3 Questions for Protestants

BibleOnPulpit34I have three questions for my Protestant/Evangelical/Reformed/Anglo-Catholic/Pentecostal/non-RC Western Christian brethren!

These questions aren’t the beginnings of a debate, and I’m not going to come back at you with OH MY GOODNESS COULD YOU BE MORE WRONG????

So please, feel free to write what actually think. And if you’ve never thought about these questions, please tell me that too.

Catholic compatriots, please DO NOT argue in the comments below, even (particularly) if you think people are spectacularly wrong. I don’t care if you’re St Francis de Sales himself, this is not the time. There is a time for rigorous debate, but there is also a time for listening.

Listening time starts NOW. (And this is ma blog, no?)

Ok, so my three questions are:

What was the purpose of the Reformation?

Is the Reformation over? (i.e. has it achieved it’s purpose?)

When will the Reformation be over? (i.e. what will achieving it’s purpose look like?)

Protestants, please, let me know what you think and how you understand the Reformation — I’m curious, listening and love you all to bits!

Catholics, if you have Protestant friends who might be interested, please consider sharing this post with them. I want as many perspectives as I can get my hands on!


  1. Bonnie says

    In the interests of full disclosure: I’m from the United States. Grew up in Protestantism (Baptist and Lutheran mostly), drifted into paganism as a young adult then back into Protestantism, then finally converted to Roman Catholicism in 2010. I’ve attended more types of Protestant churches than I can remember.

    What was the purpose of the Reformation?
    Honestly, no one ever talked about it or seemed to care that “protest” was part of the “type” of church we were. The only people who ever asked these types of questions were people who were either trying to convert us to some other (non-Christian) religion or were trying to convince us God wasn’t real. If pressed, the Protestants of my growing up years would have said something along the lines of “to correct the abuses of the Catholic Church and to go back to how Jesus would have done it” (this is how I personally would have responded at the time I identified as Protestant). As an adult, when I drifted back into Christianity, most people would have said either “what Reformation?” or “ask a history professor.”

    Is the Reformation over? (i.e. has it achieved it’s purpose?)
    This would depend upon which Protestant denomination you’re talking to. The established denominations (Lutheran, Baptist, etc) would probably say “yes” (this would have been my response as a child). The newer denominations (especially the emerging churches, those who profess the “Prosperity gospel”, and the Mega-churches) would say they are still reforming Christianity. As an adult Protestant I would have told you that this was one of the questions I was still trying to answer.

    When will the Reformation be over? (i.e. what will achieving it’s purpose look like?)

    Again, depends upon the denomination. Most would say to attend a service and you’d see what it looked like (the more evangelical the denomination, the more emphatic this response would be!). The more anti-Catholic denominations would say that the Reformation was over when the Catholic Church was crushed. Thankfully, most of the people sitting in the pews were less violent. They would have said something along the lines of “when everyone is saved” or “when everyone is Christian.” As a child, I would have said it was over. As an adult Protestant I would have said I was still searching for that answer

    Fortunately, all that searching led me to the Catholic Church!

  2. says

    Like Bonnie, I’m a recent Catholic convert, from previous lives in Anglican, Pentecostal and Charismatic-Evangelical churches. From what I remember:

    1. The purpose of the Reformation was to rid the Church of false religious elements which had corrupted Her during previous centuries, and to put the Bible into the hands of every Christian

    2. It happened in the past, culminating in the teaching of Calvin. Since then, its [BTW Laura, no apostrophe in ‘its’!] principles have needed constant defending and assertion against misguided Arminians like Wesley or those trying to reintroduce Catholic practices. Or wacky Pentecostals. And loads of others straying from sound Reformed doctrines

    3. That will keep being necessary – in fact increasingly so, as we approach the end times with much deception around and a prophesied single world leader forcing unity on all believers.

    Overall, followers of Calvin etc teach that the Catholic Church is not authentically Christian, but some individual Catholics are ‘saved'; on the other hand, the Catholic Church is usually admired for its social moral stances

    • says

      Thanks John! Ugh, this is what happens when I write quickly and the publish at midnight when I really should be in bed! My apologies. :) Thanks for your answers, they’re very helpful! :)

  3. Mark Earngey says

    Hey Laura …. We must meet up and do a book swap!!

