This month, Christians all over the world, but especially in the West, will be remembering the Reformation which took place 500 years ago this month. Regardless of which side you find yourself on today, the Reformation (of the 1500s) continues to impact the way church is experienced for all Christians for good and bad. Roman Catholic believers will say that the Reformation created a rift that separated people from the One True Church, while Reformation congregations will be celebrating the birth of a movement.(Greek Orthodox will probably be rolling their eyes at the whole thing, having been the target of the first great Christian Schism.) However, I find the Roman response to the whole thing more in line with Jesus’ personality – mourning a divorce within the church’s body.
Maybe divorce is the wrong term – it’s almost as if the church continues to cut parts of itself off to see if one part can do the role of the whole body. Suddenly, we’ve got a grotesque mental image of the body of Christ in pieces on an operating table, each part twitching ineffectively. I must be honest as say that the disunity and this mental image haunt me. Perhaps this feeling comes from growing up part of a movement within the church that began by valuing unity under Scripture. (Spoiler alert, it broke off and became it’s own thing separate from other Christian groups.)
I wonder what we Protestants have lost. I know that growing up, we rarely heard from the church fathers or mothers – even in passing. The word “saint” almost became a dirty word, a holdover from the “dark times,” or whatever we were supposed to consider them. Every once in a while Augustine would pop up, but only in regards to Calvinism. What about Origen, Athanasius, Iranaeus, Justin Martyr, John Chrysostom, Hildegard of Bingen, and others? What are we supposed to do with nearly 1200 years of Christian history between the 4th Century and the 16th? These are questions I’ve had to consider over the past few years as I have begun digging into historic Christianity.
All of Christian history is full of people who seem to “get it” and also those who want to take advantage of it. There are those willing to give up power, and those willing to take it up. There are those willing to give generously, and those who want only to hoard. There are those who zealously guard orthodoxy, and those who don’t see the point. All we need to is look at the way the apostles themselves reacted to Jesus to see that.
I do find beauty in the great variety of worship patterns (liturgies), locations, language, and ways of relating to God within the Christian Church. However, I do mourn our lack of unity. I mourn the good change that comes so slowly because the Church refuses at act as one body.
As we mark 500 years past the moment of decision – may we stop and consider where we find ourselves. May we stop and contemplate how the church can begin to come together again and work as one body, instead of each congregation or denomination acting like a finger twitching, separated from the rest of the body.