This was originally posted on my personal Facebook page in response to a meme shared by the Memes of Jesus Facebook page which I had seen doing the rounds. It is a picture of reformer Martin Luther facing Catholic priest with the caption: “No, the door was fine. I’m just fixing your theology”. The 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is fast approaching, and that is worth celebrating–but let’s celebrate it humbly, in the manner of Christ. The Protestant Reformation sprang out of the success of the Gutenberg Bible and the creation of the printing press–it advocated for wide availability and accessibility of Scripture, and the priesthood of all believers. These are admirable parts of its legacy–yet the picture is not complete if left there.
Protestant and Catholic nation-states warred with each other. The Inquisition and the Jesuits persecuted heavily the emerging Protestants labelling them heretics; the Protestants persecuted the Catholics with equal vigor. Elizabeth I was of the most strident defenders of Protestantism and Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Earl of Norfolk both lost their heads in part because of the conflict between the faiths. Both sides had plenty of blood on their hands in short order, and added plenty more over the centuries.
Yet out of this conflict, came great good. The Protestant and Catholic faiths refined and honed each other. The Catholic Church became much more accessible and modified some of its doctrines as Scripture became more widely available and as Europe moved towards faith. The Jesuits, who originally viewed themselves as soldiers of God and who were directly responsible for many deaths of Protestants, accused witches, and the Aboriginal people of North and South America, to name a few developed into a peaceful, contemplative tradition known for its logic and intellect—with that same logic being largely founded upon the early days of propaganda against and arguments with the Protestants. For their part, the Protestants split into thousands of different denominations leading to a greater diversity in the Body of Christ. The various Protestant denominations had to refine their beliefs so as to counter the opposition of both the Catholic Church and the other Protestant denominations.
Protestants and Catholics alike now stand largely in peace with one another, committed to peaceful dialogue and recognizing that war does not a convert make. There remain differences in interpretation and doctrine, differences that often seem silly but which deeply matter to the thousands of denominations that have sprung forth since the time of the Reformation. Yet those differences no longer have us at each other’s throats—rather there is a basic recognition that Christ is present in all of us.
Do we have all our problems solved and are one big happy family? No. Are all denominations equally valid? Also no–the Westboro baptists come to mind as a denomination that would be very hard to consider part of the Body of Christ in any way, shape, or form. Yet overall, the thousands of denominations do co-exist and bring to mind, at least for me, the Scripture passages which speak of the Body of Christ and the room for diversity within it. The vast majority of the thousands of denominations while not a happy family are still family.
So in a story that began with bloodshed, bitter division, and fanatical hatred things have evolved to the point of peaceful co-existence, dialogue, even mutual respect and sharing. This is the Body of Christ that was promised to us, and that the Spirit guides and strengthens in its infinite diversity. THIS is what is worth celebrating on the anniversary of the Reformation–the mutual honing and refining, the improvement and maturation of both traditions, the unity (which most stridently is not uniformity!) in the followers of the Lord, Jesus Christ.