Tag Archives: Protestant

Terry Smith: The Reformation: Over or to Continue?

by Terry M. Smith
In 1999 the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church signed a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Would Martin Luther have signed the statement?

An Anglican professor of mine thought so. Yet it’s said that “more than 45 percent of Lutheran church-bodies in the world did not support the declaration” (LCMS News, Dec. 8, 1999). I suspect Martin Luther would not sign it.

Is the need for the Protestant (Radical) Reformation over? The Roman Catholic Church is a diverse body and changes have happened since Vatican II and, now, with Francis I. What now?

Much can, for instance, be learned from Raymond E. Brown in New Testament study and on social justice from Walter J. Burghardt—both Jesuits. Such examples could be multiplied. Some works of Catholic scholars are within my library and I benefit from them. I am not alone in this among EMC ministers.

Around the world, priests, monks, nuns, and many other Catholics are involved in helpful ministries in ways almost beyond counting. Catholics have suffered and died in many settings because they have followed Jesus. It would be unfair to view their many efforts, motivations, personal theology, and discipleship in simple terms: since some of Roman Catholic teaching is wrong, they can’t really be following Jesus.

Is, then, the need for the Protestant Reformation over? My answer is no. Here’s why in part:

  • An EMC worker in northern Canada says a Bible Club team was “amazed and amused to see the people being pressured into buying their Indulgences now with quick and simple payments from their Visas and MasterCards.”
  • Our EMC cross-cultural workers in various countries encounter folk forms of Catholicism with mixtures of beliefs. A focus on Christ, his grace, and discipleship are key markers for our workers.
  • Indulgences are still being issued.
  • U.S. evangelical theologian Roger Olson recently wrote of participating in Protestant-Roman Catholic dialogues. At one, after suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church needed to become less exclusive and learn from Protestants, he found himself uninvited (see his blog, Is the Roman Catholic Church Catholic Enough? Oct. 27, 2017).

The settings and climate might have changed somewhat, but the theological concerns of 16th century Protestants in Europe remain relevant today.

Others, often Protestants, say, “The Reformation must continue.” How so? If it means that the Protestant Reformation’s concerns must be used today to examine our faith in life, yes, it should continue.

However, “The Reformation must continue” is a slogan that can be used to set aside key doctrines of our Christian faith. Used in this way, the slogan does not adequately respect or continue the earlier Protestant (Radical) Reformation’s focus on Christ, his grace, and discipleship.

Are Christians in Canada today as aware of doctrine as believers were in the 16th century in Europe? A blanket statement seems unhelpful. There are, though, some reasons for concern.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

We do well to consider carefully what we think and practice. For instance, some funerals seem to be services of celebration with a confidence that nearly everyone, if not everyone, goes to heaven. A common thought among Canadians seems to be: If there is a God and if there is a heaven, then good people go there and likely all people get there. In what way does this match or contradict biblical and classic Christian teaching?

 

Terry Smith: A History We Stand Upon

by Terry M. Smith

This year, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s presentation of his 95 Theses. It was a protest to uphold Christ’s grace within Roman Catholic teaching and practice.

Luther’s protest led to the Protestant Reformation, and, within that, the Radical Reformation. Anabaptists are linked to both parts. That’s why referring to the Protestant (Radical) Reformation illustrates that one is housed within the other. Our indebtedness is to the whole and to the particular.

This year the Lutheran World Federation is celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Also this year the Mennonite World Conference is also starting a multi-year study of the Reformation. In gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ, in 2017 we will celebrate the Protestant (Radical) Reformation through lead articles and vignettes.

Neither Luther nor Menno wanted part of the Christian Church to be named after them. It is enough to be called Christian, a high and holy calling. Sadly, the churches that developed under their leadership would, over centuries, be critical of each other. One would persecute the other.

Remarkably, the Lutheran World Federation recently apologized for the persecution of

Anabaptists by its forebears and Mennonite World Conference responded with forgiveness. It was a time of reconciliation, tears, and joy.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Reflecting on the Church then and now, on both our indebtedness and modern challenges, is complex. The task, with prayer, is necessary.

“And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:14-15).