Must the Reformation Wars Continue? (Twenty-Two)

UnknownIn this my final post in this series I wish to note that the way forward is for Protestants and Catholics to get to know one another much better. Out of dialogue we can learn to say very simple things and not initially major on trying to tease out all the details until we first build trust. Disagreement should not be ignored but disagreement must be addressed in the right context and manner.

Regarding the Council of Trent – which was quoted by several in the original post I responded to as saying: “Let anyone who says that we are saved by faith alone be anathema.” The actual quote is: “If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Session VI, Canon 12). The blog commenter has replaced “nothing else than confidence in divine mercy” with “faith.” I do not accept this substitution as equivalent. “Nothing else than” is an important qualifier. I do have significant discomfort with the statement in the Council of Trent (pronouncing people as “anathema” sounds harsh to the 21st century ear) but this does match the flavor of the times in the mid-1500s.

But shouldn’t the Catholic Church repent and formally renounce what it said at Trent? This is how some conservative Protestants still argue these points.

Do we even agree that Trent intended to anathematize the Reformers personally or ideas they attributed to them? The Catholic Church has not evolved away from this position over time but it has clarified that this type of statement was meant to protect the church from serious “errors” that could infect the faithful. But some zealous non-Catholics still insist: “The Catholic Church must repent of Trent, and of papal infallibility, and many other things.” Saying “the war is over” (as I have argued) is to throw away the hard fought gains of the Reformation they argue.

But I must ask: “What should the Protestant Church repent of and how?”

Fundamentalism? Biblicism? Prosperity gospel? The list goes on . . .

To which another replies, “But not all Protestantism was involved in those things. It is not a single institution.”

Another respondent adds, “My point is that papal infallibility prevents repentance (most importantly of Trent, which was a repudiation of the Gospel). I’m not aware of any Protestant doctrines which forbid repentance. The difference is that those were not the official teachings of Protestantism.” After all they are criticized by other Protestant streams. They then reason, “The Catholic positions mentioned earlier are its official teachings.”

Michael Mercer rightly added, “The RCC is a much bigger tent and much more diverse than some of these comments recognize.”

But fervent appeals are still being made to Galatians 1:6-9.

Grace alone, and faith in God’s grace alone “drives the train” says one. Another notes, “I am increasingly hearing people say things like, ‘If your life doesn’t display a submission to Christ in your behavior, you’re in fact not a Christian.’”

Another writer in the original Michael Mercer blog section adds:

While this may have a spark of James in it (or Trent, for that matter) I think it really gets away from grace and becomes spiritual-bullying, even works-righteousness, while boldly proclaiming “grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone” – and meanwhile denouncing the Catholics for what’s perceived as their stand on faith vs. works, which should never be “versus” in the first place. As we know, Luther couldn’t stand the Epistle of James. It’s not surprising that we, as his descendants, can’t relate to that offending part of the Council of Trent.

A Lutheran answers this respondent by saying:

He sanctifies us, lock, stock and barrel. We do . . . nothing. Nothing benefits us in the eyes of God toward our justification . . . or sanctification. Maybe that is why St. Paul wrote, “He who began a good work in you, will wait for you to complete it.” Wait a minute  . . . is that right?

If you pay attention to all of this you can readily see that the debate can get conflicted and nasty. No wonder so many are confused. I suggest we do the following:

1. Create opportunities for us to talk and listen.

2. Learn to love and draw people into Christ and his presence rather than repel them by an argument-based culture.

3. Learn how to rightly understand 16th century language if you are going to debate it.

4. Read modern attempts by the various churches to talk to one another and see how it can be done well.

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