Peter Leithart recently posted a provocative article on First Things titled "The End of Protestantism." In this article, Leithart argues that there is a divergence between what he labels "Reformation catholicism," and "Protestantism." Protestantism, he argues, has been characterized by it's strong aversion to anything viewed as Roman Catholic. He writes:
"When I studied at Cambridge, I discovered that English Evangelicals define themselves over against the Church of England. Whatever the C of E is, they ain’t. What I’m calling “Protestantism” does the same with Roman Catholicism. Protestantism is a negative theology; a Protestant is a not-Catholic. Whatever Catholics say or do, the Protestant does and says as close to the opposite as he can."
This anti-Roman Catholicism has characterized many Christian traditions since the Reformation, as Rome has been viewed as the ultimate enemy of the Gospel, and anything resembling her must be destroyed. This was primarily the attitude of the Anabaptists and others who are considered part of the "radical reformation," rather than the traditional Confessional church bodies.
Anyone who is part of a Lutheran or Anglican church has heard the retort from their Baptist and evangelical friends and neighbors, that their worship too closely resembles the "great whore" or whatever other derogatory name they apply to the Roman Catholic church. The best of Reformation traditions attempted to be truly catholic in their beliefs and practices, keeping those elements of the medieval church that were Biblical, while rejecting aspects of theology and worship which were contrary to the Gospel.
Part of this article hinges on the use of the term "Protestant." Historically, Protestantism referred to the Confessional Reformed and Lutheran traditions, as opposed to the Roman Catholic and Anabaptist movements. In the contemporary church, Protestantism has been the term applied broadly to any church that is not Roman Catholic. Roman Catholic apologists, for example, will commonly lump Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other heretical fringe groups in with "Protestantism." The name "Protestant," like the name "evangelical" no longer has any particular meaning, other than stating that one is "not Roman Catholic." That's why most Lutherans, many Anglicans, and some Presbyterians have rejected the use of the term.
Leithart is absolutely correct that what is needed is a Reformational catholicism. What the contemporary church needs is to find it's historical roots, and identify itself not simply with the church of the Reformation, but with the historic church--and that doesn't just mean Augustine. We need to view ourselves as the church of Justin Martyr, of Chrysostom, Bernard, and even Aquinas. That doesn't, of course, mean absolute agreement with all of these figures, but we need to recognize them as our forefathers as much as Rome sees them as theirs.
The question I have often asked of Leithart and others involved in the Federal Vision movement, is: why Presbyterian? In some ways, articles like this tend to search for catholicism in Reformed Christianity where it simply is not there. The Lutheran Confessions contain citations from the fathers and medieval theologians along with Scripture to defend their teachings; the Reformed Confessions don't do this. This points to what I think has historically been a difference between Lutheran and Reformed Christianity. Lutheranism has generally seen itself (as has Anglicanism) as a branch of the historic Western church in a way that Calvinism hasn't. Certainly figures like Augustine and even Aquinas have been influential for certain Reformed writers, but there has not been a consistent emphasis on the continuity of the church.
Luther's Reformation kept the traditional Roman Mass with some necessary changes, while Zwingli rejected the traditional Roman service. While Calvin certainly held to a liturgical form of worship, the insistence on the regulative principle of worship essentially cut off the Reformed from continuity of worship with the patristic and medieval church. The Mercersburg and Federal Vision movements certainly are valuable in their insistence on the catholicity of the church. I simply don't think such a stance can be consistently held from Reformed perspective, which is why the Federal Vision proponents have been so vigorously attacked in Confessional Presbyterianism.
R. Scott Clark quickly posted a rebuttal to Leithart titled: "Contra Leithart: No, the Reformation isn't Over." I don't want to speak for Leithart, but I don't think he indicated in the article that the Reformation is now over. He is simply trying to point the heirs of the Reformation back to a catholic rather than a sectarian understanding of the faith; this is consistent with the thought of many of the reformers themselves. Clark's conclusion in his post is:
"The Reformation isn’t over, not at least for the confessional Protestant churches, who don’t equivocate, who understand what Rome is really saying, who still submit to the Word of God as the sole, unique authority for faith and life, who affirm the sole sufficiency of Christ and righteousness for us for acceptance with God, for salvation from wrath, and for sanctification, who are resting in Christ and in his finished work for us, and who find their assurance in Christ for us and his promises to us."
Clark's point is correct. The Reformation is not over, and the difference that divide us are deep and important. We cannot simply ignore our difference and pretend the issues the reformers had with Rome have now suddenly been fixed. We still disagree over Sola Scriptura, as well as Sola Gratia, and Sola Fide. We can't simply ignore these issues in the interest of ecumenism. However, the fact that the Reformation is still important does not necessitate Clark's assertion that Rome is a false church. Can't we, as a church, recognize our catholic heritage without having to compromise our Reformational beliefs on the one hand, and condemning all Roman Catholics to hell on the other?