500 Years of Reformation

Sola Fide
Sola Scriptura
Sola Gratia
Solus Jesus
Soli Deo Gloria

Martin Luther

This year we celebrate 500 years of reformation. This is due to the internal necessity of us humans to fix a date for a process. There obviously is merit in the date of 1517, yet it has to be viewed within the bigger picture.

One hundred years before Luther, others started to realise that church was in an odd place. It resembled a more tribal system with leaders that knew and masses that followed. Huss, Wycliff and others proceeded Luther, Zwingli and Calvin with little effect on the system – but to open the doors for new thoughts.

One hundred years after Luther, finally the war between the Catholics and the Reformation groups came to an end and co-existence began.

Thus, the reformation is more of a period of 200 years than a single event.

But what is its purpose, what is its inheritance?

The church before

As I said, the church before the reformation was a tribal system.

What do I mean by a tribal system?

A tribal system provides security to people who want to survive. Tribal people believe that the tribe is better fit to protect them from wildlife, other tribes, circumstances and phenomena they do not understand.

Especially those phenomena are explained and attributed to gods, spirits, or in case of the church, God himself.

There seem to be people in a tribe that know more about the spirits and their ways than others, so people start to seek them for council. Usually, those people are called shamans.

The church as a tribe with shamans? Are you kidding?

Not really. When the church was founded, most systems on earth were rule based. Look at pharisaical Judaism or Roman citizenship. But the uprise of the Roman emperors, the acceptance of Christianity as the religion of the Roman empire, things starting to degrade, and the fall of the Roman empire brought us back to a magical, tribal, priest run society.

Even though the canon of scripture was fixed, and a sacred text was given, it was managed and watched over by the elected few. Priests knew – at least some of them – and the people asked them about what to do.

  • How can I secure my harvest? – Tithe to me.
  • How can I secure my afterlife? – Follow the catholic rules.
  • How can I shorten my stay in purgatory? – Pay indulgence. To me.

Faith became very formulaic and magical. It was magic that explained the world, and formulas that protected us and made us successful.

Huss, Wycliff, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Blaurock and many more were people who challenged this. They gathered the courage to ask the question:

Who are you to tell others how things work?

The answer

Their answer to that question was deeply humble. Usually, the people asking this question just replaced the ruling class with – themselves. Look at the French or the Russian Bolshevik revolution.

But the reformers – maybe intuitively – saw that this would perpetuate the system just with other proponents. Thus, they placed authority with scripture.

  • Sola fide – you can only belong in and through faith.
  • Sola gratia – you cannot earn it, it is by grace only.
  • Solus Jesus – he is the only door.
  • Soli Deo gloria – God is the only one to thank for this.
  • Sola scriptura – the bible is the manual and only authoritative source of how things are done.

The reformation mainly restored the rule based system that the church was born into. It gives us the rules of how to belong, and the authority to follow. Of course we can interpret scripture in different ways, more or less obviously seeing it as a constitution, a law-book of how to behave.

Was this God’s intention with the reformation? I do not think so. There is so much more potential.

The Pitfall

The reformers were pressured into erecting a rule based organisation or association with admittedly more freedom for the single member. Still, it is the pastors that interpret scripture, even though everybody now can read it. Theologians reconcile scripture into a consistent system, explaining to the people the rules, and explaining away the obvious discrepancies.

They turn what has been written and described as a cultural library with many authors talking about the same subject into a constitution of the Kingdom. A constitution is consistent in itself, has no discrepancies because they could lead to insecurities and loopholes, and needs lawyers to explain.

But the reformation was pressured into being an organisation to defend and justify themselves against the Catholics – and made them change into a rule based organisation themselves. A second reason was that they needed the political and military support from the ruling classes, themselves a magical system with nobility and peasants.

Thus the reformation stopped short.

The Reaction

The reformation had a peek at some truths of a new and next level that had never been around for anybody in the world. The church did not catch on, but the world around them did.

The church took what God intended to bring about and integrated it into the old rule based system of “us vs them”.

The world took it and developed science, humanism, capitalism, the industrial revolution.

The church still looks at those very much in an us vs them mentality. Science just wants to disprove God. Humanism just wants to make man God. And every technology that was invented after one’s twentieth birthday is of the devil and only brings about the downfall of our Christian culture.

Better: our beloved rule system.

The great Divide

The world has even progressed further. Human rights, equality, ecology, actually caring again for the planet that we have been made stewards of. All biblical, yet so much fought by large parts of the church. Why? The source of knowledge is the wrong one – science and humanism – and that is why the thing is of the devil?

The church has lost its thought leadership in reformation as they stuck to the old rule based hierarchical system with an inerrant holy book and a class of interpreters. The world took up those principles that God planted and developed them further. Without the guidance of the Spirit, mistakes are to be expected.

Now, whose fault is this exactly?

The church forfeited their position and assignment as the light of the world. It is not the world that is to be blamed.

The Potential

Though it is hard, the church is to outgrow their system and grow up. To leave all these rules behind is so hard.

God made a new attempt in the pentecostal movement and since. Sola scriptura is just not true any longer for pentecostal and charismatic people, as they place the word of knowledge and other spiritual gifts on the same level – provided consistency with the bible.

500 years after the reformation we stand a chance to fulfil its full potential and regain thought leadership in the world.

Uniquely and wonderfully made individuals working together according to their giftings and callings in non-hierarchical networks, lead by whoever is best fit and equipped for the task at hand.

Fivefold ministers that take no hierarchical leadership, but equip others to step up to the plate, to fulfil their own vision, to further the Kingdom and not the vision of the leader.

The church as a training center for ministers of the ministry of all saints.

God is calling us. He promises that he wants to bring to a conclusion what he started 500 years ago. He is waiting on us. Let’s grow up.