Lutheran theologian Carl Braaten once lamented that while Roman Catholics do not understand why the Reformation was necessary, Protestants do not understand why it was tragic.

It’s taken me many years to appreciate the tragic consequences of the Reformation—that it led to disunity as well as to needed reform. Perhaps I understand this better these days because the unity of my own Presbyterian family has become fragile, with some congregations resigning from the denomination and starting a new one.

It’s impossible to read the New Testament and not conclude that some kind of unity is at the heart of the matter: unity between strangers and adversaries, races, genders and even religions. At one point St. Paul suggests that the unity of the whole creation has been God’s agenda from the beginning. So on at least one level the Reformation is a tragedy.