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Unread 10-10-2017, 06:54 AM   #1
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The Protestant Reformation -- good, bad, gain, loss

In memory of the Protestant Reformation, which will have occurred exactly 500 years ago in a mere 3 weeks, I think it would be important to discuss the impact of the Reformation on Christianity as a whole.

The good, the bad, the necessary, the avoidable. What was gained, what was lost. A presumption of the discussion of this schism is that there is good intermingled with bad, and we can tease out both, being both appreciative and critical.

I'll start with something brief:

First and foremost, I think what was underappreciated prior to the late middle ages was a thorough distinction between justification and sanctification. By these terms I am not simply talking about distinguishing "the initial point one is saved" and "the ongoing process of becoming holy" (those terms are not so simple; both are already-and-not-yet). Instead, I am talking about how how the means of grace (communion, baptism, preaching, etc.) were seen as constitutive parts of being declared righteous and guiltless of sin.

There is much that could be said about "justification by faith" being the hallmark, but I would argue that the late medieval and early modern christian theological projects involved a development in the doctrines of the Holy Spirit and of sanctification. They both had been given insufficient treatment, and that gave room for clarification, distinctions, and in many cases gross error. Seen in this light, it emphasizes how the Reformation need not be construed as a "break" or liberation from from tradition and what was historically taught, but a divide over how traditional theology ought to grow and develop.

The case for this, I think, isn't hard to establish, given that both Protestant and Catholic theologies were largely Augustinian in soteriology, ecclesiology, etc. etc. Moreover, reading early Reformers, they did not lack patristics sources or had no claim to orthodoxy. Even further, when put in the context of larger theological debates at the time (including Realism, Nominalism about universals; different aspects of doctrine of God; etc.), it becomes more obvious how different strands of Dominican and Franciscan traditions both have representatives in the Reformation -- many have deep affinity with Ockham, Scotus, and Aquinas.

For software geeks, one might think of the Reformation was a juncture of a debate whether there should be a "hard fork." It isn't like the project could stay put without developers, but many on the team thought the managers were hiring the wrong coders, not following the spirit of the best practices, and creating features that were extraneous or conflicting with the stated goal of the software.

What about you? What do you think was gained, lost, or changed in the Reformation? Do you think that the "reformation was successful"? (RCC has become protestant/evangelical enough to re-enter?) We can't turn back time, but what ought the Reformation look like now?

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Unread 10-10-2017, 07:29 AM   #2
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I honestly haven't studied this enough to make any meaningful contribution. Outside of the basics I learned in church history courses in Bible College I am fairly uninformed.

I am eagerly watching this thread in the hopes of learning more.
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Unread 10-10-2017, 09:12 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Leboman View Post
I honestly haven't studied this enough to make any meaningful contribution. Outside of the basics I learned in church history courses in Bible College I am fairly uninformed.

I am eagerly watching this thread in the hopes of learning more.
Don't sell yourself short! I think you can contribute, If, say, you think that there is something compelling or pragmatically useful that the Catholic church has, that Protestantism lost or can never have, that's worth mentioning.

Peter Kreeft (pronunced krayft), a Dutch Calvinist turned Roman Catholic, who gave a talk on Ecumenism, and how the Catholic Church must be the one that welcomes back in Protestant and Orthodox in by being more Christ-like and faithful. He argues there is no other way to be reunified.
Ecumenism [transcription] by Peter Kreeft
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Unread 10-10-2017, 09:29 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by athanatos View Post
Don't sell yourself short! I think you can contribute, If, say, you think that there is something compelling or pragmatically useful that the Catholic church has, that Protestantism lost or can never have, that's worth mentioning.

Peter Kreeft (pronunced krayft), a Dutch Calvinist turned Roman Catholic, who gave a talk on Ecumenism, and how the Catholic Church must be the one that welcomes back in Protestant and Orthodox in by being more Christ-like and faithful. He argues there is no other way to be reunified.
Ecumenism [transcription] by Peter Kreeft
I grew up in the independent church of Christ so I have absolutely NO liturgical background other than singing the Doxology every Sunday as the deacons brought the offering plates back down to the front. That's one thing I appreciate in the RCC. The structure and beauty of the liturgy.
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Unread 10-11-2017, 03:57 AM   #5
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The Christian West didn't start using the Gregorian calendar until 1582, and even then it was mostly Catholic countries. England didn't adopt it until the late 1700's. Therefore, the Reformation didn't actually start three weeks from now 500 years ago, because October 31st on the Julian calendar is actually November 13th on the Gregorian calendar. That's why Old Calendar Christmas (January 6th) is always 13 days after the New Calendar (December 25th).

