‘Semper Reformanda’ does not mean ‘Yell at the non-Protestants’

If you are a Christian, and you are not a member of a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox church, then you fall into the tradition of Protestantism. When Martin Luther broke away from the Roman Catholic church in the early 16th century, he started a fracturing in Western Christendom that persists to this day, with thousands of new Protestant denominations forming every year.

As an officially Protestant school, many of the students at California Baptist University are Protestant (of various kinds). As a Protestant myself, I join my fellow Protestants with the cry of “semper reformanda” (“always reforming”). I will be the first to advocate for remembering the Protestant Reformation and the wonderful things that came out of it (like my church).

However, remembering the Reformation should not mean that we bludgeon members of other Christian traditions with misguided and inappropriate criticism. Our school is not the place to try to reenact the Protestant Reformation, especially not by being rude and insensitive to students who are not Protestant.

A Roman Catholic student here at CBU told me about an awful experience they had their freshman year: their resident adviser (RA), who was a Protestant, made very insensitive and blatantly untrue comments about a commonly misunderstood aspect of Roman Catholic theology in the middle of a casual conversation. Through their abrupt insertion of their ignorant opinion on Roman Catholic theology into the conversation, this RA completely alienated the student.

It broke my heart to hear that there were members of student leadership at this school who were using their identity as Protestants to exclude and disaffect non-Protestant CBU students.

While I can understand that one may have theological disagreements with non-Protestant churches, criticizing someone’s beliefs outside of appropriate settings, like class or a formal theological discussion, in nasty and uncouth ways is completely unacceptable and shameful.

Most Protestants can barely get along with other Protestants (not to mention the multitude of inter-denominational conflicts). Ask two Protestants their opinion on baptism or communion, and you will quickly realize there is no one Protestant theological position that someone can resolutely claim is the “right” one. 

Protestants are nowhere near perfect, and our Reformation heritage does not give us license to excoriate anyone who is not a Protestant.

Genuine theological disagreement is one thing, but rude and untrue criticisms of strawman, half-baked reformulations of non-Protestant theology is another. If you are going to criticize someone’s theology, at least have the decency to educate yourself on it before you bash someone’s deeply held beliefs (the Protestant reformers were intellectual rockstars who were very well educated on their opponent’s theology, and I shudder to think what they would think of us now).

The Reformation happened 500 years ago, and it is not our job to continue it and attempt to honor the spirit of “semper reformanda” by causing unnecessary division in the student body here at CBU. 

We bring more honor and respect upon our Protestant forbears by handling our theological disagreements with graciousness, respect and humility, rather than angrily berating anyone who is not a Protestant. Let us all learn to be mature adults and politely disagree, even (and especially) when matters of heaven and hell are at stake.

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