What Would It Take for the Reformation to End?

By Graham Glover

This past year has seen a number of articles, blogs, podcasts, books, documentaries, sermons, classes, etc., about the upcoming anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. No matter what “side” you think was right or how you understand the particulars of the people and events that transformed the Western Church and much of the world’s history, there is undoubtedly something out there for everyone to resonate with as we consider the events that took place 500 years ago.

Although I appreciate the fruits of the Reformation commentary over the past several months and think the dialogues occurring because of the 500th anniversary are both theologically and intellectually healthy, I’m left wondering what we are to make of the future of the Reformation. This curiosity is not one that wonders whether there should have been a Reformation, or whether Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Henry VIII, et al, were right in their respective quests to reform/revolutionize the Christian faith/Church. While those questions remain critically important in helping us understand why we believe what we do today, none of them change the reality of what actually occurred. Rather, my curiosity is one that wonders if the Reformation will ever end. That is, will the divisions that were codified five centuries ago forever remain a part of Christianity until our Lord returns, or is unity among some or all still a possibility? Or to put it another way: “What would it take for the Reformation to end?”

For all sides, I wonder:

What would it take for you to reconcile with those with whom you are not in fellowship with? What doctrinal positions would be required to be agreed upon for the differing sides to unite? Is it all or nothing? Must the Roman Catholics concede all points of the Lutheran reformers? Must Lutherans recant all of their confessions? Must the Church of England submit to the authority of the Bishop of Rome? Must the Reformed in all their varieties abandon much of what their churches teach? Seriously, what, if anything, would facilitate the end of the Protestant Reformation?

Perhaps my question will fall on deaf ears. If I concede that we cannot change the reality of what caused the Reformation to occur in the first place, how can I expect it to end? If the parties are unable to come to an agreement over whether the Reformation should have even happened, how can they be expected to agree on its ending?

I think, though, that we miss out on the spirit of the Reformation if we don’t consider the question. Again, I wonder:

If Rome were open to the Lutheran doctrine of justification, would Lutherans be open to the primacy of the papacy? If the Reformed conceded the Mass as the proper form of Christian worship, would others concede their varied understandings of church authority? If Rome acknowledged its errors that led to the Reformation, would the Protestants acknowledge their reforms may have gone too far? I’m not suggesting any or all of these should be accepted or embraced. I’m just using them as examples of what could facilitate a conversation about ending the Reformation.

Maybe I’m being naïve. Maybe I’m just too nostalgic. (And I haven’t even considered where the Orthodox churches fit in this conversation!) But I don’t think the question betrays the intent of the reformers or the counter-reformers.

Unity, although difficult, should remain our goal. In our efforts to get there, I’m simply asking: What would it take? What would it take for the Reformation to end?

What say you?

14 thoughts on “What Would It Take for the Reformation to End?

  1. The idea of the Reformation will never end. It cannot end. It must remain until the Lord returns, so long as there are false teachers among the fold of Christ, so long as there are heretics and itching ears longing for affirmation in this world. The timely purgings of the church are acts of God’s mercy and wisdom, as the weeds of apostasy cannot overtake His vineyard. The Reformation was necessary and fruitful, albeit painful, but consequential to Christ’s people. It is wishful thinking and misguided thinking to hope for Lutheran unity with Catholicism, as such a return requires compromising on core fundamentals of our faith. Why go back to Egypt? Why return to the bondage of a works gospel and papal decrees? Are we never satisfied? We have many sound teachings in our Confessions, we have our Bibles, we certainly cannot give up our view of God’s word and the plain teachings we believe. Do we want to exchange the truth for an uneasy truce with the Papacy? Whenever a Lutheran longs for a reunification with Catholicism, consider it the devil’s work, his desire to bring you down, destroy your faith, and lead you into spiritual adultery. It is nothing less than a perilous endeavor we must never entertain.

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  2. Graham, let me add to the above comments for the sake of clarity. I hope you do not misconstrue my remarks to see me as some sort of rabid anti-Catholic. I am not anti-Catholic, but I am in disagreement with their doctrines. I do not even believe being Catholic makes one automatically unsaved. Denominational affiliation will not determine one’s eternal destiny, but being baptized and born again through the blood of Christ decides one’s destiny. I have known many Catholics in my life, and many understood very little about their own church, rarely read the Bible, and openly disagreed with their Pope. On the other hand, devout Catholics I have met seemed very fervent believers and loved the Lord. The problem was most of them prayed to Mary to intercede for them, rather than just pass by her and the saints and pray directly to Jesus. This is no small matter, and it is currently still a large part of the Catholic thinking 500 years after the Reformation. In my view, fellowship with the Catholic Church, from their vantage point, includes an acceptance of these practices and many more unbiblical ideas. For this reason, I can never see reunification with Catholicism as a positive outcome.

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    1. John, as always I appreciate your comments and insight.

      I hope you don’t think I’m suggesting we should gloss over our docrtinal differences. Our divisions, as unfortunate as they are, are important and deserve our careful consideration.

      You are spot on when you note: “The Reformation was necessary and fruitful, albeit painful, but consequential to Christ’s people.” That being said, are we still as Lutherans, Romans Catholics, and the Reformed, still in the same place(s) that we were 500 years ago?

      I’m also not only interested in dialogue with Rome (although to be fully transparent, I am much more inclined to them than many others). What about some elements of the Reformed churches?