    Enjoying your blog btw :)

    Ok, answers.
    1) To reform the doctrines of the RC church according to Scripture.
    2) Nope. Not yet.
    3) When the RC church brings it key doctrines back in line with the written Word of God (e.g., justification, sacramental theology, etc).

    • says

      Thanks Mark — we totally do!! I’ll jump over to facebook and we’ll figure something out! Great, clear answers too. :) If you’re up for it, can you tell me whether you think justification and sacramental theology are the two most important issues or just two among several, or indeed many others. But no worries if not — this helps too! :)

      • Mark says

        Super… let’s get on FB and tee up a time to meet. You must meet our little Gracie – she’s gorgeous! … Oh, in answer to your Q: Well, justification and sacramental theology were two of the biggies of the reformation (even though strangely and sadly, the latter isn’t viewed with nearly as much seriousness in mainline protestant circles today), so that’s why I noted them.

        Eek, “most important” is a very difficult phrase to answer on. I suppose it assumes a little that the reformation was a monolithic movement, which is wasn’t. It was all a bit haphazard: take Luther and justification, Cranmer (and of course Henry!) and the doctrine of repentance (or the temporal rule of Godly princes in Henry’s case), and of course you’ve got all the earlier antecedents like Wycliffe, Hus, and the Lollards in England and the RC denial of the written Word of God in the vernacular language.

        However, if “most important” refers to a judgement call today in a post-Vatican II world, then that’s another matter. To my mind, the teaching of the Bible concerning justification by faith alone is still the article by which the church stands or falls.

  4. Lauren Matkin Jackson says

    I just want to say thank you for this blog. I so appreciate your realness in the way you write and express yourself. I’ve recently found your blog and spent about a week reading as much of it as I possibly could. It’s been feeding my hunger in my quest to solidify my own theology and ecclesiology.

    I grew up in an Episcopalian-recently-turned-Anglican church and I’m currently attending a Evangelical Charismatic Bible school. I’m a mystery to my friends because I regularly attend mass at a monastery, feed myself on Catholic literature, and attend an Anglo-Catholic church on Sundays (which is weird to those who don’t get that liturgy is more than just standing and kneeling over and over and repeating things after a priest). And these following are some of my not quite fully formed thoughts on the Reformation:

    I’ve actually begun thinking about these questions myself recently. And I think the main issue with the Reformation is that it didn’t actually do what it was meant to do. To reform something is to fix it from the inside. And the Protestant Reformation, the way most people talk about it, wasn’t actually a reformation which is why we have to tag the word Protestant on the front so we know what we’re talking about. The Protestant Reformation was really more like a Protestant schism. I think that the main issues Luther had were that he thought all believers should be able to read the Bible and that priests should stop telling people that they can buy forgiveness. Which were both worked out in the RC later on. So the reformation I think Luther was seeking happened later than he was hoping and he just caused a schism that won’t quit hundreds of years later.

    In answer to your third question, I think the Church will find herself in true unity at the end of the age when Jesus comes back. I don’t have any idea what it will look like exactly though. If we look at reformation as changes in the Body of Christ in our journey towards being pure and spotless before Him, then the reformation will never be over.

    • says

      Thanks Lauren, both for commenting and reading! I enjoyed your thoughts, and I agree that true unity won’t happen until the Jesus returns. Thanks again and God bless you on your journey! :)

  5. Lisa Pippus says

    In the interests of disclosure I was raised as a pastor’s kid in a non-denominational evangelical church, floated through a variety of charismatic churches and the house church movement through my twenties, and am now engaging in a slow and careful process towards joining the Catholic church while remaining incredibly grateful for the rich traditions of faith in which I’ve spent the past three decades of my life. I should also probably add that before I moved into a career in nursing, my first university degree was in European religious history, focusing particularly on the reformation/post-reformation period.


    The purpose of the reformation was initially for Martin Luther to challenge what he saw as either inaccuracies or corruptions of the doctrine of the roman catholic church at the time. It should be noted that Luther did not initially intend to cause a schism in the church, but rather desired to see reform happen from within the bounds of the church. However, the response of the church ultimately led to Luther’s radicalization, and unfortunately to schism. It should be noted that Luther’s reformation did in fact spark a series of reforms and renewals in the Catholic church, commonly referred to by historians as the “counter-reformation.” It’s a pretty multi-faceted and complicated process and since it’s been a while since I spent time in the history books, I think I’m going to end this particular answer here, rather than say something that I would later have to look up and discover is inaccurate.