Sorry to burst y'all's bubbles, but the actual Reformation Day is on November 13th

(I'll have a more substantive reply later)
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Unread 10-11-2017, 06:02 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by IsaactheSyrian View Post
The Christian West didn't start using the Gregorian calendar until 1582, and even then it was mostly Catholic countries. England didn't adopt it until the late 1700's. Therefore, the Reformation didn't actually start three weeks from now 500 years ago, because October 31st on the Julian calendar is actually November 13th on the Gregorian calendar. That's why Old Calendar Christmas (January 6th) is always 13 days after the New Calendar (December 25th).

Sorry to burst y'all's bubbles, but the actual Reformation Day is on November 13th

(I'll have a more substantive reply later)
Actually, Reformation Day is the day they decide to recognize it. Let's not derail the thread by splitting hairs over a calendar that the majority of the world doesn't follow.

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Unread 10-11-2017, 07:06 AM   #7
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It was a joke.
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Unread 10-11-2017, 07:22 AM   #8
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I propose we lock this thread until almost 2 weeks have passed, so that the original post becomes true in the relevant ways.
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Unread 10-11-2017, 07:32 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by IsaactheSyrian View Post
It was a joke.
I put a smiley.

I really was trying to be playful back.

Apologies if it came across the wrong way.
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Unread 10-11-2017, 07:38 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by athanatos View Post
What about you? What do you think was gained, lost, or changed in the Reformation? Do you think that the "reformation was successful"? (RCC has become protestant/evangelical enough to re-enter?) We can't turn back time, but what ought the Reformation look like now?
Here's a couple people who likewise ask the question, whether the the Reformation is "over", insofar as Catholics and Protestants believe basically the same thing about justification and a myriad of other topics. They don't answer directly that it is over, but it is an interesting question, as we reflect on the last 1000 years of divisions.
https://www.amazon.com/Reformation-O.../dp/0801035759
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Unread 10-12-2017, 12:52 AM   #11
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So, the promised post.

First, an apology to anyone who saw my now-deleted original post. It had a markedly less conciliatory tone than the one I hope to write, for various reasons that aren't important to get into here. I hope to be significantly less axe-grindy

It's interesting to reflect on the Reformation as an Orthodox Christian, particularly in light of the fact that I have been in all three (broadly-speaking) traditions: Roman Catholicism, the classically Reformed tradition, and now, by the grace of God, I have settled in the tradition that I'm convinced they both ultimately cleaved from: Orthodoxy.

So, to be clear: The Orthodox church sees the Great Schism of 1054 as Rome's breaking communion with us, though some authors, notably Fr. Andrew Damick (Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy) do not see the break as being truly established until the 13th century, when Latin soldiers sacked Constantinople. When the Pope delivered the Bull of Excommunication to be thrown unceremoniously upon the altar of the Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople - during the Divine Liturgy, the holiest act of our faith, no less!, the See of Rome effectively severed itself from the Bride of Christ by severing herself from communion with the other four patriarchates of antiquity (Antioch, Jerusalem, Constantinople and Alexandria - and later, Georgia, Bulgaria, Kyiv/Moscow, and others) via her attempts to assert her dominion over all of them and her attempts to create and enforce novel doctrines (notably, the filioque, as well as certain worldview differences like created grace).

As such, we are convinced that the See of Rome that the Protestants were revolting against in the 16th century was indeed corrupted. The problem, however, is that apart from a few attempts, (mostly on the part of Philp Melancthon by writing to the Ecumenical Patriarch of the day, Jeremiah II), to dialogue with and learn from 'the Greek Christians', as they called us, there was no attempt to engage with or recover an earlier, uncorrupted form of the faith that actually existed. Instead, the Reformers, while conversant in some of the writings of the Fathers, interpreted them selectively to conform to the doctrines they themselves had arrived at a priori from a reading of Scripture either unguided by Tradition or overly guided by certain Fathers (notably, St. Augustine) that the Orthodox Church holds in high regard but has significant reservations about.

Broadly speaking, Orthodox criticisms of the Roman Catholics tend to fall into the category of criticizing things they have added to the Tradition (papal infallibility, created grace, Anselmian Penal Substitution). Our criticisms of Protestantism, conversely, tend to center around criticizing things that have been taken away (the historic understanding of the Eucharist, apostolic succession with a visible episcopate, historic liturgical norms, monasticism, iconoclasm). We also have significant issues with the soteriology of classical Protestantism, but this is actually part and parcel of our problems with Rome, since Protestant soteriology ultimately builds upon the errors of St. Augustine, expanded upon by Anselm of Canterbury, which was taken up by the medieval Latin church and then run-with by the Reformers.

