October 31st marks the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Many churches, my own included, will host a special service commemorating the delivery of Martin Luther’s famous Ninety-five Theses. We will rejoice in the five solas of the Protestant Reformation and will celebrate.
While there are certainly aspects of the Reformation that I greatly cherish, I must admit that I walk into this day with mixed feelings. The weight of the break of unity with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ crushes me. My conscience tingles with alarm and I wonder if we should be celebrating or mourning and praying. I wonder, if Christ was walking among us today, how He would treat celebrations of the Reformation.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 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. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 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 17:20-21, ESV
In the final moments before His betrayal and crucifixion, this was Jesus’s prayer. He didn’t pray for Himself. He didn’t pray for our theological understanding. He prayed for our unity. Our unity as the Body of Christ is supposed to mirror the unity of the Trinity. He called us to be one as They are One.
We are no longer united.
There were things that needed to be addressed. I don’t pretend to stand here with the privilege of 500 years of history and say that I would have done differently than Martin Luther. I’m not even saying that I think what he did was wrong. I’m just saying that the lack of unity amongst believers breaks my heart, and I think it breaks the heart of Jesus as well.
So when it comes to celebrating the Reformation, I tend to take a backseat. I think we can learn from the Reformation and commend the bravery of those who were willing to sacrifice so much for their faith. But I think when we learn about the bravery, we also need to acknowledge that there is an element of heartache and that something broke on that day and the wound is still left weeping.
On October 31st, if you are a Protestant, I encourage you to remember and talk about this part of our history. But don’t stop there.
Learn about the entire history, not just the last 500 years, of the Christian faith. Study the saints who have died before. Reach out to your believing friends in different denominations and promote unity within your circle. Extend grace to those who believe differently than you do and pray, no beg, the Father to unite us.
Ask for a heart that pursues unity, not rightness, among believers. Pray for a spirit that is gracious in the non-essentials of our faith and understanding of those who choose to worship differently than you do. Earnestly desire that God grant you wisdom in honoring the faith that has been handed down through the generations with us.