I always have mixed feelings about Reformation Sunday.
On the one hand, it is a great occasion to remember and celebrate the best of the Reformation, the recovery of the apostolic gospel, returning the church to its catholic faith, and recognizing the Holy Spirit as the source of our renewal. That said, Reformation Sunday is also celebrating a divorce, the western church ripped apart, birthing over 30 000 Protestant denominations, and leading to a crisis of authority, not only in the Church, but also in regards to God’s revelation.
I believe in the Protestant Reformation because I have a protest against the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church still needs to be reformed to be true to its catholic and apostolic heritage. For me, the biggest error in the Roman Catholic Church is not their view of justification by faith, nor transubstantiation, not even clerical celibacy, but they have formally replaced work of the Holy Spirit with a sacramental system that mediates divine grace. I believe, along with B.B. Warfield, that John Calvin was the theologian of the Holy Spirit par excellence, and it is the Holy Spirit who applies the work of Christ to the believer, not the sacraments. The sacraments are not mere symbols, but are props to recall and rehearse the divine drama of what the Spirit does in the Word.
The best way to think of the Catholic Church in my mind is like an estranged parent, a mother no less. To quote St. Augustine, the Church is a whore, but she is still our mother. So no matter how bad one might think the Catholic Church is (and assessments vary depending on what branches of the Catholic Church one has been exposed to) we should be concerned about and committed to the reformation of the Catholic Church and the full restoration of western churches to full evangelical and visible unity.
1. Watch this clip “Lutheran Satire: Two Faces of Rome,” because it is funny.
2. Note this quote from Charles Spurgeon about his visit to a Catholic Church in Belgium in 1860.
In Brussels, I heard a good sermon in a Romish church. The place was crowded with people, many of them standing, though they might have had a seat for a halfpenny or a farthing; and I stood, too; and the good priest — for I believe he is a good man, — preached the Lord Jesus with all his might. He spoke of the love of Christ, so that I, a very poor hand at the French language, could fully understand him, and my heart kept beating within me as he told of the beauties of Christ, and the preciousness of His blood, and of His power to save the chief of sinners. He did not say, ‘justification by faith,’ but he did say, ‘efficacy of the blood,’ which comes to very much the same thing. He did not tell us we were saved by grace, and not by our works; but he did say that all the works of men were less than nothing when brought into competition with the blood of Christ, and that the blood of Jesus alone could save. True, there were objectionable sentences, as naturally there must be in a discourse delivered under such circumstances; but I could have gone to the preacher, and have said to him, ‘Brother, you have spoken the truth;’ and if I had been handling the text, I must have treated it in the same way that he did, if I could have done it as well. I was pleased to find my own opinion verified, in his case, that there are, even in the apostate church, some who cleave unto the Lord, — some sparks of Heavenly fire that flicker amidst the rubbish of old superstition, some lights that are not blown out, even by the strong wind of Popery, but still cast a feeble gleam across the waters sufficient to guide the soul to the rock Christ Jesus.” (Quoted in Lewis Drummond,Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers, 343-344).