    The question of whether or not the reformation is over is a bit challenging and I think depends on who you ask. Since there are no hundreds of thousands of protestant denominations, all claiming to hold truth (and I believe all holding at least portions of Christ’s truth), I would say that no, generally speaking the reformation isn’t over. I also agree with the commenter who said that the church is always in need of reform. That said, if we’re talking about Luther’s specific goals of reformation – particularly to change the way the medieval church handled the sale of indulgences and internal corruption, than I think it could be argued that in this way the reformation truly is over, since these particular goals were met.

    • says

      At a complete tangent: I’m amazed and impressed that schism didn’t happen with St Francis. He had as radical a reforming zeal as any later Reformer. It says a lot about him and the Pope at the time. Also, it may suggest the later Protestant schism had as much to do with European politics at the time, as with matters of faith…

  6. Carla Lute says

    1. To get the Church back on track.
    2. Unfortunately no. I think there’s been significant progress but not quite there yet.
    3. Better education on true church beliefs at the ground level (I know some very well educated Catholics and Protestants but unfortunately not the norm…in general, I think the Catholic Church does a worse job with this, though Protestant churches aren’t completely innocent. I have met way too many Catholics with absolutely no clue what Jesus’s role is.), some more shake off of pagan traditions that have seeped into church practices, denominations merging back together into a unified church.

      • Carla Lute says

        Welcome, I kind of went for bullet points version. I should probably clarify that I’m basing #3 not on new converts, but people who were raised in the church. Protestants raised in the church tend to have a better concept of redemption and the Trinity but are more likely to ignore the rules of the faith, comfort becomes irreverence, freedom from damnation confused with freedom from earthly consequences. Many Catholics I’ve spoken to were under the impression that you got to heaven by being “good”, more good works than bad ones.

        We are saved by grace and not by works; however, we should also be known by our fruits. Ideally the two things would come together.

  7. says

    Hi Laura – Ft Jonathan asked me to pop over and answer these questions as an Anglican Evangelical. Here goes…

    i) To help the Church rediscover the truth that she had forgotten, that Salvation is by grace through faith and is a sovereign work of the election of God.
    ii) Yes and No. Yes, in that the truths have been clearly restated, no in that they always need to be restated.
    iii) When this world burns and the New Heaven and New Earth come into being.

  8. Father Thorpus says

    Since there’s some concern here with labels, here’s mine: Anglican who claims Patristic ecclesiology and hermeneutics, Calvin-o-phile, Lutheran-h8a, Closet Charismatic (oops, secret’s out!), Closet Orthodox Ascetic, (ditto), Fellow Tea-believer, Church historian, Episcopal priest. Found you through Fr. Jonathan.

    This is the kind of question that forces us into doing bad history. Or rather, this is the kind of question that appeals to and only makes sense within the framework of the polemical historical method that is traditionally used by partizans of the Reformation to provide internal support in the struggle against ‘those dirty Romans.’ THE purpose? Whose purpose? What constitutes “the Reformation”? Can you answer a similar question about, say the Civil Rights Movement? The rise of Bulgaria in the Orthodox Church of the early medieval period? The come-back of bell-bottom pants that was constantly foretold when I was a kid but never fully materialized? All of these movements of history simply happened. If you’re going to state what THE purpose of them was, you have to assume a narrative that sees them as morally monolithic to start with. God Planned From The Beginning Of Time For Bell-Bottom Pants To Conquer The Fashion World, etc. Protestant partizans (not to mention blatant heretics like Jehovah’s Witnesses and the LDS) love to do this kind of history – some call it bigotry in academia these days – because it mimics, in their mind, a monolithic biblical narrative, and being involved in a 500 yr long struggle, they love to see themselves as part of a grand moral narrative. It short-cuts critical thinking about one’s own ideas, and who doesn’t love that? Critical thinking is a real drag at Reformation Day parties! This kind of anti-history avoids questions of sin and wrongdoing by one’s own party – because it gives Luther, for instance, a great, grand, biblical End that justifies every Means. It’s moral pragmatism on an epic scale. It’s too convenient by far.

