There is a Christian ministry that is located near where I live. In almost every way I think they exhibit the worst of Christianity. I think they have stored a great many treasures on earth at the expense of many desperate and lonely Christians. I would not personally want to give an accounting to God for the resources they have been given in the name of Jesus. It would be a rare day in which I would endorse anything related to their ministry. I would not support them in any positive way. I would not choose to worship with them. I barely want to support their claim on the term “Christian”.
And yet, I would say that they are indeed Christians. They get it right when it comes to the most important things about the Christian faith. The authentic discipleship they offer is shallow at best and rancid at worst, but they make the cut. If I were given the responsibility to ultimately judge the leadership, I’d see them in eternity but they would have the smell of sulfur on them for quite sometime.
I was recently asked by a Mormon, “If Evangelicals view the Catholic Church as Christian, what was the need of the Reformation?” I think my answer in regards to the Catholic Church of Luther’s day is similar to the ministry I mentioned above. The only difference being that in 1517, there was no other Christian alternative. A believer who was fed up and sickened by the corruption of the Catholic Church had no alternative.
As can be noted by the name “Reformation”, the original goal was not to overturn or reject the Catholic church. It was to reform it, to rebuke and correct it. It should also be noted that virtually every reform Luther was seeking of the Catholic church was fulfilled.
As Paul had serious disagreements with the Judaizers of the 1st Century; I have some serious disagreements with the Catholic church. But I welcome them in the fellowship of Christ (as they welcome me). I set those differences aside at the foot of the cross because they ultimately join me there. And when I see gaudy, corrupt, materialistic Christian neighbors there, I ignore the smell.