I believe we are living in the most significant moment in the history of the church since the Reformation. While we can be thankful and grateful for the many benefits that derived to us from the Reformation, many of the beliefs, values, and practices that came from it are being challenged in this hour. In my opinion, rightly and necessarily so. On the eve of the quincentenary (500th anniversary) celebration of the Reformation, I have an appeal to make.
Winners write history from their perspective. Rarely does one find a Bible School or seminary that is thoroughly forthcoming with the facts about the dark or downside of their own heritage. The Reformation had very serious dark elements associated with it. These are often downplayed or brushed off with a “not every thing was perfect” one-liner that is supposedly the equivalent of being intellectually honest. “Winners” write the history they want written.
It can be argued (depending on your persuasion) that the Reformation was primarily a reformation of doctrine. What if this new day, this new reformation, is about achieving what the Reformation did not: the reformation of ethics. That is, that the church gets serious about living, looking, and acting like Jesus toward one another and the world?
Any student of church history knows the vitriol and venom that transpired between Luther and Rome. Luther’s scatological references to the Pope and Rome are also well documented. The centuries of bloodshed that soaked the continent in religious wars that derived from the venom are also self-attesting. For whatever benefits the Reformation brought, it did not succeed in regard to the three V’s of: venom, vitriol, and violence: the justification of violence in someone’s perception of advancing the cause of God. Perhaps for no other reason than self-survival, thinking people have (at least in theory or to some degree) renounced the V of violence. I propose we have not done so well on the other two.
I expect the passions associated from within the Protestant Reformation-based Evangelical/Fundamentalist establishment of our day to match or exceed the animus that Rome and Luther directed toward each other in theirs. I have already personally experienced a measure of it.
“Brothers,” former friends, and associates have called me demonized, a heretic, an apostate, a false teacher, an over-educated nincompoop, and much worse. I expect those accusations to continue. My crimes? 1) Simply not being Protestant enough to make them happy, and being honest about it. 2) My refusal to accept many of the Graeco-western epistemological presuppositions in Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and the other Reformers. 3) My refusal to think that what came out of the Protestant Reformation is the unequivocal final word regarding “truth” on anything, including philosophical and epistemological perspectives and presuppositions about the scriptures themselves.
In the light of the quincentenary celebration of the Reformation, I would like to make an appeal to those of us who may have a Protestant Reformation and Evangelical heritage, but who, in recent times, have consciously and with conviction, abandoned many of the beliefs and practices we learned there.
Can we avoid carrying the dark side of our heritage into the future?
I have no issue with aggressive and confrontational debates on issues of importance. I have no issue with using sarcasm, satire, irony, and hyperbole in our debates on issues. The scriptures are so clear on this. The prophets, Jesus, and Paul used all these techniques, especially when dealing with entrenched power structures: civic or religious.
It seems to me that there is a difference in the responses of our Lord toward the blind (those who do not see), the struggling (those who see but who are in defeat), and those who profess to have sight but who are in reality purveyors of darkness. Jesus was severe with the latter to a degree that offends modern sensibilities of interpersonal politeness. While welcoming vigorous and passionate debate, I appeal that we do not respond in like kind to those who loose vicious, vitriolic, venomous, and ad hominem attacks upon us.
On the eve of the quincentenary of the Reformation, lets do better than Luther and Calvin. Let’s do better than Eck, Tetzel, and Leo X. Rather than justifying and normalizing the vitriol and venom of our ancestors in our debates with one another, why not choose a better way in this hour? Let’s attempt to treat others how we would like to be treated, not in proportion to how they might be treating us. What a radical thought. Let’s renounce all three of the V’s not just violence. Let’s choose our battles carefully. Let’s be free to not accept an invitation to joust. If we must accept a jousting challenge, may the fragrance of Christ’s character and the manifestation of His ethics speak louder than the persuasiveness of our arguments.
For me, this would be a truly revolutionizing reformation for the 21st century.
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