Here we are, October 31st almost five hundred years after you posted your concerns on the town bulletin board, and the church is more divided than it has ever been. For better or for worse, that date has gone down in the annals of history as the day we broke the church. That day that we began to redefine what it means to be a church.
You had legitimate concerns and protests. There were serious problems in the church that needed to be addressed. Would they have been dealt with eventually had you not tacked up your thoughts? Who knows. It is impossible to know for sure what would or would not have happened. But you did, and that the train began moving. Heading down a steep hill, it took a wrong turn, or at least an unexpected one, and the brake lever broke off, and at that point it officially became a runaway train.
I wonder if, knowing the state of the church today, you would have done anything differently.
For me, it is hard to “celebrate” Reformation Day. Instead, I think of it as a remembrance. I hope that is okay with you. I am thankful for your boldness to speak out for your convictions, to stand in the face of power and be a dissenting voice. This is the wonderful heritage of the Reformation. But the shadow side, is that we feel empowered to break fellowship with other Christians whenever we disagree on something that we deem to be important enough. In some ways, it is hard to speak of the Church, any longer, but rather churches. It is even hard to speak of Christianity, because of the diversity of opinions of the meaning of the faith. This is not necessarily unequivocally bad, it is simply different, and brings with it new challenges.
On the difficult days, I sometimes wish that you hadn’t opened that Pandora’s Box, that you hadn’t put that train into motion. When I sit in church meetings or have letters come across my desk and people and churches talk of leaving and splitting and seceding for various reasons, it bothers me. I think that it hurts Christ when we do this.
But it is not all doom and gloom these centuries later. Steps have been taken toward healing. We have learned that we don’t have to agree on everything to agree on some things, and that we don’ t have to agree on everything to work together. It has been a long and hard lesson, but I hope that we can keep working on it. You have left us with important lessons, particularly the Three Solae which have become central in our churches.
So, in remembrance of Reformation Day, I am reading the Bible in my own language, I am praying directly to God through Christ, and tomorrow, our church will celebrate the Lord’s Supper and everyone will receive both elements. Later today, I will be going to a local pub and I will raise a pint to you, Martin. For although we broke the church, we can take comfort in the fact that ultimately Christ will gather the church into the glorious Kingdom of God.