Let me propose an outrageous suggestion. The 16th century Reformers of the church had good cause to protest against a church that was drunk on power and greed and which had largely reduced the faith to economics and political manipulation. While they did not mean to create a parallel church called Protestant this was how history panned out for reasons too numerous to mention here. The church in the West has since been fragmented into many denominations which has weakened its voice in the world and which is a falling away from Jesus’ promise “that you may be one”.
After 480 years or so the Protestant experiment has run out of steam and its reason for being has largely evaporated due to the reform of the Roman church. There is now a large consensus among professional theologians both Protestant and Catholic about the centre of the faith and this consensus is growing.
The question is: why do Protestants remain separated after most of the reasons for their separation have disappeared?
I was stimulated to write this article after reading a sermon by Stanley Hauerwas (yes, him again!) on Reformation Sunday. He admits that he does not like this fixture on the Protestant calendar because it tends to celebrate a dark event in the history of the Church, the schism in which we stand today.
While Protestants celebrate the things gained in the Reformation, often things that the Roman Church has also now caught up with, there is little mention of the things we have lost. The first is obvious, it is the unity promised by the Lord. Hauerwas expands:
I often point out that at least Catholics have the magisterial office of the Bishop of Rome to remind them that disunity is a sin. You should not overlook the significance that in several important documents of late, John Paul II has confessed the Catholic sin for the Reformation. Where are the Protestants capable of doing likewise? We Protestants feel no sin for the disunity of the Reformation. We would not know how to confess our sin for the continuing disunity of the Reformation. We would not know how to do that because we have no experience of unity.
Once the break with Rome had occurred the Protestant church found itself prey to the philosophical movements of modernity initiated by the philosophies of Descartes, Hobbes and Locke that undermined all received authority and produced the man who was his own orthodoxy.