When I was a Protestant, I did think the reformation project had some points in its favor, such as wanting to involve lay people in reading the Scriptures, challenging corruption in the Church, correcting superstition, etc.
However, and I would direct this particularly to members of traditional Protestant denominations such as Anglicans, Lutherans, Prebyterians - it seems to me that this project has run its course, and these goals are now more fulfilled in the Catholic Church than in the reformed ones.
At the same time, these denominations themselves, if you look at their history, succumbed to various kinds of change in the 19th century, which basically meant that their original teachings and direction of travel died out, and was only revived, if you like, by a transfusion from the Catholic Church. The Anglican Church went from puritan origins to being almost Catholic in its liturgy thanks to the Oxford Movement. Even John Wesley returned from the rationalism of the Anglican establishment to an interest in lives of personal holiness, confession, fasting, supernatural intervention, when he founded the Methodist church. The Presbyterians fell into endless divisions (between evangelicals and strict calvinists, between congregationalists and ordained, between unitarian congregationalists and trinitarians, between free presbyterians and organized ones, etc.) and it is hard to find any 5-point calvinists today, with the exception of the Scottish Highlands and the WBC. Most horrifyingly of all, the Lutherans fell into modernism, with 19th century modernist theologians who conceived of God as just an abstraction for the reality of the church serving the people, the volk, which made it all too easy for the German Lutheran Church to become the National Socialist Church of the 1930s. This atrocity might have finished off the Lutherans, were it not for their embracing the more traditional theology of Karl Barth in the latter part of the 20th century. Barth, who has much in common with his Catholic contemporary von Balthassar, encouraged a return to encounter with the supernatural, a return to the kind of supernatural faith which the rationalism of Protestant enlightenment had excluded, but which the Catholic faith had never abandoned.
The mainline Protestant churches of today have an openness to the supernatural, an interest in liturgy, even a rediscovery of the virtues of monastic and contemplative life, which the signatories of the Westminster Confession would have condemned as popish superstition. All of this is positive, and shows that men and women of good will have reappropriated much of the good that was lost in the reformation.
At the same time, from the ‘sola scriptura’ of Luther, contemporary Protestantism has further deviated, building up its own canon of tradition, of ‘right’ ways to read scripture, from the 5 fundamentals of the early 20th century, to historical critical method. At one time, Protestantism produced spiritual writers like John Bunyan, who wrote for the ages, now it produces Rick Warren and Tim LaHaye. At the same time, superstition has crept back into the Protestant churches, whether in the form of the ‘prosperity gospel’ (the more you give, the more you’ll get/ tithe from the salary you want to have), the ‘Toronto blessing’, end-times speculation, or any number of other strange teachings.
At the same time, the Catholic Church has rededicated itself to good catechesis and teaching the faith to lay people, encouraging them to open up the Scriptures, and the wealth of good writings on how to understand it correctly. Our Tradition continues to inspire contemplatives who write for the ages, Thomas Merton or Henri Nouwen, Adriane von Speyr, to name a few. The Church hierarchy has detached itself from political regimes and corruption, the sanctification of the laity is no new invention to Catholicism, but is found in the writings of Pope St Pius X, the lives of St Gianna Molla, Frank Duff, Dorothy Day, again to name only a few. Superstition is challenged and conquered, with the Pope standing up against syncretism in his recent visits to Cuba and Benin, and old devotional traditions that gave only lip service to prayers giving way to renewed interest in contemplative spirituality and active participation in the liturgy.
So, has the reformation project run its course?