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Engraving of the martyrdom of Master Hooper

Theology Thursday: Was the Reformation a tragedy?

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Posted by Ros Clarke, 7 Sep 2017

In the spring 2000 edition of Churchman, Gerald Bray answers this question with characteristic clarity and energy, pointing out that while violence and persecution between Catholics and Protestants is to be deplored, the theological divergence continues to be both real and significant.

In this 500th anniversary year, once again the question of whether the Reformation should be celebrated or deplored has reared its head. Many would prefer to draw a veil over the violent extremes associated with both Catholics and Protestants in the sixteenth century. Ongoing animosity, persecution and even warfare between opposing groups both claiming the name of Christ must surely bring the gospel into disrepute of the worst kind.

Gerald Bray, editor of Churchman, answers the question in this article from the spring 2000 edition of the journal, observing the small but significant trend of evangelicals turning to Roman Catholicism and indeed, Eastern Orthodoxy. He asks whether Protestantism is truly a deficient form of Christianity, acknowledging its own issues of corruption and indiscipline. But, sweeping a wide path through church history, Bray clearly demonstrates that the Reformation gospel of faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone is the true and saving gospel.

 evangelical Protestantism cannot be regarded as an inadequate form  of  Christianity.  On  the  contrary,  it  would be  better  to  say  that  it  is  the  most  fully developed theological understanding of our faith  which has yet  appeared

Asking what next, he argues that dialogue between evangelicals and Catholics is never likely to get very far, and that co-operation, so far as it is possible, and respect are the best we should be aiming for.

In the 17 years since this article was written, the clamour for unity with the Roman Catholic church has only grown. This article is well worth reading to understand why such unity is not only unlikely, it is also undesirable.

Ros Clarke is the Associate Director of Church Society

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