Is the Reformation over?

Al Mohler asks the question on his website in light of yet another Episcopal priest entering into the Church.

He says that it isn’t and I say that it isn’t, but for two very different reasons. Mohler believes that as long as sola fide is preached, the Reformation is there. He says that:

But is the Reformation on its last gasp? Not where the Gospel is prized and preached. Not where a repudiation of justification by faith alone is known to be a repudiation of the Gospel itself — and to be a heresy that has lasted far more than 500 years.

The last point is confusing – as if 500 years of existence means an idea is no longer heretical. Can you imagine clerics of the 9th century saying, “Way to go Arianism, you made it!! Let’s drop this whole ὁμοούσιος business!”? I cannot. Secondly, the Reformation will continue as long as people believe they are their own hermeneutical authority. So long as people are fully convinced that they can, outside of the context of the historical community which Christ Himself founded, interpret the Scriptures rightly, the Reformation will continue.


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4 responses to “Is the Reformation over?

  1. If I may point out from the opposite direction, neither does age equate to correctness. The question I bring to this: did the reformers or the catholic church in the centuries prior to their emergence stray from the apostles and church fathers in their teachings concerning justification and sanctification in Christ? Basically, are we adhering to what Vincent of Lérins put forth:

    “Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly ‘Catholic,’ as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality, antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.”

    Do we apply that standard to the councils and edicts between the 5th and 15th centuries and then also to the protestant movements post-reformation?

  2. Joshua McManaway

    Hey Steve,

    I see your point, but do you think Vincent is including Arianism, Monophysitism, Donatism, etc? Even Augustine notes that there are schismatics who hold to orthodox beliefs – they just happen to be schismatic. I don’t see how the Vincentian canon can work outside of the historical Church.

    I also agree that the argument “older = better” is flawed, which is why I would never make that claim. I will say that in the case of the Church, the only Church founded by Christ is the right one. I’m obviously compelled by Scripture, history, and my own conscience to believe that the Catholic Church is that historical Church, but I respect the fact that others disagree.

    My point was that without some hermeneutical authority, Protestantism is destined to continue fragmenting into smaller and smaller sects, thus perpetuating the Reformation. I saw this all the time at Southeastern. For one, nearly every Baptist church I’ve ever attended has split when half of the members disagreed with the pastor on any given issue. To whom could that local community appeal when they had disagreements concerning Scripture? No one. So they just split up. Secondly, students at Southeastern were basically pressured to create their own private theologies whole cloth in their first year of studies. Because there were no creeds or anything like creeds to govern theological reflection, we had a lot of unintentional heresy running around. And when I say ‘heresy’, I mean things like accidental Arianism or Monophysitism. I don’t think that sort of stuff will stop until there’s a return to the historical Church of Christ.

  3. You are correct that the Vincentian canon cannot work outside the historical church. It comes down to what is the historical church. I will submit that all three entities of the church—Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant—are not fully within the boundaries of that canon. While it is true all three would affirm the first four ecumenical councils (if I remember my church history), I submit those same three have all built up some doctrines and traditions incorrectly.

    Attempting to use “tradition” as Paul used it in 1 Cor 11 and to be impartial here but possibly not doing either so well, Orthodox and Catholic branches set emphasis on church tradition, while Protestants set it on sola scriptura. Both are incorrect since scripture and tradition are to be keeping each other in check. One can lead to a monolithic entity that is unwilling to turn when a mistake is made, and the other leads to splintering because every man does what is right in his own eyes.

    Did I muddy the waters, or has the cleared it? Or both?

  4. Joshua McManaway


    Thanks for your comments. I can’t speak for the Orthodox, but I can say that Catholics are not sola traditione like Protestants are sola Scriptura. The Catholic Church has always been prima Scriptura, but Scripture doesn’t make much sense apart from the Tradition which guides the Church in her interpretation. This is an argument used as early as Irenaeus.

    I don’t subscribe to the idea that the Church has a lot of branches. I think she is unified in her faith, which includes teachings. I can’t rightly live out Matthew 18.15-17 in a Church that is not in actuality unified. What does it matter if my parish treats a Presbyterian as a tax collector and a pagan?

    I think most mainline Protestants may agree with the Christology of the first four councils, but certainly not the ecclesiology.

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