On the verge of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, it is imperative for Protestants to neither exaggerate nor underestimate the differences with Roman Catholicism. The original reformers were quite happy with the basic inherited orthodoxy they shared with the Latin church (for example, Nicene Trinitarianism and Chalcedonian Christology), as well as what Christopher Dawson termed the historic reality of Christian culture. However, they disagreed firmly (and relentlessly) with the Roman church on the relationship between the Bible and tradition (sola Scriptura), and on how the benefits of Christ’s redemptive work are applied to the believer (sola fide). Understanding both these truths today will tend to prevent among Protestants — and Roman Catholics — a mean-spirited bigotry on the one hand and a toothless latitudinarianism on the other, both of which derive from historical ignorance.
To act as though there are no basic commonalities between the two communions is to devalue the great central truths of ancient catholic orthodoxy that most of us confess in the Apostles Creed every Sunday. To act as though there are no basic differences is to slap both Roman Catholics and Protestants in the face, implying that their deeply held beliefs are comparatively unimportant.
Reconciliation under the present circumstances is neither possible nor desirable, but we do stand together within Christendom, and those of us in both communions committed to the basics of the historic Christian faith should unite in opposing the great heresies within Christianity and the great depravities in contemporary culture.
The fact that we cannot join together does not mean that we cannot work together.