An Internal Reformation – Not an External Revolution

By Graham Glover

It’s here. The year 2017. And with it, an onslaught of conversations about an Augustinian Friar who started a chain of events 500 years ago that forever changed the Western Church.

As Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and others begin to discuss anew the causes and consequences of Luther and the reformation that bore his name, we are wise to remember that Luther sought an internal reformation, not an external revolution. This may sound like semantics to some, but it calls to mind a quote attributed to the Lutheran theologian, Peter Brunner, that went something like this: “a Lutheran who does not daily ask himself why he is not a Roman Catholic cannot know why he is a Lutheran”.

In other words, to be a Lutheran is to be in daily conversation with Rome. To be a Lutheran is to seek unity from within and not rebellion from without.

Sadly, many Lutherans and the vast majority of Protestants do not adhere to such principles. For most adherents to the Book of Concord, such talk is akin to conversing with the anti-Christ. For most Protestants, such inclination toward unity is no better than seeking unity with non-Christians. What Luther began as an internal reformation has sadly remained an external revolution, with little or no desire among Lutherans or Protestants to genuinely talk with or actively seek unity with their brothers and sisters in Christ that make up the Roman communion.

Not only is this sad, it is tragic, and betrays, I believe, the very purpose of the Reformation.

I recognize there remains many substantive theological differences between Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and the wide variety of Protestants. These differences should never be glossed over or treated as inconsequential. Indeed, these differences are the very reason Christendom remains divided.


I also recognize that a short blog post is not going to miraculously end the schism that divides the Western Church. Ink has been spilled, wars have been fought, intense debates and passionate dialogues have continued for the better part of 500 years. And yet the actions of Fr. Luther, his supporters, as well as those that followed a more radical course, continue to focus on that which divides us from Rome, instead of how we can unite back with her.

Such an approach to the Reformation cannot continue. Lutherans especially, but Protestants as well, should heed the advice of Brunner and remember the place from whence we came, that is, Rome. Our earnest desire should be unity, not division, for ours was meant to be an internal reformation, not an external revolution.

This is no easy task. Some, perhaps most, probably think it is an impossible one. But it is past time for the Reformation to reform itself. This doesn’t mean a capitulation on doctrinal integrity. It does mean however that we recognize 500 years of division has created scars that need never have been created. It means that the few issues present at the beginning of the Reformation could very well be the point where a new conversation – a new reformation – can begin.

It means that on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, there remains hope for unity within the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.