‘Happy’ Reformation Day?

I don’t know if it’s some sort of a response to Halloween (see previous post), but I have been (electronically) wished ‘Happy Reformation Day’ a surprising number of times this morning. I have to say that each time it has jarred slightly.

Part of this is being Baptist, I think; we stand in a more ambiguous relationship to the Reformation than most other protestant traditions. At the very least, we regard it as an imperfect start of something that badly needed completion; most thoughtful Baptists I know, however, would go much further than that, seeing the churches of the Reformation as a different Christian tradition to ours. Our self-narration is generally oriented by the scholarship of the middle of last century, which emphasised the state-church linkage as central to the concerns and progress of the ‘magisterial Reformation’; and which implicitly therefore – or explicitly in the case of Williams, Verdun, and others – located the Free Church tradition at some considerable distance from the Reformed tradition. Whatever we may think of the 95 Theses, Luther’s Address to the Nobility of the German Nation is not a text Baptists can own – there is real good in it (‘…if a little company of pious Christian laymen were taken prisoners and carried away to a desert, and had not among them a priest consecrated by a bishop, and were there to agree to elect one of them, born in wedlock or not, and were to order him to baptise, to celebrate the mass, to absolve, and to preach, this man would as truly be a priest, as if all the bishops and all the Popes had consecrated him’ – and the great company of Baptists said, ‘Amen!’) but the fundamental notion, that it is the job of the magistrate to order the church, is one Baptists will repudiate with some energy.

Even were I not a Baptist, though, I am not sure I could say ‘happy Reformation day’. Surely if Reformation day is to be marked, it should be only partly, at most, in celebration? The church was split, not reformed, by Luther’s intervention. Of course, the recovery and foregrounding of crucial gospel truths should be remembered (and yes, justification sola fide is at least a, if not the, ‘articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae’…) – but is Reformation Day not as much a time to mourn our divisions, to fast and pray that all who are baptised in the triune Name may together confess one Lord, one faith, and one gospel, and share one Eucharist around one table?

‘Happy Reformation Day’ sounds to me like saying ‘Happy Ash Wednesday’ – it is just the wrong salutation.

1 Comment

  1. Graham Watts
    Nov 13, 2013

    Hi Steve,

    I attended St. Martin in the Fields on Reformation Sunday and Sam Wells preached a memorable sermon which resonates with your post. See the link below:

    http://www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org/wp-content/uploads/Oct-27-SW.pdf

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