*edit*

I ran across a really good synthesis of how Protestant theology writ large, and soteriology in particular, is very much within the same worldview as that of the Roman Catholics. This from an introduction by James J. Stamoolis, to the book "Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) (p. 21). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. "

Quote:
"From an Orthodox perspective, the late Russian philosopher L. A. Zander set out these differences in the negative:
• The East was not influenced by Augustine; its anthropology is different from that of the West.
• The East was not influenced by Anselm; its soteriology is different from that of the West.
• The East was not influenced by Thomas; its methodology is different from that of the West.21
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Unread 10-12-2017, 03:05 AM   #12
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If anyone is interested, there is a really interesting series of blog posts - reflections on the Reformation by various Orthodox Christian writers - over at Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

In particular, this post by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick (pastor of St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Emmaus, PA and owner of the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy blog, as well as Roads from Emmaus, which is primarily his own sermons and reflections in his role as pastor of St. Paul's) is worth quoting in its entirety.

Also, there is some awesome stuff over at Orthodox - Reformed Bridge.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Father Andrew
Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation turns 500 at the end of this month, and I honestly think he would have been surprised to see it last this long, not so much because his initial project of reforming the Church of Rome would have been realized by now but rather because he was under the impression that the world was probably ending soon. Well, here we are, and it’s 2017. A lot has happened in Protestantism’s five centuries.

As an Orthodox Christian, it would be easy for me figuratively to peer over the wall between East and West and condescendingly cast a glance over at the “egg that Rome laid.” That is certainly how some Orthodox writers have seen Protestantism with its myriad denominations and movements, that it is the fruit of a schism that was itself already about five centuries old, when Rome broke from the Orthodox East. Why, therefore, should we pay much mind to schisms from schism, now many times removed?

A similar sentiment was expressed by the Russian writer Alexis Khomiakov, who famously quipped that the pope was the “first Protestant” and also that “all Protestants are Crypto-Papists,” seeing both primarily as rebels against the Holy Tradition of the ancient Church. That Roman Catholics and Protestants are “two sides of the same coin” has become axiomatic in many Orthodox treatments of Western Christianity, and that currency is usually presented as for making purchases in a theological black market, where false doctrines are traded without regard to the official traditions of Christendom that predated the Great Schism of the eleventh century.

I have struggled with these views myself as now some two decades ago I began trying to understand the differences between the Evangelicalism of my childhood and the Orthodoxy I chose as a college student. Setting up Western Christians, especially Protestants, as “over there” was convenient and even comforting, and it was even easier to see them as basically responsible for their schism from the Orthodox Church, however many removes there were.

Yet, except for a handful of exceptions, almost all the Christians currently living who are not part of the Orthodox Church did not choose to be out of communion with it. Most of them actually aren’t even aware that it exists. They are the inheritors of schism. And in the case of Catholics, they see us as the schismatics, while for almost all Protestants now, schism isn’t even “a thing.” They don’t usually think of church bodies as being in or out of communion or have any sense that a break in communion might mean being outside the Church.
So this view that some Orthodox have of Protestants in particular merely as rebels against Orthodoxy isn’t going to make much sense to most of them, since they largely don’t know that there is such a thing as Orthodoxy and don’t really even have much of a sense of being in rebellion against anything, even Rome (#StillProtesting hashtaggers of course excepted). For them, their way of worshiping and believing is just the way things are.

Differences matter

Don’t get me wrong, though—I do think that it’s worth offering some critiques for the Reformation and its heirs, and I’ve written several chapters in Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy dedicated precisely to that project.

The Reformation effectively killed ecclesiology, for one thing, at least for its followers. The Magisterial churches still retain a semblance of ecclesiology, but its working-out is mainly just an administrative question rather than sacramental or in terms of apostolic authority.

Who is in communion with whom is basically about whose doctrines and practices are not distorted too much in comparison to one’s own. Yet you’ve still got groups in communion with each other whose doctrine and worship are diverse from each other as parts of the ELCA and the ECUSA. I can’t even tell why they bother, and I don’t mean that dismissively. Just what is it that keeps, say, a conservative ELCA Lutheran (a vanishing breed) convinced that he ought to be sharing communion with a Christ-denier like ECUSA’s John Shelby Spong?
And can you imagine going down to the local mega-church and asking them which churches they’re in communion with? The question wouldn’t even make sense.

And without much ecclesiology, calling someone a heretic is a mostly pointless exercise in just saying that you disagree or that they can’t be hired by your denomination’s churches. It’s not like ejecting someone from some particular Protestant denomination gives anyone the idea that there’s a real anathema in play, the kind of thing where people really start to worry about their salvation.

