Did you hear what happened last week?
Maybe you did, but if you didn’t let me refresh your memory.
Last week marked the 500 anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, perhaps the biggest schism in Church history ever! Granted the Great Schism of 1054 was bad, but there have been plenty of attempts and dialogue between both the Pope and Patriarch or Holy Synod. However, with the hundreds or maybe thousands of Protestant churches, just who exactly would the Pope speak with to unite back to Rome? It’s confusing.
Since last week, I’ve seen a rush of pride from non-Catholics regarding how amazing the Reformation was. I even read many people on WordPress compliment Martin Luther and his contemporaries for a powerful religious and political revolution. Indeed it was a revolution, an overthrow of the old system, to usher in a new radical system away from the authority of the Church.
Post-reformation, there were tons of conflicts on both sides and persecution by those high in authority. However great the negatives were, some good did come out of this period. Specifically, the Council of Trent that offered a rebuttal of the teachings of the Reformers and the many many Post-Reformation Saints to come out of the Church.
With all the applaud about Martin Luther last week, I honestly didn’t get the uproar in cheer. This is a sad event. More disunity and lack of reconciliation came about because of this. Jesus Christ said to the Father that he wanted his believers to be one just as God and Jesus share unity in the Godhead (John 17:21). Because authentic reform was supplanted with a revolution, this deep divide has existed for 500 years!
When I think of how the Reformation has impacted my life, I can go back to the church pew of the small “bible church” I used to be a member of. Going Sunday after Sunday and honestly thinking in the disorder of their worship service or the sloppy sermons on Protestant fundamentals “why am I still coming here?” to the point of me withdrawing completely was horrible! I knew some kind of truth was out there, but it definitely wasn’t in a Baptist or even a non-denominational church for sure.
The creed or covenant of the Church I attended was nothing more than life application tips. Other statements of faith that I saw at other churches were just poorly crafted ancient creeds mixed with the Westminster Confession.
Sitting in the church, knowing that the preacher was preaching stuff that I didn’t see as true in the bible really made me dislike Protestantism even more. Going to church was me going through the motions. I went trying to feel closer to God and deepen my relationship, but ultimately growing further away. I couldn’t help but feel increasingly more unsatisfied. I was numb for a period. Maybe close to a year. Some weeks I would pray for energy to be enthused to be an active participant in the songs and sermons, but it didn’t happen. I knew for sure I wasn’t becoming an atheist, but definitely knew the current church I was at wasn’t home.
I went through a period of Reformed Theology. I read some of the Westminster Confession and then I felt like I finally found what I was looking for. Something defined, outlined and spelled out. That’s until I spoke to a non-Christian about Limited Atonement and it really made me realize the difficulty of such unfair teaching. I concluded maybe Reformed Theology wasn’t best.
After I sat in the pew many Sundays and spent much time in deep personal contemplation, I came to the realization that maybe Protestantism wasn’t for me. I had given up on it completely.
Protestantism made me feel overly secure in my relationship with Christ. It promised a grand big greater than life Sovereign God (which God is totally sovereign and bigger than we can comprehend) that will save you if you’re a part of the elect. Somehow my cooperation would destroy God’s powerful perfect plan to save me. As if it discarded or have no say so or influence in my faith journey. I found that troubling.
At my former bible church, the simple easy “faith alone” Christianity always bothered me. To hear some Sundays eternal security “once saved always saved” was more of an emotional crutch than a theological truth. Sometimes It seemed as if the teaching was promoting the sin of presumption. I took to heart the verse from Philippians 1:6 “he that began a good work in you will bring it to completion.” That was my medicine whenever I felt like I was losing moral ground. Another go-to verse was 1 John 1:9 ” if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin.” Perhaps these 2 verses my faith hinged on.
Some might read this and say “your church doesn’t matter…you only need a personal relationship with Jesus .”
To that I say this:
The Church is a community. Community conveys a sense of “we” while the person relationship conveys a sense of “I” at the exclusion of worship with others.
Jesus didn’t die, bury, resurrect, and ascend to create an isolated lone ranger type Christian, but he did create a Church ( Grk. Ekklesia, the “called out”, “the assembly. “) that would be united together. We do have our own accountability with Jesus Christ, but God has called us out from the corners of the world to be a part of the Body he founded and heads as his faithful assembled community.
In addition, truth matters too. It’s not churches but a Church that matters. Although Christ is the invisible Head of the Church, there needs to be a visible head also. Similarly, God is the head of all governments and rulers ( Proverbs 8:15-16) but that doesn’t mean having a prime minister erodes the authority of the invisible head of God. Likewise, Christ established his Church and intended it to carry on when he died by ahead. Therefore, Peter (Rock) became the apostle in which the Church is founded on.
Early church fathers show this. For example, look at Cyprian of Carthage in about 250 A.D. makes the case for the chair of Peter that points toward his supremacy and the unity of the Church:
“There is one God and one Christ, and one Church, and one Chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering. “
St. Cyprian makes it clear that Peter definitely had supremacy by virtue of him having the “chair ” by the word of Jesus. Also, Christ made him the foundation of the Church is built on. Interestingly, I’ve never seen a Church claim to have the seat of Peter, but only the Catholic Church.
As I reflect back on the impact of the Reformation for my life, I’m reminded of the quote from St. Augustine:
“There is nothing more serious than the sacrilege of schism because there is no just cause for severing the unity of the Church.”
More than ever, we should pray for the unity of all believers.
Letter of Cyprian to All His People [43 (40), 5], in Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers, 1:229.