The Protestant Reformation failed. That’s the big picture. I know most evangelical/fundamentalist/whateverist types would say otherwise, but there are a large number of people like myself who see the failure to actually reform The Church as it was at the time. Creating an entirely new and distinct system is not the same as reforming the existing system. You might say the Protestant Church is the America to the Roman Catholic’s England. America, for example, could be considered a failure of a colony. Which we’re ok with.
But when it comes to The Church, the Bride of Jesus, the love and pearl of God, we failed to love and unify. In the name of doctrine (loosely) and tradition (more closely) we parted ways. We took our ball and went home. We drew a line in the sand and we sunk each other’s battleships.
So 500 years later, and The Church continues to splinter incessantly. With all the “statements” that have come out in the past year alone, it’s no wonder. It’s like we are looking for a one size fits all document, like an umbrella. Get under our umbrella or you’re headed for disaster. Problem is that there is no such umbrella that will cover everyone. And even the biggest umbrellas leave someone on the edges getting soggy while whoever is holding it stays nice and dry.
Maybe the point is that we don’t need an umbrella. I get a picture of hundreds of people huddling together in little groups all over the middle of a field while torrential rains pour down. They’re trying to find umbrellas that they fit under. They’re scampering around, tired, drenched, battle worn. They’re looking for help, for answers, for redemption.
And meanwhile there’s an empty church at the end of the field. Its doors are locked and windows barred. It’s like Father Gabriel in The Walking Dead. He’s locked himself inside to stay safe, and he “prays” for the people outside to just be ok. Too often the Church today looks out over the land with disdain and gives the message to others to clean themselves up and get their acts together so they can come in.
How I long for The Church to be reformed. How I long for the Church, in America specifically, to put away childish things – yes childish – and to mature into the hands and feet of Jesus, to walk where the weary and heavy laden live, to give up whatever we have to serve and meet needs. How I pray for revival, true revival, of the hearts of the many who take up space in the pew but can’t be found taking up space before the throne of God on any given day of the week. How I would love to see The Church engaged in a culture that hates us, entering conversations humbly, asking where we went wrong, what evils lie within us that must be addressed, named, and destroyed.I would love to see Churches remembering that we are called, not to be country clubs, but hospitals, ERs, experienced at Triage, long-term care, and maintenance. We are called to be “all things to all people” and figuring that out is a life-long process, so that we may “save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22)
Have we learned this in 500 years? Have we progressed? Have the people of God grown in our understanding and our application of the Gospel of grace, that sweet good news that burns in our hearts and transforms our minds to walk through the world with ever increasing love and sacrifice? Did we learn from the Church’s sordid history of warring against her perceived enemies – people who disagree – instead of the real enemy – sin and death and the evil one? Can we say with any certainty that, as Jesus himself prayed, “they” will know us by our love?
I believe we are at a crossroads. Of course I believe this because I’m alive and every generation likes to think that they are the epicenter of history. But I do think that in my lifetime we have seen a fairly epic shift and I also believe that so much of the failures of our country lie squarely within the failures of The Church to be The Church. We have given in, much like the Roman Catholic Church of Luther’s day, to the fear of losing power, influence, control. We have been called out. Over and over again just in the past 20 years alone. And like those who chastised and excommunicated Luther, instead of being humbled and willing to clean their house according to the truths of the Bible, The Church has failed generations of people looking for an umbrella to get under, looking for answers in an empty field. We have offered umbrellas under strictest of conditions. We have met criticisms from within and without (valid or not is not always entirely relevant) with defensiveness, wrath, and vengeance. We act like the kingdom of God CAN be shaken. We have not strived for growth – we have strived for numbers, but at what cost? – the kind of growth that changes culture, entire societies and generations. We have lost the plot.
It’s time to swing wide the doors and begin to work out ways to cross the fields and weather the storms. It’s time to look carefully and willingly at criticisms, to humbly repent of our evils, to turn away from the practices that are extrabiblical, the ones that are harming the people, the ones that have turned large numbers away from a true understanding of the Gospel of reconciliation and grace. We have to put aside our struggle for power which has narrowed our influence. We have to weed out our pet issues so the issues of the cross can bloom. We have to let go of some hot button topics. We have to address the existence of sinfulness – greed, sexual sins, hardheartedness, racism, misogyny, and unforgiveness – within our churches and our leaders. We must be willing to clean house. Are we willing? Are we finally, truly, humbly ready to do what must be done to “save some?”
Dear Spirit, make us ready. Do the work. Do it first in me.