October 31st 2017 will mark 500 years since the Lutheran (or Protestant) Reformation, which officially began with Dr. Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the doors of the Wittenberg Castle church. His intention was to have a public debate against the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church regarding the sale of indulgences in order to build St. Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican City.
The emphasis of the Lutheran Reformation is to call the Christian Church back to the original, Apostolic teaching, that salvation is received only through the merits of Christ by the means of God’s grace through faith. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
According to legend, Dr. Martin Luther conceived the idea of the Reformation while sitting comfortably one day upon his chamber pot. Although this legend cannot be confirmed, in 2004 archaeologists discovered Luther’s lavatory, which was remarkably modern for its day, featuring a heated floor system and a primitive drain. Given Martin Luther’s crude humor, the possibility of his “inspiration” while sitting in his primitive toilet would not be offensive to him nor outlandish, especially since the German scholar was not a friend of taking himself too seriously- a virtue I personally admire.
On the other hand, after 500 years of “Protesting” against the Roman Catholic Church and over 40,000 Christian denominations later… it would be wise to ask the question:
Has the Protestant Reformation failed?
Yes, in some very grievous ways it has failed. Our Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to love one another as he loved us. (John 15:12) Lord Jesus also told us that the world would know that we are his disciples by our love for one another. (John 13:35) Given the great divisions in the Christian Church (everyone is to blame, from Roman Catholics to Pentecostals), one could rationally (and safely) deduce that there are absolutely NO CHRISTIAN DISCIPLES in the world- or at least, extremely few in number.
On the other hand, the Protestant Reformation has been a success. Generally there are two didactic methods of learning: by direct instruction and by means of experience. Since we have not listened to the instruction of our Master, experience has taught us through our painful divisions… that Christ was right- “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
According to one estimate, the word “disciple” appears in the New Testament 261 times. But if Christians were to be frank, we would admit that we barely hear the word “disciple” in our churches today! In fact, when most Christians hear the word “disciple,” they think about the original 12 Disciples, which later came to be known as the Apostles.
Discipleship is founded upon listening- and in order to listen, we must shut our mouths, STILL our minds and pay close attention and consideration to what the Master is teaching through his words and actions.
On the way to Rome for his martyrdom, St. Ignatius of Antioch (Disciple of St. John) says the following in his letter to the Ephesians 15:1-2
“It is better to be silent and be real than to talk and not be real. It is good to teach, if one does what one says. Now there is one teacher (Jesus), who spoke and it happened; indeed, even the things that he has done in silence are worthy of the Father. The one who truly possesses the word of Jesus is also able to hear his silence, so that he may be perfect, so that he may act through what he says and be known through his silence.“
We have spent 500 years arguing about what Lord Jesus said- yet unless we shut our mouths and BE STILL, we will never know what Christ actually taught. But how can we, when every “Christian” that holds a Bible under his arm is a teacher unto himself?
On the night of his betrayal unto death, Christ’s original 12 disciples were listening to the words that our Lord prayed in the garden of Gethsemane:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21 NIV)
Could it be possible that we (Christians) are not united in the bond of love simply because we truly do not believe that God sent his only begotten Son in order to carry our sins and be a means of salvation for the whole world? The Lord taught us through St. Paul that, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1Corinthians 13:4-5)
Perhaps it is time that we all stop talking so much and begin to listen and love all who cling to the Cross. Perhaps God allowed the Protestant Reformation in order to teach us that in our self-seeking, we all lost our way- and that love is really the only thing that truly matters and endures.
Unless we shut up and begin to listen…we will never know the God who is love. In fact, if we continue to refuse to listen, we might as well stop calling ourselves “Christians” since we are not following Christ’s admonitions.
“Be still and know that I am God.” How about we start a new Reformation? A Reformation of the heart. A Reformation that begins by listening…