Happy Reformation Sunday!

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.

So this Reformation Sunday, I have three things for you!

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).

3. And have a read of Gal 2:11-14 and then John 17.

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  • Ian Thomason

    G’day, Mike.

    I’m often left thinking there’s “much ado about nothing” with respect to people attempting to number the various Protestant denominations, as if such must automatically or necessarily be a ‘bad’ thing. Especially when such seek to compare assumed Protestant heterogeneity against the supposed homogenity of the Eastern and Western Orthodox communions. With respect to the former, for example, there are at least 22 autocephalic or autonomous Sees (when the ‘original’ number was but four). And regarding the latter, there are currently 23 autonomous particular churches that accept the authoritative primacy of the Bishop of Rome!

    Consequently, when I see the figure of 30,000 being applied to the number of Protestant denominations, I REJOICE that there are sufficient people journeying to faith in Christ, to sustain such a large and disparate collection!

    Now, if only the 30,000 Protestant denominations would leverage of what we share in common with the 22 Eastern and 23 Western Orthodox communions!

    “In essentials unity; in non-essentials, diversity. In all things, charity.” Whether or not Augustine penned these words, I think they’re marvelous!


  • Horrible logical fallacy (proposition type) committed here where the author writes, “… formally replaced work of the Holy Spirit with a sacramental system that mediates divine grace” Sacraments don’t mediate divine grace. LOL To suggest Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not joined with the grace of the Sacrament is like saying that you can think without a brain. Moreover, in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, Jesus Himself IS the Sacrament.

    Just goes to show again that Protestants don’t even know what they are protesting against. They protest against a straw man. Haven’t met one who has actual read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They all read books about Catholicism by Protestants. What a shame.

    A Sacrament is an action of the Church through which Christ continues to minister among His people. The purpose of the of the sacraments is to sanctify the people, to build up the Body of Christ, and to give true worship to God. The sacraments as symbols or signs speak of the mystery which they signify; the mystery is Christ present among people.

  • Blaise B.

    Hey Mike,
    I have often the heard the quote attributed to Augustine that “the Church is a whore, but she is still our mother,” but not only does this not sound Augustinian at all, but I have never seen it cited properly or been able to find the source myself (I took at course on Augustine in my MDiv). Can you weigh in if you think the idea is at least Augustinian, and where its source can be found?

    • Mike Bird

      Must be oral tradition then!