You can’t just agree to drop the polemics when you’re not getting along with your wife. You have to address the cause of the conflict, apologize, make amends, and do your best to not continue in the previous err. That is how family conflict works (which this is, if we confess that we are indeed brothers in Christ). Now. I do believe we’ve set the table to have these discussions. But there aren’t it, not quite yet.

      • Sorry, Mike. You don’t repent of proclaiming the truth. The “Anti-Christ” label wasn’t a juvenile slur. We could, at best, admit that it is no longer true if the Papacy changes. But we did not lobby that term lightly and out of vindictive anger (not that I’m denying there was plenty of that at the time). The quote you give here by Luther is the perfect handle for understanding what we mean when we call the Pope “Anti-Christ.” Read this document:


        …through the lens of that quote. All Lutherans are supposed to consider the Pope a Christian brother. His office, however, is another story. We would be dishonest to not highlight such cognitive dissonance.

      • We can, and should, however, repent of the much false information many of us have spread about the RCC. Plenty of guilt to go around for that.

      • should an abused wife then have to apologise for calling her husband names ?

  9. david carlson says

    my background is huguenot, so I am pretty sure I have the street cred to dislike the RC as much as anyone

    having said that, with my wife working in the RC school system for the past several years, I have come to appreciate both the RC and its members. Once you work with them and get to know them, MS comments at the end of this post ring very true

    • Amen. I spent the break after easter in Rome this year. We stayed with nuns, who gave us the royal treatment and the guided tour. I have had zero negative experiences with Roman Catholicism, which includes my entire extended family (and my wife’s), but am constantly amazed at their reverential worship, consistency, and the prophetic voice they offer which Protestantism yet has much to learn from.

  10. Dee Parsona says

    I recently attended a national meeting of an organization that ministers to Christian doctors and dentists, along with other allied health professionals. Luis Palau, a Protestant evangelist, was the main speaker. He spoke about the new Pope in glowing terms. Apparently, when the Pope became an archbishop in Argentina, he asked Luis Palau to lay hands on him and pray for him. Palau said, in no uncertain terms, that the Pope is a Christian brother and we need to pray for him. My husband and I were deeply moved by Palau’s story.

    • Though this post is about the document, you bring in an additional perspective that we must keep in mind — the new pope is from the Global South and will certainly bring many fresh perspectives for Catholics and Protestants alike.

    • Thank you for sharing this. I have friends who are staunchly anti Catholic and major Palau fans. This story shall be passed on.

  11. Of course Luther knew that there are Christians in the Catholic Church. There are also weeds, as well, in amongst the wheat as there are in all churches that proclaim Christ in some way.

    We want that gospel word to burn brightly. There is freedom in it.

    That the Catholic Church with it’s clergy club (the real Christians) covers it up with so many encrusted barnacles, is a crying shame.

    I’m in a discussion right now with some of my Catholic brothers who are just adamant about their ability to do good TOWARDS their justification. Reducing Jesus to an example or helper.

    That they ALONE know the truth is another area that sticks in my craw.

    Yes, we have common ground. But the differences are very great, as well. And those differences are very critical in the understanding the freedom of the gospel and of the Christian.

    This, from a 35 year Catholic convert to Lutheranism.

    • Steve, I would like it better if you would interact with the document and specific statements rather than just speaking from your own perspective. OK, so you have Catholic friends who are working for their justification. Know any Protestants who do the same? Know any Protestant churches that promote this? Of course. The point of the post is to look at what this specific document says and interact with it, not just with what we see around us.

      • Yes, Mike. I have plenty of Protestant friends who are also working their way to God.

        But the Catholic Church teaches this stuff to their people. My own family members buy into that crap as lifelong Catholics and they have no assurance other than knowing that they belong to the “true Church”. It’s a sad thing and it’s a dangerous thing.

        Yes, we ought celebrate our commonality. But the differences are huge and of utmost importance.

        Otherwise Luther would have kept his mouth shut.

    • I sometimes notice that converts from one denomination to another feel a stronger need to justify themselves and their decision rather than looking to the author of their faith.

      • No doubt there is some of that, on all fronts. But the truth remains the truth.

        We are in bondage to sin and cannot save ourselves. Churches that preach and teach a cooperative scheme to salvation are just flat out wrong and deny of the sufficiency of Christ and His cross.

      • This is called the “cage-phase” of conversion. It is especially prominent in the Young, Restless, and Reformed, but also highly noticeable in converts to dogmatic traditions.

        You’d better not be expecting me to grow out of it any time soon. My tradition is arming up and on the warpath for intramural transfer converts, and we won’t apologize. Sorry!

