October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. This event, plus the fact that I was raised in a Lutheran Church and family, led me to accept that the Christian church is comprised of two primary groups; Protestant and Catholic. I carried this view, without giving it a great deal of thought, until after I entered ministry. (Incidentally, I have never pastored a reformation church. Both the Baptist and the Evangelical Free denominations in which I have served, are considered “stepchildren of the Reformation”, for these movements, though strongly impacted by the Reformation, emerged later).
A lot can happen in 500 years and even in five years, for it is about that length of time into my pastoral endeavours that I began to rethink the matter for myself. I can’t remember exactly when, for it was a gradual process rather than a precise point in time.
The culmination of my reflection on the nature of the Christian church led me to a new way of viewing Christendom. Rather than thinking of Christianity as Protestant and Catholic, I divided the church into evangelical/Bible believing (which happens to be my view) and non-evangelical/non-Bible believing (evangelical means to believe in Jesus and His gospel and its teachings – Bible believing means taking the Bible as literally and fully true). This view of Christianity allows for a more equitable, nonjudgmental and sensitive analysis of where individuals stand in their relationship to God, rather than judging them by their denominational label.
From this perspective I have discovered, sometimes to my delight and occasionally to my dismay, that there are people who are evangelical/Bible believing on both sides of the traditional lines of Protestant and Catholic. This in no way presumes full agreement, but it does suggest theological harmony with respect to Jesus being the answer and the Bible being true – both precepts are of course enormously important.
Some churches have a Reformation Sunday service commemorating the Reformation. The Catholic Church, in recent times and in some places, has sent representatives to these services in a spirit of ecumenism.
I have not and probably will not engage in a Reformation Sunday service, but I have on occasion taken time to teach and explain the “Five Solas”, a great five point foundational framework of biblical principles adhered to and taught by the reformers (theopedia.com/five-solas).
“A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing: For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.” Martin Luther