Exactly 500 years ago, Martin Luther walked up to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany and affixed 95 statements with a hammer heard around the world.

The impact of Luther’s commentary on on church continues to reverberate, even today, across religious and secular lines. Social media around world is abuzz about the 500th anniversary of the event that ultimately split the Western Church and was the catalyst to the Protestant Reformation. The perspective of 500 years gives us the ability, if only in a limited way, to comment on the effects of the reform.

In retrospect, the Reformation has turned out to be a mixed bag. Click To Tweet

Consider this comment from a major Christian publisher on this quincentenary: “Martin Luther’s legacy was simple: protest everything that keeps people from God.”

If that be true, then it may well be that were Luther alive today he would find himself protesting against the very churches that he created.

One of Luther’s primary complaints was that the church at the turn of the 16th century had set itself up as judge, jury, and mediator between God and man. Luther’s contention was that salvation was a free gift and that rightness with God was to be found through Christ and his work alone.

But the century that followed the Reformation found Protestant followers of Christ being anything but Christ-like.

Catholics killed Protestants. Protestants killed Catholics. Protestants and Catholics killed Anabaptists (it seems that they were at least in agreement over that one thing). Doctrinal arguments continued within Protestantism and led to schism after schism as wave after wave of religious leaders staked their lives (and the lives of their followers) on issues of secondary importance.

While relationships between Christians of today are far less violent then they were 500 years ago, they are no less tense.

The denominational wasteland in which we find ourselves is as much a result of the Reformation as the existence of the Protestant Church itself.

We are a body without unity, on issue both large and small.

This must unfathomably frustrate the Christ who choose to spend the final hours before his death in fervent prayer for followers’ unity.

Today, Protestants are increasingly splintered from one another and—much like the Catholic Church of 500 years ago—the Protestant Church often allows itself, and its doctrine, to stand in-between the unity of its followers and stand in the way of the salvation of those who are not.

500 years on, many Protestants find themselves more concerned with the nuances of right belief than extravagant and convicting love.

Dogmatic theology that worships at the altar of rightness stands in the way of righteousness. Click To Tweet

A church that claims the legacy of the Reformation but stands in the way of others wishing to come to the table, becomes the very church that received a nailing 500 years ago today.

The rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation, Sola Scripture (Scripture Alone), has led to all kinds of abuse and persecution directed toward fellow followers of The Way.

Jesus said, you shall know my followers by their love.

+ + +

Looking through the lens of 500 years, many scholars are noticing a recurring 500-year pattern of breakdown and reconstruction within the structures of the institutionalized church.

Is it possible that the Protestant Church of today is the Catholic Church of 500 years ago?

Every 500 years since Christ, there has been a breakdown and rebirth within the church. Take for example: Gregory the Great (500), the Great Schism (1,000), and the Great Reformation (1,500).

Even many of the most die-hard Protestants among us have grown wary of a faith that requires the elevation of Creed over Christ, and belief above love.

Phyllis Tickle suggests that 500 years post-reformation, Luther’s ‘sola scriptura, scriptura sola’ has done little more than create a paper pope in place of a flesh-and-blood one.

If the lasting legacy of the Reformation was the Bible, then 500 years is withering away in our hands as the authority of the paper pope (the Bible) goes the way of the flesh-and-blood pope of the Reformation.

Where now is our authority, if it be not solely in the Basilica or the Bible?

500 years later, many Protestants are now locating that authority BACK IN THE CHURCH! Choosing instead to locate it within an ecclesial system “that waits upon the Spirit and rests in the interlacing lives of Bible-listening, Bible-honoring believers [that] undoubtedly has its impetus in the sensibilities of the secular Great Emergence around it.” 1

The Protestant Church is only now awaking to a reality which has long been upon it:

The Protestant Reformation is over.

And what do we have to show for it?

Wisdom will press the pastors and priests among us to soon replace our 500-year-old iconoclastic idols that were created with the Reformation and return anew to a faith that places all authority in Christ.

It is time to return with fervor to the Eucharist, the Ekklesia, and the Eminent Christ… not to the exclusion of Scripture, but alongside it.

Solus Christus, Christus solus!

  1. Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing And Why (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012).
SHARE

Kevin holds a Doctor of Ministry in Semiotics and Future Studies from Portland Seminary, where his work on Early Church spiritual formation passed with the rare honor of exemplary distinction. He is also a graduate of Cedarville University and Dallas Theological Seminary, holding degrees in Biblical Studies, Visual Communications, and Church Educational Leadership. Kevin has served on ministry staffs in some of the largest churches across the United States and is currently the Senior Minister of JupiterFIRST Church in Jupiter, Florida. His most important role, though, is husband to Sally and dad to four of Generation Z’s youngest members: Libbie, Lucy, Harris, and Matthew.