        • Mike,

          You are right. I have not. I guess I’m still dealing with other documents that they refuse to undo. Such as the Council of Trent, where you and I were declared anathema.

          Actions speak louder that documents. When they open their communion railing to us, we will know that they are really serious.

  12. After the Alabama storms a couple of years ago I found myself ( former baptist ) working on damage cleanup. One day FEMA sent us a group of baptists to help… Great … we worked our tails off together to serve our neighbor.

    The next day , FEMA sent up a group of volunteers from Catholic Relief … Great … we worked our tails off together to serve our neighbor

    Now picture this , I’m a mid 50’s white guy , born in Jackson , Ms ,,, I’m working side by side with guys from my spiritual tradition , the next day I’m working with folks I was taught were not even Christians … To make things even more beautiful , we were working together to serve an 80 year old African American man who was in total disbelief that guys from all over the country would gather on his property to serve him in the name of our King.

    When I think about the beauty of these moments ( and clear the tears from my eyes ) I think this is a slice of what we will experience in Christ’s eternal Kingdom.

    Let’s lay down our need to be right about every fine point of Scripture and get on with the business of Loving our Neighbor as Christ loved us

  13. CM-
    A response to your response–
    For years this forum has provided a gathering place for disaffected evangelicals to come express their dissatisfaction with the evangelical culture. It has also drawn non-evangelicals who, for whatever reason, want to be critical of that culture. With your movement to Lutheranism and interest in discussing Lutheran issues, I see a rise in Lutheran participants. While some of the disaffected evangelicals do become involved in mainline churches, I don’t think “post-evangelicals” are moving that direction in great numbers.

    Thus many of us “post-evangelicals” simply do not know what to do with issues such as Catholic-Lutheran dialogue. Discussions such as this are not why we come here. Perhaps the time has come to intentionally declare what this site will be-you have declared who you are now-a Christian living out your faith in a Lutheran context-God bless you and your new church. Perhaps the time has come to declare what this site will be. Will it continue to be a site for “post-evangelicals”? As you move away from evangelicalism, your credibility to speak prophetically to evangelicalism dims. True prophets only speak from the inside-those who speak to a people from the outside are only critics.
    Or perhaps this site will be a place that essentially deals with Lutheran issues. A number of other responders have raised the same question. If it is, that is fine. It is your blog and your content. It would just be helpful to some of us to know the direction things are headed.
    Thanks for your consideration.

    • I’m only writing 2 days a week now. And although this document involves Lutherans and the RCC, I thought the issues of the Reformation were germane to all Western Christians.

    • David Anthony says

      Hi JSturty,
      I have noticed this myself.
      From my experience (and yes this is not directly related to the topic) when one senses the time to leave the “evangelical circus” they spend time in the “post evangelical wilderness”. This could involve attending small home groups or going nowhere at all.
      Some people may eventually return to traditional churches – Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran.
      So at this point they are no longer in the post evangelical wilderness, but in a traditional church.
      Therefore the talk of pro’s and con’s of traditional churches may be inappropriate for a person still bearing the pain and scars of leaving evangelicalism and has not fully healed yet.
      I enjoy this blog and feel it has “evolved” from the days of Michael Spencer being about the post evangelical wilderness, while though intelligent had a cynical side, to now with Chaplain Mike more about traditional churches and takes a more open/ engaging/ reflective/ positive outlook.
      Those still in a defence/ attack mode (understandable after leaving evangelicalism) may not be ready for this new “culture” (for lack of a better word).
      Maybe its time to rename this blog and get rid of the “post evangelical” reference.

      • David (and JSturty), thanks for this input. Let me respond.

        1. As I said earlier, one of the changes is that I am only writing twice a week for the foreseeable future. Others will have more control over the “shape” of the blog for at least a season. If you have interest in giving input about that, I suggest you write Jeff Dunn.

        2. Don’t assume I am out of the “wilderness” just because I have aligned myself with a historic tradition. There are different kinds of wildernesses and I hope that the blog will always speak about those and encourage people who find themselves in one variety of dry place or another. There is a lot of “post-evangelical” in me yet and, on the other hand, it remains to be seen what is “emerging” in my life and ministry. Yes, I think whatever it is will have a somewhat “Lutheran” shape to it, but I doubt that this will tell the whole story.

        Come to think of it, you may have just prompted me to write next Monday’s blog post. Thank you.

  14. CM, I am sorry you were disappointed with the dialogue.. I did read closely the parts of the document you quoted.

    For me this is the sticking point.

    “While the Council of Trent largely defined Catholic relations with Lutherans for several centuries, its legacy must now be viewed through the lens of the actions of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). This Council made it possible for the Catholic Church to enter the ecumenical movement and leave behind the charged polemic atmosphere of the post-Reformation era.”

