When I was in Pentecostal circles the most significant holiday on the calendar may have been Pentecost(al) Sunday, which rivaled Christmas and eclipsed Easter in hype. Sometimes the emphasis was on the democratizing work of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem a couple thousand years ago, but more often than that it was on the birth of the Pentecostal Movement about one hundred years ago. I don’t consider myself Pentecostal anymore, but I am grateful for the moving and shaking brought by Pentecostalism to Christianity. That being said, what happened at Azusa Street in 1906 doesn’t seem to me to be superior to what happened on the Day of Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension. I fear that sometimes Pentecostals forget what the Spirit has done by bringing millions of people into the family of God over the last two thousand years. Instead, they celebrate what makes them different from Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, and everyone else whom they don’t consider to be “Spirit-filled”.
Likewise, when I see how some speak of Reformation Sunday it worries me that it is far too easy to move from glorifying God to celebrating ourselves. My local church did not mention Reformation Sunday at all, so I am not speaking first hand here, but I am cautioning. How ironic would it be that a church spends a Sunday rejoicing over how they found a more correct doctrine than their Roman Catholic neighbors while the Catholics down the street celebrate Eucharist, consuming our Lord Jesus Christ, worshiping him.
Whatever may be special about Reformation Sunday must come back to Christ. It cannot be a celebration of schism. That aspect must be mourned. We must pray for Christ’s body to be one, even if that is merely an eschatological hope at this juncture. Nothing comes to mind at this moment, but I do ask churches who celebrate Reformation Sunday (which seems to be growing in popularity if social media is any indication of trends) to make sure that this day doesn’t turn into one where we pat ourselves on the back for being “right” while being wrong about how this day should be remembered. For those who respect and honor Calvin, Knox, Luther, Wycliffe, Zwingli, and others must remember that they were fighting for the church to return from corruption to Christ. If Christ is the center of your Reformation Sunday, celebrate! If not, reconsider.
Earlier today Anthony Bradley wrote the following (see here):
While I know many Protestants will not find this popular there is something about this with which I agree. Obviously, since I am not a Roman Catholic there must be something about the Reformation that I affirm. Nevertheless, though I am not a Catholic this does not mean that I am not catholic. I am thankful for the reform that occurred in the church, but I am not sure that I am willing to celebrate considering it resulted in a schism.
As Bradley notes one of the few “quoted” prayers we have from the mouth of Jesus is found in John 17.20-23 which reads:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (NIV)
Unless we Protestant are willing to denounce our Catholic brothers and sisters as heretical, and unless Catholics are willing to denounce us Protestant brothers and sisters as heretical, there is really no self-justification for not trying to come as close together as possible. Yes, we disagree on how the Eucharist functions, but we affirm the Eucharist, we affirm the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. We were all baptized into one Spirit. When I ponder this there is only one way that I can celebrate Reformation Day: God, make us one as your Son, Jesus Christ, prayed.
Update: Fourteen years ago Stan Hauerwas said something similar. See here.
Diana Butler Bass wrote this interesting paragraph in A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story:
Even though Protestants view the Reformation as a success, the events of the sixteenth century unleashed a host of problems with which Christians had to grapple. To say, for example, that the Word of God acted as spiritual and theological authority for life created problems: Whose interpretation of the word was correct? How could a believer adjudicate between conflicting view of scripture? What happened when those in authority contradicted each other? And even worse, when those authorities–all claiming to be Christian–persecuted or went to war with each other, what then? The Reformation eroded traditional sources of authority and unity in Europe, opening Christian communities to questions and concerns unimagined by the medieval church. As the questions provoked many different answers, they also provoked warfare. Catholic kings challenged Protestant princes over territorial claims, and those in authority–whether Protestant or Catholic–crushed heresy and heterodoxy within their own borders. (p. 213)
Alister McGrath has dedicated an entire book to answering a question like this one when he wrote Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution from the Sixteenth to the Twenty-First Century. It is a question of hermeneutics, of the authority to interpret the Scriptures. It may be the most poignant criticism of Protestantism that we have splintered the church into pieces over various interpretations of nearly every next imaginable. Should we still consider the results of the Reformation a success?