a bit monkish.
The celebrations have already begun for Protestants as this week marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and the start of the Protestant Reformation. The celebration centers on a rediscovery of the importance of the Bible (sola scriptura), an emphasis on personal faith in Jesus Christ (sola fide), an affirmation of God’s grace (sola gratia), a love for Christ (sola Christus), and a reminder that the glory of God is our chief end (soli Deo gloria). Luther’s actions in 1517 changed the course of human history, and brought about the formation of thousands of denominations in the 500 years that followed.
Had the Rome-Centered Church stayed true to its historical, theological, and Biblical foundations, Luther may have lived-out his years as an Augustinian monk rather than the Father of the Protestant Church. Instead, what Luther saw was that as the decades and centuries had progressed, the lust for money, power, and prestige had overtaken the Christian Church in the West. Nominalism had become the standard for Christian commitment. As prayer became entangled with money and the Scriptures distanced from the general population, a personal relationship with Christ had morphed into an obligatory relationship with the Church.
What began with Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon, Calvin, and Cranmer, continued with Spener, Fox, Zinzendorf, Wesley, and Wakefield. Their teachings re-laid the foundations of ancient Christianity from Biblical times through the early Church Fathers.
It’s 2017. Slowly, as the decades and centuries have gone by, the lust for money, power, and prestige has overtaken many Protestant denominations in the West. Nominalism has become the standard in Christian commitment, and applause from the culture around us has become our aim.
Sometimes God uses the equivalent of a quick, unexpected earthquake like the Reformation to shake His people and put us back on course. Perhaps reflecting this week upon the actions of Luther and the other reformers will embolden us to pray for a Holy Spirit earthquake that will shake us into a renewed understanding of the Church based on holy love and a desire to make disciples in a post-Christian culture. Instead of a Church that reflects the moral fashion-trends of the pop culture, perhaps we will unashamedly stand for the time-tested moral truths of Scripture, even as the pop-culture around us disapproves.
I see not a need for another Reformation, but a Restoration. Perhaps we shouldn’t seek a reformation of our existing denominations but a Restoration of the Church as we were in our earliest years. In the 1100s, Bernard of Clairvaux wrote to the Pope, “Maybe you can bring us back to the Church as we were in days of old, when we let down our nets not to catch gold and silver, but people’s souls.” This was language of a restoration of the Church, not a reformation.
Times and cultures have changed since Europe in the 1500s, but the issues Luther and others faced are the same issues we’re facing today: We’ve become such a part of the corruption of the Holy Church initiated by Jesus and inaugurated by the Holy Spirit that many of us can’t even see it.
We’re living in a time of great transition in the global Church. Will we be open to the changes God will do in our midst? Perhaps our prayer should be like the prophetic letter of that medieval abbot: That we will not let down our nets to catch the approval of a sinful society and the maintenance of denominational systems, but a Church that reflects a Holy Spirit passion for evangelistic holiness in cultures that despise us.
On this week in which many Protestants will be looking back 500 years, this lover of church history will be looking forward with excitement and prayerful anticipation. May our descendants 500 years from now look back on this generation and say, “That’s when God did a new thing.” Come, Holy Spirit!
I'm a follower of Christ serving as an Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary.