James B. Jordan discusses various types of Protestantism in his essay, “The Three Faces of Protestantism” (in The Sociology of the Church):
The three faces of Protestantism were, and are, the imperial or nationalistic face, the sectarian or drop-out face, and the catholic face. The Reformers can fairly easily, though roughly, be divided into these three groups. There were drop-out anabaptists; there were those who looked to the state for reformation; and there were those who sought to reform the church in a catholic manner, apart from the state. In brief, the Lutheran and the Anglicans tended to be magisterial in their approach, setting the prince or the king over against the Pope of Rome. Calvin and Bucer, along with some of the other Swiss Reformers, focussed more on a reformation of the Catholic church, and avoided nationalism. (137-138)
He continues a little later in the same essay:
It is for this reason that Bucer especially spent himself in one meeting after another, colloquy upon colloquy, with Anabaptists, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics, striving to prevent the splitting and fragmentation of Christ’s church. One, holy, catholic, “international” church was the dream of Bucer and of Calvin, but it was not to be. Thus there are no churches named for Bucer or for Calvin, for their work and thought has gone out into the church catholic at large. (143)
Rowan Williams says something similar in his short but provocative work, Why Study the Past?:
As for unity across local frontiers, attitudes and theologies varied. As we have seen, Lutherans argued for baptism as the sole determining factor in regard to belonging in the Church; but they also repudiated formal sacramental fellowship with those who held different doctrines about the eucharist. Churches of Calvinist heritage tended to see the details of local church administration as legitimately variable, but assumed both doctrinal unanimity on certain points and a recognisable practice of discipline freely exercised by the Church’s leadership. While Lutherans tended to solve the unity question at a local level by a theology of the authority of the ruler, Calvinists were readier to look to a sort of ‘Protestant International’, as it has been called, a loose alliance of churches with the same general style of governance and theology. The Reformed Church of England, despite its apparently Lutheran attitude to the monarch, tended to identify with this latter model of international fellowship (not confederation). Some of the bitter controversies that divided it had to do with the extent to which its discipline and form of ministry were really recognisable to ‘the best Reformed churches’ abroad. (81)
This goal seems to have vanished among the conservative heirs of the Reformers, sadly, while those who eagerly embrace ecumenism seem to have on one point or another usually conceded the Roman Catholic arguments from the time of the Reformation are correct.
Is this not a worthwhile goal? Should Protestant churches today be concerned with not offending their Protestant sister churches on matters of less-than-essential importance? Or is visible unity on an international level not essential to the mission of the church?
What thinkest thou?