The Reformation as a restoration of catholicity

The Reformation as a restoration of catholicity October 31, 2016

Even some Protestants are saying that we shouldn’t celebrate Reformation Day.  Why celebrate the breakup of the catholicity of the Church?  In his excellent Reformation Sunday sermon, our pastor quoted the distinguished seminary professor and theologian Norman Nagel, who maintained that the Reformation was actually a restoration of the Church’s catholicity.

Read why after the jump.

UPDATE:  Dr. Nagel made a rare mistake in crediting Irenaeus for the quotation when it should have been St. Ignatius of Antioch.  (HT:  Steve)

From Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel:

The first Christian use of the word we find in Irenaeus, who died about the year A.D. 200.  He says, “Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.”. . .

Whatever we say about the catholic church must have Jesus Christ as its center.  Apart from Jesus Christ there is no catholic church, and there is only one catholic church, for there is only one Jesus Christ.  Although we may muddle and contradict this fact, Jesus has His one church. .  .  .

The Reformation may be described as cleaning out the human factors that had been intruded into the church and her message.  On Reformation Sunday we most often consider what this meant in the basic relationship of God and us.  This was expressed in the doctrine of justification by faith alone with its affirmation that we cannot stand before God on the basis of any human factors but only on the basis of Jesus Christ, His atoning death, and His victorious resurrection.

Something similar happens in the understanding of the catholic church that we are thinking about this Reformation Sunday.  Irenaeus said, “Where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.”  The Apostles’ Creed puts it more closely:  Wherever Christ’s Word and Sacraments are in action, there is the catholic church.  Everything else is subordinate to that–the pope too. . . .

Let us, then, rejoice in our catholic heritage centered in Jesus Christ and freed from the intrusion of human factors and reliance.  Let us live our catholic heritage in relation to other Christians.  Luther said, “Rome is surely worse than Sodom and Gomorrah but there they yet have the Sacraments and the Scripture and the name of Christ.  There is the catholic church.”  No matter whether it be Rome, Geneva, Constantinople, Canterbury, or Timbuktu–no matter what the denominational label–if the Word and the Sacraments are there, if there two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus, there is the catholic church.  Even if the flow of the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, may be only a trickle, there is yet the catholic church.

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