The Downside of the Protestant Reformation
For all its good, the Protestant Reformation also spawned a wave of disunity that continues to this day
Two weeks ago was Reformation Day, October 31, which celebrates the Protestant Reformation. I love the Reformation even though it was actually a spiritual revolution against the established status quo. (But perhaps that’s part of its allure.) After all, the root of Protestant is protest.
Though the actual reformation isn’t fixed in one date, on one person, or from one location, as a matter of convenience Martin Luther emerged as its posterchild, Germany became its setting, and Luther’s posting of 95 points of contention on October 31, 1517 set the date. Hence we have established Reformation Day to communicate our celebration of this much larger movement.
I understand that Luther didn’t intent to spark a religious revolt. What he sought was to bring about needed change within the established church, a most admirable and lofty pursuit. Though most of the changes he advocated did eventually occur; they didn’t happen quickly. Instead it took decades. In the meantime impatient change backers, anxious to correct religious errors, set out to form a new church, a reformed practice with the Bible as its anchor.
This was fine, except that not one new church emerged, but many, all variations on a theme but lacking tolerance and love for one another. They argued, they fought, and they killed one another in the name of their brand of religious theology. Each variation of Protestant thought assumed it was right, which implied everyone else was wrong.Each variation of Protestant theology assumes it is right, which implies everyone else was wrong. Click To Tweet
Today, almost five hundred years later, we’re still stuck in this mindset. Each person and each preacher and each church establishes their sincerely held view of spiritual thought and then rejects all others who disagree.
But that’s not a problem, they say. The dissenters, the ones rejected, just go out and start their own church, complete with their own spiritual litmus test of who’s in and who’s out. As a result we now have 43,000 Protestant denominations.
How deeply this must grieve Jesus who earnestly prayed that his followers would live in harmony, that we would be one. And, for all the good it produced, we have the Reformation to thank for this most unbiblical result of division, dissension, and disunity.
God help us all.
Read more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Peter DeHaan’s book 95 Tweets: Celebrating Martin Luther in the 21st Century. Buy it today to discover more about Martin Luther and his history-changing 95 theses.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.