Is the Reformation Over?

No. Just misunderstood. Part of the problem, it seems, is that the disagreement between evangelicals and Catholics consisted of comments like, “‘We should confront each other not as representatives of the same faith, but as representatives of quite different faiths,’ Methodist minister C. Stanley Lowell wrote in CT in 1960. ‘Protestants should confront Roman Catholics in dialogue much as they would confront Jews.'”

Lutherans have never considered individual Catholics as non-Christians. We’ve also never had a problem (theoretically) with working together with anyone for pro-life causes, for example. Nor have we engaged in proselytizing among Roman Catholics (or evangelicals for that matter–until the megachurch ideal infected Lutheranism, that is).

What’s the primary issue?

The justification dialogue also shows the limitation of Noll and Nystrom’s main question. How do we know when the Reformation is over? On the one hand, the authors write, “If it is true, as once was repeated frequently by Protestants conscious of their anchorage in Martin Luther or John Calvin that … justification is the article on which the church stands or falls, then the Reformation is over.”

But the Reformation also produced a severe disagreement over the nature of the church. Protestants cannot fathom why the Catholic Catechism approvingly quotes Joan of Arc saying, “About Jesus Christ and the church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.” Noll and Nystrom say, “In sum, the central difference that continues to separate evangelicals and Catholics is not Scripture, justification by faith, the pope, Mary, the sacraments, or clerical celibacy—though the central difference is reflected in differences on these matters—but the nature of the church.”

Absolutely backwards. What people like Noll and Nystrom do not understand (apparently; I haven’t read the book) is that Justification is not one among many doctrines to be believed. When Justification is called the “article on which the Church stands or falls,” that does not mean that if we have lip-service agreement on that, then it’s all good (e.g., the JDDJ).

What it does mean is that if someone claims to believe in justification by grace through faith (usually the “alones” are conveniently omitted), but denies it by other doctrines, then we do not have concordia.

Regardless of claims to the contrary, if Trent stands, the Church falls. And on the other hand, when Justification becomes one doctrine among many (with the “church” as the primary point of disagreement! as if one could truly have “church” without Justification!), Justification is also denied. That, and not any anti-ecumenism, is (should have been?) the reason why the LC-MS did not sign the JDDJ. There is not true agreement, and there cannot be as long as Trent’s anathemas hold. The funny thing is, Trent cannot be reversed. It is binding and eternal dogma, which simply goes to show that the “Reformation” is not over.

Noll and Nystrom, according to their depiction in the article, reverse Church and Justification. It is not the difference in Church that is primarily reflected in Joan of Arc’s statement, leading to disagreement on Justification; rather, it is a disagreement on Justification that can allow Rome to accept her statement. It is exactly this problem (i.e., that the Church–meaning essentially the Roman Church under the papacy–and Christ are the same) that shows the denial of justification by grace alone, and not the other way around.

In some sense, the Reformation is over. Trent was convened. The Formula of Concord was written. (Of course, I’m speaking about Lutherans and Catholics, not the name-stealing “evangelicals”!) But until one or the other of the churches that abide officially by the understandings found in those documents change, the consequences of the Reformation will continue.

[Just noticed, Josh has this at Here We Stand. Creepy, indeed.]


12 thoughts on “Is the Reformation Over?

  1. My Catholic friends look at it this way.

    The reformation happened and they accpet that the Church had to fix some things. They believe those things have been fixed, and it is now time for the non-Catholics step children to rejoin the family.

    The really don’t understand what the problem is.

  2. The Reformation is dead: North American Evangelicalism killed it; probably because it came from Old Europe!!
    It is amazing to observe the arrogance of those Yankee Anabaptists and their “hey, why should we bother with all that old stuff. After all, we are all against abortion and for a free-market economy and that’s what really matters, right?” (that was the premise of ECT, when you think of it).
    Of course, this is an extremly parochial view of the situation, entirely disconnected from the rest of the world, and its long-terms cosnequences should not be too serious.
    Anyway, it is high time for real evangelical catholics to take the Church back!!