And without that ecclesiology, there are really no limits to what sola scriptura can be made to do. The Bible might be seen as authoritative, but whose reading of it? I once attended a kind of public debate between a representative of the PCUSA and the more-conservative breakaway ECO denomination in which the latter accused the former of not respecting the Scripture. The former said he did respect it. So who decides between them? The Reformation still has no real answer for that question. Any answer would probably look dangerously like Roman Catholicism.

I also believe that the de-churching of the Reformation led to what philosopher Charles Taylor called an “excarnation” of Christian faith, in which Christian life becomes more about beliefs and less about whole-life living. This is why just about anything calling itself “worship” is acceptable for most Protestants, so long as “the message” is the same. Although most would never do it, there is effectively no argument against using death metal music in church. If the lyrics are good, well…?

But we’re actually in this together

I know some Orthodox who might be pumping their fists at my previous section who will definitely not like this one. But I think that we do actually have to see ourselves as in this thing together, that is, in this world where the transcendent is harder and harder to bring into our immanentized lives. We can lay the responsibility for much of that at the feet of the Reformation’s excarnated Christianity, yet all of us are experiencing it. All of us are actually heirs of the Reformation. We can’t escape it.

And even on a personal level, I am myself an heir of the Reformation. The first twenty-two years of my life were spent in Evangelicalism, as the son of missionaries, no less. I could pretend that I’m over all that now, that my Protestant past is simply renounced. But it would be foolish of me to pretend that it made no impact on me. Of course it affected me, and I would say that it was mostly for the better. From my father and mother and various pastors and teachers throughout my childhood, I learned to love Jesus Christ, to love the Scriptures, and to seek higher things over worldly.

I also learned that engagement with the culture is part of what it means to be Christian. The Apostles were precisely sent into the world by Jesus Christ, not to build fortresses from whose battlements we could throw down taunts, Monty Python-style, that we’ve already got the Holy Grail that the world is seeking, but rather so that we could bring the whole world into the Church. And there are some parts of Evangelicalism especially that are really trying to do that, even if their Gospel proclamation is not all that it ought to be from an Orthodox point of view.
I also cannot help but admire the vitality and dedication of many Protestants, especially in terms of their creativity in telling others about the Jesus whom they love. The Orthodox often aren’t interested in creativity, even when it’s perfectly consistent with Orthodox tradition. But while some new expressions really are inimical to Orthodoxy, some are rather in line with the project of the Fathers, who responded both faithfully and creatively to the challenges of their ages.

My ultimate hope for the Reformation is that Protestants would be gathered into the Orthodox Church. But I don’t think that we Orthodox can proclaim that hope triumphalistically if we’ve got any actual hope of it coming to pass. No one will listen to us if we take the posture that we’ve got something that everyone else needs and that they’d better get on their knees and repent so that they can have it. That gives the impression that Orthodoxy is somehow true because we’re so great.

We’re not actually that great. I do believe that the Orthodox faith is indeed the Pearl of Great Price, but I also have observed that the Orthodox are pretty good at trying to keep it buried in that field and to make sure that the real estate listing on the field is well hidden from Zillow.

If I meet a Protestant, and he loves Jesus Christ, believes that He is both God and man, and believes in the Holy Trinity as written in the Nicene Creed, I believe that we have most of the crucial things in common. I will not pretend that that is all there is to it. There are of course differences that really matter and have eternal implications. But if someone loves my Christ, then I want to know him better and see his faith better. And if he does not yet love my Christ, then I want to know him anyway and try to show him Jesus Christ as well as I can.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true…

I won’t sit back and try to declare whether the Reformation ought to have happened or not. Certainly I think Luther and other Reformers had some genuine and well-founded grievances with Rome. But there is also a sense in which I don’t have a dog in that fight. I am not a Protestant, and I am not a Roman Catholic. I don’t have to pick a side. The authenticity of my church’s existence is not in any sense proven in that argument.

But the fact remains that the Reformation did happen. Calling each other illegitimate based on that doesn’t really help anyone. Maybe they’re out there somewhere, but I’ve never heard of anyone who became an Orthodox Christian because he was told that his former religious affiliation was false.

I don’t think it’s useful to spend our time blaming people who are currently alive for the actions of those who have been dead for centuries. The question is what we do now. Here is what I think we Orthodox should do now:
Besides stopping the blame-laying, we should have earnest discussions about both our similarities and our differences. We should have them with integrity and love. We should eschew both polemic and compromise. (Polemic is reserved for those actively undermining and opposing the Church, while I can’t imagine what compromise in dogmatic matters is legitimately for.)
We should also seek to know each other better and learn to stand in wonder at whatever ways people are seeking to connect with God, even if we do not agree with them. We can appreciate and interpret and connect with doctrines and practices that are not our own even while we critique them.

