Philosophical

The tragedy of the Reformation

As a member of a Reformed Church, I had better explain what I mean by that pretty quickly! And I will. We’re marking Reformation Day just about now, as the 31st of October was the day when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the Wittenburg church door in 1517, making it the day conventionally named as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. That’s certainly something to celebrate, in between dodging pumpkins and people in ghoul masks.

But it’s a solemn day, not one for riotous festivity. And it’s quite unfair for Roman Catholics to blame Protestants for dividing the church. Because Luther and the other reformers didn’t want to divide the church: they wanted to reform it. And it refused to be reformed. Instead, it excommunicated the dissidents, leaving them with no alternative but to begin afresh. It was the Popes’ refusal to repent that has divided the church, and continues to divide it. That’s why I think the Reformation should really be called the Non-reformation. And it is a tragedy.

Not that mere organizational unity is important in and of itself. But in the long term, in the big picture, the church’s voice became effectively two opposing voices, and that contributed significantly to the rise of the modern secular society which ignores the church’s cries altogether. That has been a tragedy for everyone, not least in the secular state schooling which has ever-so-gently shepherded multitudes of lost souls far, far away from the Saviour.

I hope no-one will take what I’ve said here as supporting calls for ecumenism, for re-uniting the church organizationally. The Roman Catholic Church would dearly love to win Protestants back into its fold, and if it succeeded, the tragedy of the Reformation would be complete. But I don’t believe that will happen. I believe that the Saviour and his love will continue to conquer souls and build his kingdom until his coming. And as long as it is yet day, there is still time for people – yes, even for popes – to repent.

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