True Protestant Christians are Reforming Catholics, Gospel Catholics. By this I do not mean we are Roman “Catholics.” Brother Fred Sanders, member of Grace Evangelical Free Church and professor at Biola University, both in La Mirada, makes this point really well in his recent article at The Gospel Coalition. Here are 4 highlights:
1. The whole point of reform is to be more catholic than Rome will permit, by being more patristic than Rome will permit, by being more biblical than Rome will permit.
2. Sadoleto’s charge was: You are novel; you have rejected the ancient church. Calvin’s response was: No, we are Protestant specifically so we can have the ancient church, and you are in our way.
3. We are Protestant specifically to be more catholic, to avoid the constriction and reduction that Rome requires.
4. Some of the terms have admittedly become tricksy by our time. Moderns tend to associate the very word “catholic” with the church called Roman Catholic, missing the irony of using a word that means “universal” to pick out a church that is defiantly and distinctively not universal. Moderns also tend to function with a largely bogus etymology of “Protestant” that suggests protesting against something, whereas a few centuries ago, even in love poetry “to protest” meant “to hold forth and confess a truth.” As a result of semantic drift, the sentence “Protestants are catholic” sounds nutty, and the sentence “Protestants ought to be catholic” sounds like a call to conversion. But for evangelicals settling for a sectarian and uncatholic way of being church, the call to be catholic is in fact a call to personal and congregational reformation, precisely because it’s a call to the Reformation.
We don’t have to settle for a quarter of church history, and we don’t have to settle for a chastened “two cheers for the Reformation.” Those of us with the solas in our souls can join in that third “hip, hip, hooray” because the Reformation was, is, and ought to continue to be, catholic.