In recent years there have been several instances where protestant church leaders and whole churches have travelled to Rome (in one case it was Italy), figuratively and/or literally. There is a movement back to the Roman Church, in some sense, and I think that it has both theological and practical reasons.
The basic problem for the Protestant church, regardless of name, is authority. The Catholic/Roman church does not have this problem as it has in its very DNA the dual authority of the (infallible) Bible and the teaching Magistrate of the Church (with the Pope as the head). From Luther and onward we find an increasing struggle for authority among the up-and-coming churches and/or leaders. Luther didn't agree with Calvin who in turn didn't agree with Zwingli, not to mention the second generation leaders such as Melanchton and Beza. Just consider the Eucharist/Communion issue, which for 1500 years had kept the church together. All of a sudden it was up for debate and questions arose as to what the Eucharist actually was. Was it the Real Presence of Christ, merely a symbol of Christ or a "means of rememberance"? Opinions and ideas were legion...and they still are.
This is to many modern Christians "business as usual". The plethora of views and truths have intrinsically and inevitably made the truth an illusion. There is simply no way to know which is the right or true way to understand Christianity.
For others, however, it is an outrage, especially living in the aftermath of modernism and in the mid-life crisis of the post-modernistic worldview (The notion currently being held is that there is no objective anything. We make it up as we go and subjectivism and personal preference, coupled with power struggles and nihilism, are normative). Many hold that it simply can't be that logical contradictions are allowed to co-exist. It is also a slap in the face to the Lord and Savior of the church who specifically said that unity in mind and spirit would be a sign that the Church was from God (and in fact, that actual unity would be perhaps its most effective evangelistic tool).
The solution to the two conundrums is usually the meme "let's agree to disagree". Nice.
Let me simply state that I don't like that little saying. It has its place, say in a marriage or among friends debating issues of relative minor importance. It most certainly doesn't belong in the Church of Christ who linked the unity of the Church to the Unity between the Son and the Father. Do we sincerely believe that the Son and the Father agree to disagree about major issues (or any issues)?
Ah, that is unfair, you say. We are fallible humans and as such are prone to mistakes and failure. I couldn't agree more but that doesn't mean that we should lower the bar/expectation to such a level that failure/disagreement becomes the norm. Why would Christ call us to such a level of unity if it was impossible? It also limits God to whatever we think humans are capable of....where in fact the Biblical testimony is crystal clear that this trinitarian unity is a gift/work/miracle of God in men and women.
Thus, after 500 years of literal and figurative fighting some are making the trip to Rome. It usually involves a very long time of consideration and struggle. It most certainly involves theological issues, such as "What about...?" Mary, Purgatory, the Eucharist, the Pope, Veneration of Relics and Saints, and other popular "barnacles" as us Protestants call them. Additions to the Faith.
It is usually helped by the socially conservative beliefs (of the Roman Church), its Unity and Historical memory, its unwavering bravery to be "different" in the face of secular powers, its ridiculously well-thought out and cross-referenced theology and other factors.
Some take the step and convert, which is an interesting little tidbit of information. Why would a protestant Christian need to Convert to a Roman Catholic Church? But anyway, some "jump ship". However, others don't. They stay put in the protestant church and work for unity through other means and ways. The word is ecumenism.
One such move happened in Sweden a couple of years ago when three protestant churches merged into a new church. The official reasons included the unity of the christian Church even as the un-official reasons cited far less holy reasons and pointed to more practical and pragmatic reasons. The jury is still out although I think I know what happened.
The key point to look at is theological, as it always is when it comes to the Church. What does the church believe? For instance, the Roman church is incredibly varied throughout the world but it is nonetheless one church in what it believes. In the case of the Swedish (protestant) merger between three churches we saw that the theological aspect played a very small role. In truth, it was not a formation of a theological unity at all but rather a re-structuring of existing churches that would allow for a fairly radical and shallow understanding of its theological mission while keeping the official facade of unity intact. There, I said it.
As it were, I am going to Rome this weekend. (It was a gift for my 40th birthday from my wife and parents and family and friends. A great gift, indeed!). It is not a trip to Rome in the sense that I am looking to become Catholic (as far as I know), but it does remind me of the necessity for all of us to reflect on what we believe about God, Man and the World and why we believe it. Who or what is our authority for what we believe and subsequently, how sure can we be that we are correct in our beliefs?
The Bible? Great, but whose interpretation? Yours? Your pastor's? Your church's?
The hour is late and most of us do not believe with any level of sincerity that Jesus is coming back or that when he does he will judge "the living and the dead". It's understandable. We usually determine if something is important based on probability and right now it looks rather improbable that Jesus is coming back.
Even if he did we reason that surely, trying as hard as we can and doing the best we can should be enough, right? God wouldn't judge anyone for just being wrong about the nature of the Eucharist, would he?
That may be true, but we know for a fact that he will judge us depending upon if we know him or not and the shocking but true reality of that is then...on what authority can we know that?