There used to be a time when your loyalty to the Protestant cause was judged by how much you hated Catholics. But today, with all the ecumenical dialogue, the Manhattan Declaration, the ECT council, and the postmodern virtue of tolerance, people are much more willing to ignore the water under the bridge. “Maybe we overreacted” is the thought of many.
To Catholics, since Vatican II, Protestants are no longer anathema (which is a pretty bad thing to be), but are “separated brethren” (which is not so bad).
Attitudes are changing. One could could argue that attitudes are changing for the better. But have the issues changed? As we are on the eve of Reformation Day, let us remind ourselves what was at stake nearly 500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, when a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed a bold list of ninety-five complaints against the institutionalized church of the day that started what we know as the Great Reformation.
Here is the scoop: Five hundred years ago we had a “situation” in the church. We now call it the “Great Reformation,” but who knew at the time it would be a reformation of any kind, much less a “great” one? Catholics see it as yet another rebellious schism. The first major division in the Christian church happened in 1054, when the Eastern church got fed up with the Pope and thumbed its nose at him (or something like that). The Great Reformation was the second. For Protestants, this was not only a reforming of the church, but a reclaiming of the Gospel which had been obscured and overshadowed by the institutionalized church of the day.
While there were and are a lot of issues that divide Roman Catholics and Protestants, there are two which overshadow the rest and define the essence of the Great Refomation: authority and justification. The issue of authority has been called the “formal” cause of the Reformation while the issue of justification was the “material” cause. In this brief post I would like to focus on these two issues.
1. Authority: Where do we go for truth?
To the institutionalized church of the day (now known as the Roman Catholic Church), both Scripture and Tradition (notice the capital “T”) represented the one “deposit of faith” that was handed down from the Apostles (i.e. written and unwritten tradition). The church, as represented by the Pope and the congregation of bishops, could interpret both infallibly, being protected by the Holy Spirit. Think of a three-legged stool. All three (Scripture, Tradition, and the Church) serve as “legs” supporting the “stool” – the church’s ultimate authority. Continue Reading →