    Now the RC holds to both the Condemnations of Trent (as possibly understood by Vatican II) and this new document. How do they accomplish this without the repudiation of one or the other?

    Do they redefine Trent and say it doesn’t really say what it appears to because current understanding has changed its meaning?

    Are the new documents a subtle repudiation of the doctrine held by the RC Church since the Reformation, because their theology precludes an outright disavowal ?

    Do the new documents gently invalidate the old ones?

    Are we using the same vocabulary but mean different things by it?

    How does this work?

    Look, I believe that Catholics are Christians, and am glad that there are thoughtful discussions going on between the Roman Church and others, especially Lutherans. Maybe this new document is as you say ‘ a green shoot’ , a tender beginning to a new era of church unity. May it be. However, I think that a lot more work needs to be done.

    • Agreed.

    • i agree with the green shoot idea. we need to compare like with like to be able to discuss. died in the wool worst of the protestants like ian paisley will never be able to dialogue with fresh open grass roots catholic christians and not be able to appreciate the finer points which the new pontif brings to the papacy.

  15. Mike, I really appreciate what you’re saying, but I think it takes a *long* time for fears, prejudices, misrepresentations (etc.) to die off.

    Also, I am not at all certain about the growth of the Vatican II reforms, though I have more hope for them with the current pope than with the previous two (especially Benedict, who was, imo, extremely backward-looking in ways that were/are disturbing).

    I think there was actually a lot more openness in the 70s than now, though I’d also have to qualify that by saying that I am speaking from a limited perspective (mine) and that I have not had nearly the level of interaction with Catholics over the past 2-3 decades as I had during the 70s.

    Perhaps the “green shoots” that you mentioned in the post are breaking through the soil and I’m missing them?

    • I should add that what’s going on at a grassroots level can – and often does – differ significantly from what’s promoted by the hierarchy.

      Still, I doubt that the people who run the diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska are going to be too happy about this current attempt at dialogue… sadly. (I’m not meaning to slam them, and I truly think it is sad that some wish to go back to pre-Vatican II practices in such an intense way. Or maybe I should say impose them on the laity?)

  16. Christiane says

    I think ‘ecumenism’ is possible when people engage in it who have the great and holy gift of patience at the front of their efforts . . . the whole ‘fruit’ of the Holy Spirit is needed, but ‘patience’ allows for differences, and for new efforts at understanding, and at allowing time. . . enough time, which so many without the ‘fruit’ of the Spirit of Unity will not understand who will not appreciate the value of small steps in the right direction

    small steps are still a part of the way forward, which in the paradox of the Kingdom gently leads the struggling Church on the return journey back to its unity in Christ

    • small steps are still a part of the way forward, which in the paradox of the Kingdom gently leads the struggling Church on the return journey back to its unity in Christ

      Wise words, Christiane!

  17. Oops, my formatting auto-magically disappeared…

  18. “[David] went on doing these. He ordered more wine for me, and a liqueur with our coffee, and told me all about the Cappadocian cave dwellings, and I told him about St. Basil, who had done so much for Caesarea in the third
    century and practically rebuilt it, and who is my favourite Christian Father, the prayers and liturgies he composed being so admirable and full of dignity and light and sophia, and the further the Church got from them the less light and sophia and dignity it seemed to have, falling into things such as sentimentalism and exaggeration and puritanism and pietism and the Reformation and the Counter Reformation and revivalism and Lourdes and Lisieux and reliquaries and pictures of the Sacred Heart in convent parlours and Salvationism and evangelical hymns, and many more such barriers to religion, which daunt those not brought up to them and keep them out, like fundamentalism and hell fire.

    “And I told David, who did not care, but listened to oblige me, what wrong turns the Christian Church had taken after that, making it so difficult for us all, and David, who knew the whole business to be nonsense anyhow, gave me more wine, which encouraged me to go on telling him about these Church matters about which he could not have cared less, and the more I talked the more I grew sure that what was keeping me from the Church was not my own sins but those of the Church herself.”

    Rose Macaulay, The Towers Of Trebizond

    …which everyone should read before pronouncing anything to be The Gospel ™

  19. Chaplain Mike,
    The postings on this subject were both important and well done. I was looking forward to today’s posting(s) as well. This is not a “Lutheran” subject or a “Roman Catholic” subject. The fact that the descendants of two of the major parties in one of the most important events in history (not just Christian history) are going to observe the anniversary of that event together is a total “Church” subject, of momentous importance for all. Please publish the post(s) you had planned to write. Regardless of our theological heritage or denominational affiliation, Lutheran/Roman Catholic joint observance of the anniversary of the Reformation should indeed be great good news!

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