Anglicans and Reformation Day

#ReformationDay is trending on Twitter but probably not among Anglicans and Episcopalians. For the most part we downplay our tradition’s roots in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. When we blow our own horns (which we do rather too often) we usually mention something about the via media, seeking (or following) a middle road between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. In fact, among contemporary US Episcopalians, the word “Protestant” may even be something of a negative. We want to distinguish ourselves from those low church folks who emphasize sola scriptura.

The fact of the matter is we are Protestants, even if we want to downplay it. Partly the problem is a matter of definition. What do we mean by the term? If we mean some central doctrinal tenets: justification by faith alone, sola scriptura, the priesthood of all believers, we have wandered rather far from our roots, which explains why the 39 Articles have been relegated to the “historical documents” section of the Book of Common Prayer. If by Protestant we mean worship styles and forms of devotion, again, most contemporary US Episcopalians are closer to Roman Catholics than were our ancestors one hundred fifty or two hundred years ago.

But Protestant means many things and has meant many things. In the sixteenth century, the very name Protestant came into existence as a result of a political act. Indeed, the most inclusive (and precise) definition of the term for the sixteenth century may simply be those who rejected papal supremacy.

I’ve written previously on Reformation Day here, here, here, and preached a sermon on it here. If you want some ideas on how to celebrate it, Mary Valle offered these tips a few years ago:

  •  Temporarily whitewash an unoccupied stone church—au style de Christo à la Jésus,
  •  Have a wine-into-juice station,
  •  Smash molded-sugar plaster saints,
  • Encourage everyone to bring various theses they might have boxed up in the basement—college, master’s, doctoral—and nail them to a selection of old, warped doors.
  • Rip off  “cassocks,” emerging in layman’s polyester suits.
  • Suggested soundtrack: Anything from the Jesus Music era, Bach, or Mendelssohn. Or no music if you want to go that far. You might!

And an image that captures the heart of Martin Luther’s theology and self-understanding:


1 thought on “Anglicans and Reformation Day

  1. There are many things in which Canterbury and Rome have become more similar, especially in the aftermath of the Oxford movement and the liturgical renewals. Rome is even currently blessed with the leadership of one of the truly decent & holy men in it’s ranks. But we remain, I think, rather defiantly Protestant in two particular areas: Magisterium and Ecclesiastical Polity. It is no accident that Richard Hooker remains our defining theologian and that, despite everything, the Prayer Book is still in every pew.

    I think I’ll keep standing in the middle of the road.

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