    I don’t think this is a legitimate way for Christians of any kind to look at any part of Church history – especially one in which we all still have skin in the game like the Reformation; and to ask the question this way might make sense to those whose confirmation classes consist of “Rah, Rah, US, Rah, Rah!” but it doesn’t make sense to anyone who acknowledges that the Church exists beyond the horizons of their own denomination. It’s better to speak of what purposes God might have had (in humility, of course) in the course of events as they unfolded. What benefits accrued to the Church through this general movement of events and the lives of people? What detriment? Looking at the last 500 years of Western Church history with some kind of objectivity, was the gain worth the loss? Does the blessing of, say, recovering the Evangelical Faith or a general familiarity with the Bible in local vernacular languages outweigh the very real sins that have accompanied these benefits? What was the relation between the benefits and the sins? Were they necessarily connected? Must they be necessarily connected today? For moral narratives, ask, whether God is pleased with how the Church has used its talents. Wherein ought we to repent? Wherein ought we to rejoice and hold fast to what we have received?

    These questions yield more useful answers for today’s Ecumenism. These questions, far from reinforcing our partizan historical bigotry, reinforce moral humility in the presence of a God who takes responsibility for the movements of human history and dares to guide them toward His designs.

  9. Father Jonathan says

    What was the purpose of the Reformation?

    There are a couple of things that have to be clarified before I can even begin to venture an answer to this question. The first is that the Reformation was not a movement, cause, political party, nor even a theological school. The Reformation is an historical reality. It is the name that we give to a series of events that took place mostly in the sixteenth century in Europe. But, like all history, it cannot really be isolated from the
    large swath of things that took place both before and after that have colored and shaped how we have come to think about it. Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517 makes for a convenient place to mark the event’s beginning, in the same way that the murder of Archduke Ferdinand is a convenient place to locate the beginning of World War I, but one could argue just as easily that it started back with John Huss or that it did not really begin until the Diet of Worms. History is complicated. It rarely fits into a neat little package the way that we would like it to.

    Given this reality, I am not sure that we can really speak of a “purpose” of the Reformation any more than we can speak of a “purpose” of the middle ages or a “purpose” of the Great Depression. The word “purpose” implies agency. But the Reformation is a set of historical events that we have categorized together for the sake of convenience. It has no agency. Nevertheless, like all historical events, it does have causes.

    The two biggest contributors to the Reformation, in my opinion, were corruption within the western Church and the invention of the printing press. There are numerous examples of the first, which even most Roman Catholics today would agree are problematic. The selling of indulgences, rank indecency amongst the clergy as well as their lacking in proper theological education, and an all too cozy relationship in some places between prelates and princes. I would also add one area which we may disagree on, the lack of access which the people had to the Holy Scriptures. Because the Scriptures were a mystery to people, and because the liturgy itself was in a language that people could not understand, the only way they had access to the Gospel was by way of good teaching on the part of their clergy. But given the situations previously mentioned, in many places that was not happening. In fact, the centralization of access to the Scriptures meant that a variety of false teachings were allowed to creep into the every day lives of Christians, some officially sanctioned by Rome and some not. Ignorance largely kept these problems at bay for many years, but with the invention of the printing press, suddenly the Scriptures and the liturgy could be put into the hands of all Christians. Their rediscovery led to a whole host of events, some good and some bad, that ultimately resulted in a more divided Church in the west than previously existed.

    Is the Reformation over? (i.e. has it achieved its purpose?)

    Again, this question is hard to answer because the Reformation is a series of historical events, not a social treatise. Did the various reformers achieve their personal goals? In some cases yes, in others no. The magisterial reformers, by and large, were not interested in tearing the Church apart. They wanted to reform it, not destroy it. Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer all saw their task as reform, not reinvention. I think they would mourn the ongoing division in the Church today as much as Catholics do. In fact, I think they would be far more troubled by what they would see in today’s “Evangelical” churches than anything that they would see happening in the Roman Church.