      Thoughts?

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  3. 2 –

    Been a good while. And – “Hey! John Joseph!”

    Short answer – John nailed it – “Never.” Not in this world, anyway. St Paul spells that out quite clearly in his First Letter (of rebuke) to the Corinthians 11:19:

    “… δεῖ γὰρ καὶ αἱρέσεις ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι, ἵνα καὶ οἱ δόκιμοι, φανεροὶ γένωνται ἐν ὑμῖν.

    (For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. KJV)

    I employed the Greek and specifically the Majority text found in the KJV – which is the most accurate translation of this verse (and many others) – “There must also be heresies among you …” At first read it seems odd Paul would begin that way, unless to make a point, which he is always doing in his letters to the Corinthians, and a good reason why neither letter should be used as sedes doctrinae. St. Paul was showing the actual dichotomy that existed between the helter-skelter nonsense practiced by the half-pagan Corinthians, and true, Divine theology and thus, Worship/Liturgy. All of which is very much the situation today, Graham. You know that.

    Having said that, the innate desire for unity is, part and parcel, part of the One True Faith. I cannot fault a soul for desiring that – for I desire it as ardently as anyone. But it shan’t occur on this side. Every attempt we have seen in history to this very date stands as a testimony to the failure to achieve true unity. Some have simply declared it to be so against reality – such as ELCA trying to say it has unity with the calvinists of the Presbyterian faith – sufficient to join together at the Holy Eucharist. Not hardly! Saying so doesn’t make it so, and they fall under the very words of Paul in his Epistles to the Corinthians – lack of commendation – about their goofy observances of the Eucharist (which shallow theology has employed not to fight heresy, but any notion that infants are, as Jesus said, the most worthy in Faith and should be fed) – a point the Orthodox never relinquished. But I digress . . .

    It is what it is, for the satan will not permit otherwise.

    I will add, as I have in the past – calvinists and the others tried to hijack “The Reformation.” They merely protested, hence their name “Protestant.” Lutherans are MOST emphatically NOT protestants, but Reformers, and if the Book of Concord doesn’t make that crystal clear, I really don’t know what else I could say.

    pb

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    1. jb, I couldn’t have said it more perfectly when you note: “calvinists and the others tried to hijack “The Reformation.” They merely protested, hence their name “Protestant.” Lutherans are MOST emphatically NOT protestants, but Reformers, and if the Book of Concord doesn’t make that crystal clear”. I fight this battle frequently in the Chaplain Corps and see this played out a lot recently as the Reformed try to put their spin on the Lutheran Reformation.

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  4. I suppose we can differentiate between Protestants and Reformers if we wish to parse words. More importantly,it remains that a monolithic spiritual dynasty in the Roman Church had risen to a place of great historical power unforeseen by the early church fathers. It needed to be challenged and reformed. The Roman Church was never meant to be the sole arbiter of the Christian faith on earth. It became powerful through political intrigue and through the patronage of Kings and rulers. The Reformation did not develop in a vacuum. The “building blocks” had been constructed by men like Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, John Huss, and how can we forget Johanne Wessel, who taught the doctrine of justification by faith….almost 50 years before Luther. Mining the depths of scripture in Greek and Latin and Aramaic, others less famous than Luther or Calvin also contributed to the Reformation. One must remember that the Reformation started much earlier and floated on the blood of the martyrs long before it officially began.

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  5. John –

    There is no no “parsing” necessary. The “protestantants” were decidedly not Lutheran, not “small ‘c'” catholic in the theological sense or liturgical sense; calvin, especially, gutted the Sacraments, and is the spiritual father of most every division in the Church after Luther. They rejected the Book of Concord pretty much outright, and have wreaked spiritual havoc ever since – and still are – even in our own Synod. And now they are trying to appropriate the Reformation to justify their shallow theology!

    Who do you think is the father of the present-day evangelicals, with their rejection of the Sacraments and the various goofy “churchie-growthie” schemes? Good Lord, Man, I try not to even mention calvin’s name in the same sentence with Luther or the Confessors if it can be helped!

    As to Luther standing on the shoulders of others before him, which I was hardly denying, one could as easily point to the Eastern Orthodox Church as the source igniting the genesis of the pushback against papal power as much as anything or anyone!

    pb

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  6. Graham –

    Your “Question as a Title” is far more important than it appears at first glance.

    And to speak of it in terms more familiar to you – on the battlefield, those who look death face-to-face do not need some half-baked ideas about matters of the Faith. Chaplains may or may not carry weapons – a personal choice in my estimation and not something another can judge – but they are in not one, but two battles – that of whatever military action, and the war with eternal consequences with the satan. Those you serve need to know they can trust you implicitly – your words may be the last they hear of the Lord before their own deaths.

    Kinda “final” – as it were.

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    1. jb, what words of mine are concerning? I’m asking what it would take for the Reformation to end? I ask the question as one who desires unity, but who also recognizes the importance for doctrinal integrity. I don’t know how or why my words would be troublesome in that regard.

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  7. G2 –

    Wow! I guess I kinda/sorta get how you came about that last comment. But not really . . .

    My comment about Chaplains was in praise of the importance of the VERY work YOU do. Zero criticism at all!

    pb

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    1. pb, forgive me for the misunderstanding! I now. understand the point you were making. Again, my apologies!

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