  3. Do we mean North American Evangelicalism, or do we mean the political correction of erstwhile evangelical churches? both Protestant and Catholic?

    I think sometimes we forget that we all belong to the same Body of Christ. And hanging a sign specifying with part of the Body of Christ we prefer is kind of silly in the larger scope of things.

    My Catholic friends believe fully in doctrinal concepts that I totally reject. However, in the end, will all still focus on Christ.

    So, yes, I agree that Evangelicals need to take the church back… both Catholic and Protestant.

  4. Lawrence,
    Can those RC doctrinal concepts that you totally reject be separated from belief in Christ? I do not believe doctrine is just so many unconnected points which one is free to accept or reject. Every piece of doctrine is connected, and if the overall picture conveys something other than justification by grace alone through faith alone, then the focus is not Christ, but something else.


  5. Tim,

    I do agree with you.

    The main split between Catholics and Protestants remains primarily doctrinal. Immediate example, are the Sacraments… Catholics have a few more that Lutherans… but the two, I think, that Lutherans embrace are also embraced by Catholics.

    So, can I still be a Christian if I reject all but two of the Catholic Sacraments? And can Catholics still be Christians if they embrace all their Sacraments?

    Significant common ground for us to recognize we all belong to the same Body of Christ. But still different enough that we can not commune together as a single worldly church.


    And of course the main issue, Justification by Faith, is not viewed exactly the same way between the many denominations. Nor within the many denominations in many case.

    People have lost historical understandings of what really caused the Reformation, and have lost understanding of the purpose/importance of the Book of Concord in directing the early church.

    In this context we can argue that the Reformation may actually be dead, for the time being.

    The point is that all the ‘new’ non-scriptural church ideas we battle in our congregations are not really ‘new’. The churches during Luther’s time faced same social problems we are facing today. And that is people sacrificing their personal beliefs and spiritual future on the alter of Political Correctness.

  6. Lawrence,
    maybe your view of Roman Catholicism is shaped by what is going on in America, where many RC have been largely influenced by the “Evangelical” sub-culture. Having grown up in a predominantly RC european country, I guess I have a slightly different perspective šŸ˜‰
    I DO rejoice that the RC and us most often have much better relationships than, let’s say, in the 50’s. I have no regret for the prejudices and bigotry of the old days; they were an insult to God. But I still have FUNDAMENTAL problems with the official teachings of the RC Church and I believe they distort the Gospel of Justification by grace through faith. Consequently, I would have a hard time to say that Rome is either “evangelical” or even “catholic” in the real sense of the term.
    True, many RC “do not really believe what their church teaches” (that’s a very good thing!!). My other question would be: how many Lutherans really do believe in what the Book of Concord teaches, even in our confessional circles?

  7. Good question Jean-Martin,

    I have to answer your question with another question… Why are people members of a church they don’t agree with?

    I have Catholic friends who I consider to be more Christian than some of the people I meet within my own congregation. (If there is such a thing as more or less Christian.) The common element has as much to do with our personal comfort and cultural background leading us to a given church. Beliefs and dogma not always being the primary criteria. Sad, but true.

    And yes, there is definitely a split in Protestant circles here in N.America between the truly confessional chruches, and the politically correct break-away groups that use the same names/titles. This is very similar to what is happening with the RC here. People want the church to accommodate society, rather than society accommodating the church. But you already understand this.

    And in this context it really is no longer about Protestants vs. Catholics. It is about non-Christian influence from within the denominations.

    Effectively, given this context, we can argue that the Reformation is NOT dead. Simply shifting into a new phase.

  8. Also, Jean,

    I think your understanding of Evangelical Subculture is different than mine.

    What I view as our subculture problem is the neo-Evangelical movement which is really the secularization of the church from within. Both Protestant and Catholic.

    So… how is the message being subverted from within?

    We still have Faith. So, why the split? The split really reflects issue of confessing sin. People like the part about Faith (Gospel) but don’t like the part about Sin (Law). They want to embrace the Gospel with out the full context of the Law.

