Happy Reformation Day, or What the Catholic Church Got Right

October 31st has just passed us by, reminding me that ever since I was a little kid, long before I knew the Lord, I hated Halloween. Here in Israel, no one does Halloween, and for that I am very grateful. But there’s something else that make’s October 31st notable, it is Reformation Day, and we’re coming up on the 500th anniversary of the original occasion.

On October 31st 1517, Martin Luther presented his 95 Theses to the Archbishop of Mainz, outlining the objections he had (based on his reading of the Bible) to the practices and theology of the Catholic Church. The legend that he nailed them to the door of a Church in Wittenberg might or might not be true, but it definitely makes a better story.

In any case, this sparked what history would call the Protestant Reformation, so called because Luther and others first “protested” against the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church and then “reformed” it, mostly by throwing out those practices they thought were not supported by the Bible.

Sadly, the reformers kept plenty of nonsense, including institutional anti-Semitism, Replacement Theology… and Halloween.

Over the centuries, some of these practices were called into question, and other new questions were raised. This led to further reforms, but there were also schisms which caused many to tire of arguments over what the Apostle Paul called “sound doctrine” until today, the term “Evangelical Protestant” has become so broad that it now encompasses ideas and doctrines which are not only contradictory, they are mutually exclusive (I won’t even talk about the so-called “Mainline Protestant” churches.)

I’d like to suggest that in the interest of sorting this mess out, some review is in order. Because for all the things the Catholic Church got wrong that the Protestant Reformation correctly threw out, there’s a few things that it might have been a mistake to get rid of and which I think we Protestants ought to take another look at.

The two things I want to focus on in this essay are Church discipline and the related practice of excommunication.

Father Thomas Petri, academic dean of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington D.C., gave us a spectacular example of the first thing recently when he Tweeted that Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine was not welcome to take communion in his church because he “thinks abortion is fine and women should be priests. He’s either poorly catechized or a dissenter. Self-identified Catholics are not a ‘thing’ in Catholicism. If you don’t believe our central tenets, you’re not Catholic.”

Putting aside the political and even theological dimensions of this situation for a moment, think about the small but growing number of self-described Evangelical Protestant leaders who have, just for example, endorsed homosexual marriage and/or endorsed the BDS movement against Israel.

These leaders turn Romans 12:2’s command to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” on its head, telling us instead that the Church will never reach the world for Christ until we stop trying so hard to be obedient to what the Bible tells us is the Will of God, and instead accept, endorse and participate in what the world is doing in order to “stay relevant.”

Even here in Israel, leaders of our community have spoken out for things that are flatly repudiated by the Word of God. Sometimes they also hold up the fig leaf of “different interpretations of Scripture” and thereby add an insult to our intelligence on top of the injury of trying to lead us into a ditch.

Many of the sheep are outraged and confused by this, but no one says anything. No one has the moral courage to do what Father Thomas Petri did and hold these false teachers accountable for their attitudes and/or behavior which contradicts the Bible.

Which brings me to excommunication.

Excommunication is a practice in the Catholic Church whereby those with pastoral authority can declare a person teaching things and/or engaging in behavior that is outside the boundaries of “sound doctrine” to no longer be a legitimate member of the community. This isn’t done very often, and when it is, it isn’t done lightly. The individual committing the unacceptable behavior is supposed to be given several chances to repent, recant and return to the fold.

In my humble opinion, I Corinthians 5:11 provides the Scriptural basis for this practice, and the Reformers made a mistake by discontinuing it.

To sum up, in order to redeem the term “Evangelical Protestant” so it can once again be used to advance the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Reformation which started on October 31, 1517 needs to continue. I think a good place to start would be to go back and try to find some of the babies that got thrown out with the bathwater, starting with church discipline and the practice of excommunication.