Today, as I write this article, millions of Protestants across the world celebrate a certain day. And I’m not talking about Halloween. I’m speaking of Reformation day. Yes, it was on this day in the year 1517 that Martin Luther posted his 95 theses and launched what we now know as the Reformation. Someone had been brave enough to stand up against the Roman Catholic Church in the midst of all her lies and deceit and had translated the Bible in the language of the people. Luther was, and still is, seen as a valiant hero by many. And we all celebrate the day that, in essence, he flipped a big middle finger to the Catholic Church.
But, is this really a day we should be celebrating?
Maybe Martin Luther didn’t exactly flip a bird to the Catholic Church, but he did make a huge impact in Church history. Let me put my cards on the table. I’ll let you know that I am a Protestant, more specifically an Evangelical. You should know that I believe that, at the time, the Catholic Church was involved with a lot of stuff that needed to be reformed and rethought. I, actually, see the Reformation as something that probably needed to happen. However, I’m not sure that we should set aside a day to celebrate the Reformation. Because, in the end, the Reformation resulted in disunity, something that was discouraged throughout the epistles of the New Testament. So why do we see the disunity that resulted from the Reformation as something to be celebrated, instead of being, perhaps, a necessary evil?
I think about a marriage that ends up in divorce. No one ever hopes that any marriage will end in divorce and a severed relationship. However, if the husband was, for instance, beating his wife or cheating on her sexually without remorse, then a divorce would be necessary. It’d be something that we all see as an evil, merely a result of the fall, but necessary nonetheless. I don’t know of any children who mark the day that their parents got divorced and then set aside that day every year to celebrate it. The child will most likely see it as something that had to happen, but that doesn’t mean that she rejoices at the fact that things had to come to that.
Yet, I think we do exactly that with Reformation Day. Celebrating disunity. And I think this kind of attitude has permeated Protestant and Evangelical culture at large.
The recent conference hosted by John MacArthur seems to me to be proof that we love celebrating disunity. The “Strange Fire” conference was an entire conference whose goal was to expose Charismatic churches as heretics. While I, as a Charismatic, acknowledge that there are a lot of problems and things that need to be addressed within that subset of Christianity, having an entire conference where people simply point and laugh is not the way to go about it. Which Charismatics were really going to benefit from that conference? None. It simply served to make Charismatics more angry and to stroke the ego of those who attended. “We’re the ones who are right.”
I think that celebrating Reformation Day does the same exact thing. It does nothing but to stroke the ego of Protestants. To remind ourselves that we’re the ones that got it right. It’s nothing but tribalism. If we truly were concerned about having a biblical Church, we wouldn’t be attempting to celebrating the thing that split us, but we would be working to desperately work to unify it. That doesn’t mean sacrificing doctrine or theology, but it means at least trying to meet people where they are and understand them. Pointing our fingers and laughing does nothing at all.
In Mark 9:38, John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” I want you to notice that last word. “Us”. The reason that they tried to stop this man wasn’t because he was casting out demons. The disciples did that all the time! They didn’t stop him because he was casting out in a name other than Jesus. It was clear that it was in Jesus’ name. The reason that they tried stopped him was because they claimed that he wasn’t following them.
Too many times, if someone isn’t a part of our theological tribe, our doctrinal camp, or our denominational affiliation, we want to discount them, even if they are doing things in the name of Jesus. I’m not talking about those who deny essential, historically orthodox doctrines. I’m talking about things that we’ve historically been able to disagree about. Too often, people are more concerned about whether others are following them, rather than following Jesus. The “Us vs. Them” mentality is already bad enough when it’s involving the Church and the World, but it’s a million times worse when it’s within the Church herself.
What happened to the unity that we were called to maintain? Even if disunity was a necessary evil, why do we celebrate it as some sort of valiant, heroic act? We should pursue unity as much as we can and never cause disunity where it is not necessary. But, when we do have to resort to disunity, may it tear our hearts up. May it cause us to shed a tear, not shout for joy. May it cause us to feel pain, not delight. Let us think twice before we celebrate a “holiday” like Reformation Day.
This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.