    However, in the context of Jesus’ message, we can’t have Faith without confession of sin. We can’t have the Gospel without regard for the Law. But we sure are trying awfully hard.

    In the end, Gospel and Faith are irrelevant if we do not also recongnize God’s Law which defines sin. It simply makes no sense to have Faith in Christ’s salvation message if we are unable to accept our need for salvation from sin. In so doing, we truly have created a false Faith, and a false religion within the church.

    Therefore, the Evangelical subculture really is about embracing personal Salvation without personal Confession. Effectively creating a an insidious and subtly attractive false-Evangelical movement within the very heart of the church.

  9. Lawrence,

    granted, the neo-evangelical movement, with its pragmaticism, “presentism” and business-oriented mentality is a big problem. But I am not sure it will last: it’s a self-consuming movement.
    Granted, too, we need to preach BOTH Law and Gospel, clearly distinguishing the two and not giving any power to heal or restore to Moses (that’s not his job, and we would cease to be Lutherans). Please note that many Evangelicals talk about sin a lot. Other peoples’ sins (especially those nasty not-like-us).Or sexual sins (Evangelicals are the most sex-obsessed people I know; that is a sad puritan legacy!!). But you will rarely hear anything about business ethics or social justice in those circles, with their atomistic view of the faith.
    I guess one question we all have to face as Westerners at the dawn of the 21st century is: “what is a Christian?” or “who is a Christian?”. The answer(s) might be different depending on the side of the Atlantic you live on, but I am fairly sure we are going to see some major redefinitions!!

  10. Jean,

    Aside… my forays into these blogs is usually due to a need for self-therapy after a stretch of secularism being pounded down my throat… so please pardon my slides into ranting.

    Let me put my situation into context. I live in the midwest, but work at a very liberal university. (Not as a teacher). I am constantly bombarded by secular (anti-Christian specifically) religious people telling me what I believe. They don’t care what I say I believe, only in making sure they maintain their arugements that I am the one that doesn’t understand. Yes, this is all very illogical, but that’s the point, yet they can’t accept that their arguments are illogical. They don’t change my views, however they do cause me to be a bit more militant about my reactions. Not sure if that is good or bad.

    Okay, I had to say that, so I could say this:

    Many of my peers are very much influenced by the anti-Christian rhetoric. I can’t even count the number of religious people I know who modify their religous beliefs based on peer pressure, instead of scripture, and don’t even know they are doing it.

    Once these people accept secular constructs in their work life, they then turn these ideals back on their church life. And we create a “business oriented-mentality” toward our religion. We start classifying priorities of sin and salvation, just as we would in classifying business priorities. It all sounds so neat and tidy…,…until we step back and view in through the filter of Scripture…

    I know a lot about this because I’m one of the business oriented organizers and coordinaters here, and it is extremely easy for me to shift my own business focus on church issues without a second thought.

    As this illustrates, the problem with Christianity is not necessarily outside influences, but inside influence. The greatest danger any church or congregation faces is, effectively, themselves. We become our own worst enemy, just as each individual Christian, who tries to create a “better” view of slavation that what Jesus described.

    Okay,… now back to the main point…

    Everything we are talking about is the new church movements to embrace the Gospel without the Law. But this really isn’t a new concept. Luther faced it during his life.

  11. Lawrence,

    I think I understand a little bit what your life can be like. I unfortunately have had the occasion to be confronted to the unbeliever’s prejudice, and I know what it is to feel stabbed in the back by brothers and sisters who just have decided they “did not want to argue”. Well, Jesus never told us it would be easy, there was a reason for that I guess.
    You’re right to the point concerning the difforming influences our churches have to face. I recall reading an article some years ago on “The Cultural Captivity of the Church”. i thought it was a wonderful expression, and that it described very well something that deeply worries me.
    We have to go back to the basics: Word and Sacraments, using what the Lord has given us, and rejoicing in it. But if we do that, we might also be called to reconsider many, many aspects of our church-life: programs, vision of what “church growth” is, relation to the rest of society.
    Are we (especially as Confessional Lutherans) ready for this challenge?


    HAPPY NEW YEAR !!!!!!

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