    On the other hand, there is no turning back the clock when it comes to making the Scriptures available to all people in their own language. Many of the reformers would be quite pleasantly surprised, I think, to see the ways in which the second Vatican Council adopted practices that were re-introduced by the Reformation. Liturgy in the vernacular, access to the common cup, and an encouragement for all Christians to read their Bibles are all “Protestant” ideas that Rome has now gladly adopted despite having strongly objected to them in the past. This only further underlines the fact that the Reformation cannot simply be ignored or overturned, even by Roman Catholics. It is in the air we breathe now. It is a part of our common history as Christians.

    When will the Reformation be over? (i.e. what will achieving its purpose look like?)

    Any kind of reuniting of the western Christian Church, which I pray for daily, would have to find a way to honor the Reformation. It is simply an abuse of history that some Roman apologists today go about saying that the Reformation was some terrible heretical schism that should have never happened while simultaneously enjoying the fruits of the Reformation every time they go to Mass and actually have a clue what is going on there.

    One of the things that sustains me as a Catholic within the Anglican tradition is that I am free to acknowledge the fact of the division of the western Church and to work from there for unity, rather than having to start from a place of assumption that my church is the only true one and that unity can therefore only be achieved through the swallowing up of everyone else.

    At the same time, I think unity will require Protestants of various stripes to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Roman Church as A true church, even if it is not THE true church. There are still far too many folks in the Reformed world particularly who hang onto the notion that Rome is the whore of Babylon and that there will be no real unity until the
    Vatican is sold wholesale and all the bishops are dumped out on the front lawn. It is, again, one of the joys of being an Anglican that we have strenuously disagreed with what we have seen historically to be abuses of Rome but have never denied the validity of the Roman Church as a church nor labeled the pope as the anti-christ in our confessions.

    I agree with those who have said that, in a sense, reformation is never over this side of the eschaton, because the Church is made up of sinners who will always be in need of correction and reform. But the historical period we call the Reformation is long over. It is time that we begin the period of Reconciliation. Not a false reconciliation, like that promoted by many “ecumenical” bodies, in which we all agree that doctrine does
    not really matter and boil our faith down to its lowest common denominator, but a true reconciliation, in which we all begin from the perspective of repentance rather than arrogance and acknowledge prayerfully that we need the help of Our Lord to make us one as He intended because we have failed to keep His commandments.

  10. Gadfly says

    Here’s one Baptist’s humble answers.

    1) At its heart, the Reformation was/is the desire to correct error in theology and praxis within the Church, and to see the Church’s teachings and behavior properly aligned with Scripture. The core tenant is that a Christian, regardless of ecclesiastical or hierarchical rank, can look at a church practice or teaching, look at Scripture and make a judgement regarding whether they align. Schism was an unfortunate byproduct, not the goal.

    2) By that definition, the Reformation is not over, nor did it begin with Luther. When the Bereans checked the teachings they heard against scripture (in Acts 17:11), the essence of the Reformation was there in its totality. And last Sunday, when I flipped to the passage my pastor was quoting to see if he missed any context, the essence of the Reformation was there in its totality.

    3) The Reformation will never end until one of two things occurs. Either the Church’s unity will be fully restored, with all true disciples of Christ united within a single assembly of perfect theology and flawless practice… Or Christ will return, a new heaven and new earth will be created, and in the new Jerusalem there will be no more Temple (or church) “because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” I’m sure you can gather which is more likely, in my opinion.

  11. Connelly says

    The purpose of the Reformation was to get rid of things like indulgences, and other corruptions that served only the institution and didn’t help people with salvation or with good conduct in this life. I think in some ways it achieved its purpose by creating a simpler church experience that wasn’t as fully bound up in complex ritual, but some denominations approach ritual more simply than others. Quakers, for example, are aritualistic in their approach. I don’t know if it can be over, exactly, as the process continues, new denominations form, as worshippers often feel that there is either corruption in their church, or that they have questions their church teachings cannot answer to their satisfaction, or if they feel their church is too caught up in either rituals or teachings that seem empty to them. Jesus Himself so often critiques the Pharisees and urged people to live in th Kingdom and recognize the Kingdom’s immediacy. “the Kingdom is all around us, and people do not see it.” Being authentically Christian is a process, a life to be lived more than dogma to absorb or ritual to be followed, and the Reformation was and is an effort to recapture/live out that process.


Let me know what you think!