The Reformation: Looking back (and forward) 500 years

The Reformation: Looking back (and forward) 500 years November 1, 2016

The Protestant Reformation has begun its 500th year. From now until October 31, 2017, we will see a steady stream of histories, reflections, sermons, pronouncements, and commentaries on the Reformation and its ongoing meaning for our time.

My recent column for Religion News Service lays out some of my thoughts on the Reformation and its continuing relevance in our public and private lives.

Does the Reformation still matter?

A few more quick thoughts:

  • The Reformation accomplished its goal. Corrupt practices within the Catholic Church were mostly reformed. So do we still need Protestantism five centuries later? It seems to me the Reformation isn’t so much about reforming corrupt practices but rejecting the Catholic Church on its own terms. As the postwar ecumenical impulse has continued into our time and Catholic-Protestant relations have improved, it is unfashionable and seemingly unnecessary to harp on the huge differences between one billion of the world’s people and another billion. But the differences are huge.
  • For a few hundred years, the Reformation mattered for states’ domestic politics andchristian-1296370_640 international relations. There were Catholic and Protestant countries, etc. Today, Protestant identity is weak in most places. The Protestant/Catholic divide matters little politically, if at all.
  • Cultural divisions that once existed along confessional lines are now cultural and political cleavages. I can put up with all manner of heresy if you vote the way I do.
  • The political cooperation of evangelical Protestants and Catholics has been remarkable to behold. These people believe dramatically different things about Christ’s church, his body, his saints, and his authority. There is an elite document/coalition called Evangelicals and Catholics Together. But they cannot go to church together. The project is not religious. Is it cultural? Political?

I will be exploring these and other debates concerning Protestantism in my writing between now and October 31, 2017. I look forward to hearing what others think of the past 500 years… and what they expect for the next 500.

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