Celebrating the Reformation, as a 500th anniversary invites us to do, isn’t necessarily a straightforward affair. Even those of us who have robust confidence in the rightness of Protestant doctrine, who feel profound gratitude to the reformers, and whose entire Christian lives have been lived within the good heritage of Reformation churches, can nevertheless worry that somewhere around the third “hip, hip, hooray,” we might be in danger of giving the wrong impression.
The wrong impression would be the sectarian, clannish, hooray-for-our-team impression. It would be bad enough if our Reformation celebration looked like an excuse to mark the boundary between the Protestant us and the Roman Catholic them. But even worse would be a Reformation celebration that looked like an excuse to mark the boundary between 1517 and all that went before it. There is such a thing as chronological clannishness that divides Christian history into fourths and then celebrates the final quarter alone.
Protestants ought to say that this kind of centuries-segregating sectarianism is uncatholic: It fails to be universal in its intent, and it ignores the completeness of the entire Christian tradition. Universal, complete, and entire are of course the proper meanings of the word catholic. So although it may sound odd to our conventional connotations, it’s actually not contradictory at all to say that the Reformation ought to make us catholic.