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 Declarations, the ECT council, and the postmodern virtue of tolerance, people are much more willing to let bygones be bygones. “Maybe we overreacted” is the thought of many.
To the Catholics, Protestants are no longer anathema (which is pretty bad), but are “separated brethren” (which is not so bad).
Attitudes are changing, we could argue, for the better. But have the issues changed?
Four hundred years ago we had a “situation” in the church. We call it the “Great Reformation.” Catholics understand 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: 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 (written tradition) and Tradition (unwritten tradition – notice the capital “T”) represented the one ”deposit of faith” that was handed down from the Apostles. The church, as represented by the Pope and the congregation of bishops, protected and guided by the Holy Spirit, could interpret both infallibly. Think of a three-legged stool. These three entities (Scripture, Tradition, and the Church) support the stool of ultimate authority for the church.
To the Protestants, this represented an abuse of authority. While the institutionalized church had authority, it did not have ultimate authority. While tradition (notice the lower case “t”) was very important and to be respected, it did not share equal authority with Scripture; rather, it served Scripture. Everything, including unwritten tradition, the councils, and the Pope, had to be tested by and submit to Scripture. Protestants repositioned both the church and tradition underneath Scripture. Continue Reading →