Reformation Day Shouldn’t Be a Celebration

It’s not that I don’t recognize that the Church was in a rough spot in the Middle Ages.

It’s not that I don’t admire the courage and tenacity of the Reformers in fighting for a faith that was closer to the Early Church that addressed abuses, un-Godly practices, and biblical illiteracy.

But I can’t celebrate Reformation Day.

I’m profoundly grateful for so many things that came out of the Reformation, like the beautiful English liturgy used by Anglicans, a rediscovery of the primacy of Scripture, the Authorized Version, and renewed focus on clergy formation through biblical training. God used the Reformation to bring light into places of darkness, to give the people of God worship in their own language and access to the Sacraments. Historic revival movements began, and many were willing to die and did for their stand for biblical, ancient, and Apostolic truth.

Yes, God has used and continues to used the Reformation and its children, but the Christian Church has failed to really, truly reform from within. Instead the Reformers (sometimes against their will) had to separate themselves, forming new Churches. Ultimately new ecclessiologies developed that essentially gave the individual permission to break communion with other Christians and start their own semi-autonomous group if they are not in full doctrinal agreement.

This has resulted in–over time–thousands of new competing versions of Christianity, all of which claim to be “the most true” based on sectarian readings of the Scriptures. Obviously, they cannot all be correct, yet division, anger, and disunity remain. Unity within diversity is possible and in fact exists as a result of our common confession of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, yet we do not exhibit it with our attitudes and actions.

We refuse Holy Communion to those that differ with us on the exact nature of the Eucharistic mystery, we invalidate baptisms because of secondary issues of form, and there’s often not a sense of a hierarchy of truths. It seems as if some people all but explicitly say, “Either you agree me all the way, or God bless you, I hope you get to heaven but it’s not looking good.”

What about authority? Many say they find it in the Bible, but in practice they find in themselves and their own judgement of the “plain and obvious meaning” of passages that have from the beginning been debated. Never mind that for most of these issues, an Undivided Church spoke with one authoritative voice–a voice most of us that identify as Evangelicals have largely forgotten or chosen to ignore.

The divisions (not necessarily disagreements) that exist in the Church today damage the credibility of our witness to truth of Christ and stand in direct opposition to will of our Lord, that

they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:21-23, ESV)

It’s one thing to bear with one another, as the Scriptures teach, striving with zeal to “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…,” but too many Christians have stopped trying (Ephesians 4:12-13, ESV). Phrases like, “we’ll never be one visible church again this side of Jesus coming back” are thrown around with careless abandon. With Christ all things are possible and this is his desire for us. 

Don’t shortchange the Holy Spirit.

Reformation Day has become in many corners an excuse to celebrate caricature and delight in division instead of remembering God’s faithfulness to his church and pursuing unity in the Spirit. It’s time for Protestants to take the log out of our eye and get to work on being the Body of Christ.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6, ESV)