Celebrating the Reformation?
The year 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. In some ecumenical circles the chosen word is not ‘celebration’ but ‘commemoration’. Official Roman Catholicism, for example, even the post-Vatican II and ecumenically-minded version of it, can only commemorate it.
But is the standing legacy of the Reformation to be commemorated only? Is the call to go back to the Scriptures not to be celebrated? Is a Christ-centered, grace-depending, God-exalting faith not to be celebrated but only remembered?
In some Protestant circles there may be the risk of approaching the 500th anniversary as if it were a ‘pride’ parade, which is so common nowadays. The temptation is to idolise the Reformation as if it were a ‘golden age’ of the Church. This would be totally contrary to what the Reformers stood for and would run against the best of the Evangelical Protestant heritage. While celebrating God for the great things that the Reformation brought back to the Church, a biblical faith should always be self-critical and honest, never indulging in self-celebration.
In 2008 David Wells wrote a book whose title indicates a more fruitful way to honour the Reformation: The Courage to be Protestant. It takes courage to live under the Word of God and to speak prophetically, act in a priestly way, and live as a kingdom people. In today’s ecumenical world, when unity is in danger of being idolised, it takes courage to affirm that the Bible stands over tradition and the Church, that Christ is the only mediator, that grace is all you need for your salvation, and that God is a jealous God. Where these courageous Christians are, there the Reformation will be adequately celebrated. Otherwise, it will only be commemorated.