Sunday, October 31, 2010

That Fateful Reformation Day

Today is the 493rd anniversary of when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. Although Luther was not yet intending to break from the Church at that point, many mark it at the symbolic beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Some Protestants thus celebrate today as Reformation Day.

Yet the Reformation has led to nothing but disunity, confusion, and a chaotic muddying of the theological waters of Christendom. Even if you are one to think that Luther was right that the Catholic Church had become irreparably corrupted, the Reformation did not lead to a clearly unified Reformed alternative. The Reformers protested not only the Catholic Church but each other as well.

Protestant theologian and professor at Duke Divinity School, Stanley Hauerwas (pictured below), agrees that Reformation Day is not to be celebrated. Here are a few quotes from a famous sermon he gave in 1995 on Reformation Sunday:

Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. But when we make Reformation a success, it only ends up killing us. After all, the very name ‘Protestantism’ is meant to denote a reform movement of protest within the Church Catholic. When Protestantism becomes an end in itself, which it certainly has through the mainstream denominations in America, it becomes anathema. If we no longer have broken hearts at the church’s division, then we cannot help but unfaithfully celebrate Reformation Sunday.
I often point out that at least Catholics have the magisterial office of the Bishop of Rome to remind them that disunity is a sin. You should not overlook the significance that in several important documents of late, John Paul II has confessed the Catholic sin for the Reformation. Where are the Protestants capable of doing likewise? We Protestants feel no sin for the disunity of the Reformation. We would not know how to confess our sin for the continuing disunity of the Reformation. We would not know how to do that because we have no experience of unity.
...Catholics understand the church’s unity as grounded in reality more determinative than our good feelings for one another. The office of Rome matters. For at least that office is a judgment on the church for our disunity. Surely it is the clear indication of the sin of the Reformation that we Protestants have not been able to resist nationalistic identifications. So we become German Lutherans, American Lutherans, Norwegian Lutherans. You are Dutch Calvinist, American Presbyterians, Church of Scotland. I am an American Methodist, which has precious little to do with my sisters and brothers in English Methodism.
So on this Reformation Sunday long for, pray for, our ability to remember the Reformation – not as a celebratory moment, not as a blow for freedom, but as the sin of the church. Pray for God to heal our disunity, not the disunity simply between Protestant and Catholic, but the disunity in our midst between classes, between races, between nations. Pray that on Reformation Sunday we may as tax collectors confess our sin and ask God to make us a new people joined together in one mighty prayer that the world may be saved from its divisions.

October 31st, 1517 was a fateful day. Let us all, Protestant and Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox as well, repent of our sins and pray that God may bring us into full unity once again.

"I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought." - Paul, 1st Corinthians 1.10

"May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." - Jesus, John 17.23


  1. This is a fantastic post, thank you!

  2. In honor of Reformation Sunday our convert pastor gave a sermon listing 10 reasons why he was thankful to be Catholic.

  3. Wow, some really great quotes from his sermon.

  4. wow.
    which is why we should fight to achieve that unity.