Duke Divinity School theologian Stanley Hauerwas is a Protestant, but he does not like having to preach on Reformation Sunday because, as he puts it, “it does not name a happy event for the Church Catholic; on the contrary, it names failure.” Here is a taste of his sermon:
Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. But when we make Reformation a success, it only ends up killing us. After all, the very name ‘Protestantism’ is meant to denote a reform movement of protest within the Church Catholic. When Protestantism becomes an end in itself, which it certainly has through the mainstream denominations in America, it becomes anathema. If we no longer have broken hearts at the church’s division, then we cannot help but unfaithfully celebrate Reformation Sunday.
Paul M. says
Glass half empty kinda guy, I see. From a Catholic perspective couldn't one also argue that the renewal of the Catholic church was a consequence of the counter-Reformation, that the Reformation actually did reform Catholicism? If the Reformers had listened to the Hauerwas's of the day (Erasmus?), acknowledging the need for change but unwilling to do anything to disrupt the unity of the institutional church, would significant change really have happened?
Hauerwas poo-poohs the Reformation reading of Catholic theology as a works-righteousness theology similar to that of the Pharisees. He goes so far as to agree with Catholics that “Christian salvation consists in works.” (A phrase, uncaveated, which is simultaneously so vague and purposeful that I suspect it's troll-bait.) Yet he never actually goes beyond the assertion that this was wrong. He just states it. For someone who is trying to do his best to have his Protestantism and eat it too, I'd expect an actual argument.
Indeed, isn't that the basic flaw of the entire sermon? There are lots of interesting and provocative lines, but he doesn't make an exegetical argument. Presumably someone read the texts listed at the top, but Hauerwas doesn't explore them, explain them, even reference them. This isn't preaching, at least not in the way it was done in Nehemiah 8, Luke 24, or Acts 2.
Finally, his summation of true Christianity as unity leaves me in the cold. Unity is certainly something that Christians are enjoined to work toward–Ephesians 4 is a great example–but in Hauerwas's call to unity I hear “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” That's the theological argument, but there is also a historical one. In building the unity of the church catholic, Christ purposefully, regularly, and vehemently disrupted the institutional religion of Israel, a religion that God had indeed founded but which had lost its way. Tell me again why a comparison between Rome and Jerusalem is not apt?
Tom Van Dyke says
Good for Hauerwas. Schism is serious business.
BTW, John, I just ran across the factoid that “Roman” was added to “Catholic” by English Protestants in the 1600s as a pejorative.
“A study of these and other early examples in their context shows plainly enough that the qualification “Romish Catholic” or “Roman Catholic” was introduced by Protestant divines who highly resented the Roman claim to any monopoly of the term Catholic. In Germany, Luther had omitted the word Catholic from the Creed, but this was not the case in England. Even men of such Calvinistic leanings as Philpot (he was burned under Mary in 1555), and John Foxe the martyrologist, not to speak of churchmen like Newel and Fulke, insisted on the right of the Reformers to call themselves Catholics and professed to regard their own as the only true Catholic Church. Thus Philpot represents himself as answering his Catholic examiner: “I am, master doctor, of the unfeigned Catholic Church and will live and die therein, and if you can prove your Church to be the True Catholic Church, I will be one of the same” (Philpot, “Works”, Parker Soc., p. 132). “
John Fea says
Paul M. says
I read this post by Rachel Held Evans and thought of Hauerwas's sermon. Calls to unity can indeed “to diffuse, or even silence, difficult conversations about why things might need to change.”