Since you’ll be reading this after October 31, let me just wish you a very Happy Reformation Day!
People tend to get the wrong idea when I say that to them. For instance, some people think that I’m joking -- that I’m making a big deal about something trivial just to be funny (but that couldn’t be further from the truth). Others think that I’m just trying to find something other than Hallowe’en to celebrate on that day (which I explained a bit more in detail in the podcast interview that I had last week with Aletheia Classical Christian School headmaster Chris Marchand, where we discussed the nature of evil and the history of the Church’s response to Hallowe’en... as well as Darth Maul’s double-bladed lightsaber...). Still others take that as some sort of passive-aggressive attack on the Catholic Church (which comes out of some understandable over-sensitivity, but ignores the fact that pretty much all of the original Reformers were active, Catholic clergy).
You probably know that I’m a huge fan of history -- of understanding where we are today best by understanding the context of everything and everyone that’s gone before us. So to me, in order to understand where we’re at today in the modern church, it’s crucial to understand what men and women of faith have done in the past to get us here -- the good things as well as the bad things -- so that we can make the best, most well-informed, most God-honoring decisions possible today. And at the core of the Reformation was a desire to know the Bible better, to live it out better, and thus to honor God better.
This Tuesday marked the 500th anniversary of reform preacher (that was an official position in the Catholic Church, mind you) Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses, his questions and concerns, about the corruptions going on in the church at the time. Amazingly, though church leaders vilified Luther for his writings (and Pope Leo X excommunicated him over 41 of his 95 Theses), the Catholic Church more or less ended up accepting almost all of Luther’s criticisms as valid and reforming itself -- but not until long after they’d pushed clergy like Luther and Calvin and Simons and Tauler and Erasmus and Tyndale into becoming ardent and biting critics of what was going on.
But here’s the thing: we still struggle with all of this today. Even in the most reformed of reformed churches, we still tend to want to stick with what we’re familiar with, fighting against those who would ever want to reform the church any further than we already have. The Lutherans didn’t think that the Catholics went far enough, the Calvinists didn’t think that the Lutherans went far enough, the Mennonites didn’t think that anyone else went far enough... but even today, we struggle against new visions for social justice, or against people wearing jeans in worship services, or against people not wearing jeans in worship services, or with... well, the list goes on.
The church was supposed to be reformed, but then always reforming. Culture is constantly morphing around us, and we need to constantly work not to be conformed to its evolution, but part of how we do that is to constantly work to be renewed and transformed by God’s unchanging Truth in new and ever-reformed (and ever-reforming) ways. The surest way to make sure that your church is no longer a Reformed church is to assume that it is, and that it thus no longer needs to reform itself. And the surest way to make sure that you and I as individual Christians are self-righteously stagnant is to assume that we no longer need to reform ourselves.
Reform never starts on the street, or even in the pew -- genuine reform needs to start in your heart and mine, or else it’s never going to happen.