October 31, 2017, marks the 500th birthdate of the Protestant Reformation. Christian Schools International has encouraged schools to celebrate the birthday by designating this week as Christian Education Week. Birthdays are a good time to both celebrate the past and look to the future.
What is there to celebrate? There are a few things.
The Reformation was a reset for the Western branch of Christianity. In the view of reformers, the Western church had lost its way, sold its collective soul to money, and corrupted Christianity. In the illiterate societies of the Middle Ages, the common people were being led away from the truth of God’s Word.
Along came Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others to lead the reset. Church leadership pushed back and hard. The power of the church was being threatened. Rather than reforming, the Roman Catholic Church dug in its heels. The church was split into two parts: Roman Catholics and Protestants. Protestants split again into several branches for both doctrinal and nationalistic reasons.
The Reformation was a good thing. It was a reset. Faithful churches emerged. The Roman Catholic Church became at least a little introspective and reset itself, too.
But the Reformation reset also caused division. And that is not such a good thing. Jesus said so himself.
Jesus’ final prayer for believers is recorded in John 17: 20-23: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Unity is not a mark of the Christian church today. And that is more than sad. It is contrary to Jesus’ own words.
The church remains divided between east and west. One has to only visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem or the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for a concrete object lesson. Denominations literally lay claim to the square centimeters in those places. Church leaders come to blows when one denomination touches the tiles belonging to another.
Most schools within Christian Schools International have emerged from the branch of the Reformation called Calvinism. Presbyterian and Reformed churches are the main denominational descriptors. Divisions and splits have created more splinter denominations within those branches than one can fathom. The world looks at us and scratches their collective heads in confusion.
Jesus prayed for unity, and yet his disciples make theological mountains out of doctrinal molehills.
The Reformation reset was a good thing. The church was reformed. The Word of God was put into print and the printed Word was put into the hands of people. Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and glory to God alone became the central themes for the reset church, in place of the Roman Catholic Church and its powerful hierarchy.
Five hundred years have passed since the Reformation. There is reason to celebrate the work of the dedicated reformers. There is reason to both celebrate the reset and to grieve the disunity.
May the beginning of the next 500 years provide another reset, as the church of Christ seeks to be the unified body that our Lord intended for it to be. And may each believer, and all who are called to lead, commit to advancing the unified kingdom of God, both in our local communities and to the ends of the earth.
(Christian Education Week resources including an anniversary devotional booklet are available from Christian Schools International www.csionline.org)
Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services