It is customary in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), as well as other Protestant denominations, to observe Reformation Day on October 31, the day that Martin Luther made public his 95 theses about the church. This year, Reformation Day falls on a Wednesday, which means that churches will celebrate it on the last Sunday of October.
2017 marked 500 years after the Reformation, and Protestant churches around the country—perhaps around the world—marked the date with celebrations. I think it’s time to let it go.
My own denomination’s website included these words as the church prepared for the 500th anniversary:
As Christians, our faith began with the followers of Jesus. But the beginning of our Christian faith as Presbyterian is in the Reformation. The Reformation marks something significant for us in this part of the universal church: the coalescence of our focus on the Holy Spirit’s ongoing reform of us as a church and as individuals. Martin Luther helps us to understand and acknowledge that the institution of the church is not equal to God. We are called to worship the triune God alone, to claim Jesus Christ as Lord of the church, and to seek the ongoing sanctification of the Holy Spirit.
I don’t disagree with those sentiments; in fact, I wholeheartedly agree. But in this, my last post as a regular contributor to Pray Tell (at least for a season!) I must say that the focus on the Holy Spirit’s ongoing reform of the church is something I believe my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers share. We are all called, Protestant and Catholic alike, “to worship the triune God alone, to claim Jesus Christ as the Lord of the church, and to seek the ongoing sanctification of the Holy Spirit.”
I am proud of my Presbyterian heritage. I’m a Presbyterian all the way down, with strong convictions about the sovereignty of God, Scripture as the ultimate authority, and the priesthood of all believers. I affirm the real presence of Jesus Christ in the sacraments and in preaching. I understand baptism as the entry into the body of Christ, a dying and rising with Christ that does not take place only on one day, but is a lifelong endeavor, complete only in death and resurrection on the last day. I am convinced that Word and Sacrament are two parts of one whole, both essential for the proclaiming, hearing, and living of the gospel. I also believe that women are called to all ministries of the church and that God’s call to ministry in all its forms is not limited by human understandings of gender or sexual identity.
Even while I fully embrace my own Reformed heritage, I give thanks for all that I have learned, and continue to learn, from my Roman Catholic siblings in Christ. I pray for the unity of the church, that we may be one in faith and ministry even if we may never agree on certain theological convictions. In a world torn apart by greed and the thirst for power, we need one another.
I realize that this is an especially painful time for the Roman Catholic church, that the truth-telling around sexual abuse is necessary and erodes trust in the church. I have some sense of the theological battles being waged between those who strive to reclaim certain traditions and those who seek to embrace new ways of being the church. Whatever corner of the church we inhabit, Roman Catholic or Protestant, the challenges are plenty. To my way of thinking, that only strengthens our need to seek unity, to learn from one another, and to discern, together, where God is leading the church of Jesus Christ.
This is the problem with Reformation Sunday. To highlight the Protestant reformation keeps the focus on our differences, rather than our similarities. It not only ignores what we call the “Counter-Reformation” but implies that the Catholic church is not itself reforming over time. We Presbyterians love the phrase semper reformanda and claim that our church is always being reformed; little do we know that Catholic reformers have used the phrase, too!
That is why I won’t be celebrating Reformation Sunday this year, or any year. I may sing “A Mighty Fortress,” but I’ll do so while giving thanks for the universal church into which I have been baptized, the church which God is continually reforming.