The Reformation in ninety seconds

The first Christmas after Martin and I were married, we went to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company perform the Abridged Bible in ninety minutes, which was both clever and funny.
My latest challenge in the style of the RSC is to write and “perform” the abridged Reformation for Beginners in ninety seconds, which doesn’t have to be clever or funny, but it might help.

Today brought me a little revelation when I realised that the average Catholic here has absolutely no idea who the Protestant church are or what we believe. I mean even less idea than the average Protestant… really absolutely no idea at all.

I was at a regional training day for Scout leaders. In Scouts in Argentina a lot of the kids are as “secular” as anywhere, but historically Scouts have been linked to the Catholic church, so to this day a lot of the leaders are believing and active Catholics. This was the second training day I have been at, and on the previous occasion I didn’t have a uniform, so I could have just been passing through on a visit. Now I have a full uniform complete with the appropriate badges to suggest that I have made my home in a particular Scout troop in San Francisco. So I might be perceived to be “one of us”. On the other hand, when it comes to the opening and closing ceremonies, I don’t join in the reciting of various prayers, not because I’m particularly against most of them, but because they’re not the prayers I have grown up with and I don’t know the words. I also don’t cross myself, not because I have anything against those who do, but it’s just not part of my expression of worship, so I’m “like us but different”, and people are starting to get brave enough to express their curiosity.

Expressing their curiosity involves casual questions over lunch such as “What does your church believe?” “Do you have saints?” and most impressively “Do Protestants believe in Jesus?” Which is what made me realise that the overwhelming majority of Catholics here have absolutely no idea at all what the Protestant church looks like; we literally could be an obscure branch of moon worshipping Buddhist-Muslims. And of course there is a good reason for this; South America was largely invaded pre-reformation, and the Spanish weren’t exactly renowned for being pro- the reformation when it happened, so it is only in the last fifty years or so that the Protestant churches have really arrived here at all, and they are still a tiny minority without any great impact on the wider society. So, while most Protestant/Evangelical Christians in Argentina have experience of the Catholic church at the very least through folk beliefs, civic ceremonies and religious education at school, the reverse is just not the case. And the teaching by the one church on the subject of the other is often at best, subjective. Many evangelical churches teach that the Catholic church is “of the devil”, while the Catholics if they feel the need to mention Protestantism at all, would probably leave it at “sect; best avoided.”

So today having given a potted summary of my beliefs regarding virgins and saints, and having listed some of the bedrocks that we have in common, namely “Jesus saves” and “The Bible is the word of God” (whatever that means… open for discussion another time…), I decided that one thing that might be helpful to be able to do is an overview of the reformation; when, why, who and its legacy; preferably in no more than ninety seconds.

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