The key is that we remember that the people who believe and practice those things are precisely people, meaning that Christ desires them for His Church. And if they are already believers in Jesus Christ, then we should rejoice in their love for Him, even if it does not look exactly like ours.

And finally, we should also persistently invite all of mankind, but especially other Christians, into the inheritance of the Church Fathers, particularly those first Christians who received the faith from the Apostles. Because of its broad and deep influence, all of us in the modern world are heirs of the Reformation. But all Christians are also heirs of the Holy Fathers, who received the faith and who canonized and interpreted Scripture, and this is an inheritance that is deep and rich and will not disappoint any who seek for Christ with a humble spirit.
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Unread 10-13-2017, 08:42 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by IsaactheSyrian View Post
As such, we are convinced that the See of Rome that the Protestants were revolting against in the 16th century was indeed corrupted. The problem, however, is that apart from a few attempts, (mostly on the part of Philp Melancthon by writing to the Ecumenical Patriarch of the day, Jeremiah II), to dialogue with and learn from 'the Greek Christians', as they called us, there was no attempt to engage with or recover an earlier, uncorrupted form of the faith that actually existed. Instead, the Reformers, while conversant in some of the writings of the Fathers, interpreted them selectively to conform to the doctrines they themselves had arrived at a priori from a reading of Scripture either unguided by Tradition or overly guided by certain Fathers (notably, St. Augustine) that the Orthodox Church holds in high regard but has significant reservations about.
This is a good point. While the Reformers were convinced that the RCC was in error, Protestants were on the whole considering themselves as maintaining the banner of truth, with little to no debate over whether the Greeks needed to be included in their movement. From this standpoint, Protestants were decidedly Latin.

However, I think you're overstating how much they wanted to throw off Tradition and only focus on Scripture. Sola Scriptura did not mean "ignore the patristics" or "forget the tradition of reading." I think we can explain the overstatement as an anachronistic reading of anti-tradition evangelicals onto the early modern Protestants.

I can send you some excerpts of Francis Turretin's systematic theology, where he basically follows the following format: question, clarification, Scripture, (reason,) patristics, medievals, contemporary debate. He was a Swiss Protestant Scholastic (1623-1687) and his systematic theology was a staple at Old Princeton seminary. I heartily recommend him, and I think he is a pretty clear counter-example to thinking that Sola Scriptura means that Scripture was the only rule for doctrine and practice even during the Reformation.

Quote:
Broadly speaking, Orthodox criticisms of the Roman Catholics tend to fall into the category of criticizing things they have added to the Tradition (papal infallibility, created grace, Anselmian Penal Substitution). Our criticisms of Protestantism, conversely, tend to center around criticizing things that have been taken away (the historic understanding of the Eucharist, apostolic succession with a visible episcopate, historic liturgical norms, monasticism, iconoclasm).
Interesting point! This is the kind of thing I was hoping the thread would focus on: significant gains and losses. From your perspective, the Reformation adopted what it shouldn't have (just as the Romans did) and dropped what it shouldn't have.

Quote:
We also have significant issues with the soteriology of classical Protestantism, but this is actually part and parcel of our problems with Rome, since Protestant soteriology ultimately builds upon the errors of St. Augustine, expanded upon by Anselm of Canterbury, which was taken up by the medieval Latin church and then run-with by the Reformers.


*edit*

I ran across a really good synthesis of how Protestant theology writ large, and soteriology in particular, is very much within the same worldview as that of the Roman Catholics. This from an introduction by James J. Stamoolis, to the book "Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) (p. 21). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. "
Do you think the Christian tent is big enough to include "the errors of St. Augustine"? In other words, from your vantage, is the Reformation no more theologically significant than, say, the split between the Latter Day Saints and the Community of Christ? (They are both so erroneous that neither side of the split maintains orthodoxy unto salvation)
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Unread 10-16-2017, 07:49 AM   #14
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Since this thread basically died...

Here's a new direction we could take: what do you think of ecumenical movements? How ought Christians to strive in unity? If we see *organizational* or *institutional* unity, how might this best be achieved?
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Unread 10-16-2017, 10:17 AM   #15
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The good, the bad, the necessary, the avoidable. What was gained, what was lost. A presumption of the discussion of this schism is that there is good intermingled with bad, and we can tease out both, being both appreciative and critical.
I believe that Luther's desire to translate scripture into the language of his people was a substantial gain.
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