Reformation Day or Restoration Day?
October 31 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther, a Catholic priest, presenting his “Ninety-Five Theses.” It delineated his differences with the church, particularly on salvation by faith only and authority of Scripture alone, as well cataloging the corrupt practices of the Roman Catholic Church at the time. This “Reformation” created the Protestant movement. (Reformation leaders also included John Calvin, John Huss, John Knox, William Tyndale and John Wycliffe.)
As a Protestant, I’m feeling a bit conflicted in the “celebration,” as I have much more in common with my Catholic friends in our love for Christ and his Church than I have differences .
Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Christians share a common statement of faith—written well before the Catholic/Orthodox split in 1054 and the Reformation splinter in 1517. The Apostles’ Creed is first mentioned in 390 AD, although what we recite today was probably written in the 700s.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic* church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
* Lower case c meaning “universal” church
Protestants and Catholics share 66 books of the Bible. Other books that make up the “Apocrypha” are embraced by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Protestant churches. (Luther actually attempted to remove the books of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation from the accepted biblical books because he felt they went against salvation by faith alone. He, obviously, didn’t succeed.)
Catholics have been on the front lines of the “pro-life” movement—and not just concerning abortion. The church has been a strong opponent of euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research that destroys potential life, and capital punishment. Roman Catholics are pro-life from womb to tomb—as am I. They have also been a strong defender of traditional marriage despite vicious opposition.
Catholics and Protestants revere many of the same authors, such as Augustine of Hippo, Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, and many other “church fathers.”
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism and the holiness movement, recommended Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ for the pastors under his supervision. Written 100 years before the Reformation, it has been embraced as the second most influential book in all of Christianity, the Bible being first, of course. (I had the privilege of modernizing and organizing The Imitation of Christ.)
And I love authors who have found an audience among Catholics and Protestants. Some of my favorites include Brother Lawrence, who wrote Practicing the Presence of Christ, St. John of the Cross famous for coining the term “Dark night of the soul” and François Fenelon, who wrote Spiritual Progress. And of course, the wise and witty newspaperman, G. K. Chesterton, most famous for his classic Orthodoxy.
Room for differences
The Body of Christ has been divided over theological issues since the earliest organized Church. We will never completely agree on all issues. There are many doctrines in the Catholic Church that I cannot agree with, but there are also many beliefs in Protestant denominations that I cannot agree with either. I don’t agree with everything my own denomination teaches. I even find myself arguing with myself!
But I am so grateful for the many and varied members of the Church universal who have enriched my spiritual life.
Jesus himself prayed for unity among his followers:
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (John 17:20-21).
Could it be that the world does not know Jesus because our theological and doctrinal differences have created a divided Body of Christ? Perhaps we need a Restoration Day posting our common beliefs on Facebook. (How ’bout an “Eighteen Theses” based on the Apostles Creed?)
So, on October 31, I will be recognizing Martin Luther and his famous public notice, but I will also be celebrating the faithful men and women who preserved and promoted the faith for over 1,500 years prior to the Reformation, and all those who lived out the teachings of Jesus Christ. I embrace you as my brother or sister.
Copyright © 2017 James N. Watkins
Photo: Public Broadcasting System
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