Today is the 500th Anniversary of Reformation Day. A pretty big event. A significant historical event. And strangely something as big as the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is not being reported on. I have seen nothing on the news. I set out to get the word out and posted information on all of the social media sites for the 7 days preceding this. In doing this, I know it may have upset my Catholic friends. I thought about that and I have thought about why it would upset them. People hold their religion dear. I get that. My intent was not to cause bad feelings between Catholics and Protestants, but was to inform about history.
All of our lives have been impacted by the Protestant Reformation. People were burned at the stake and murdered. Land and churches were seized. Wars erupted. Boundaries of countries were redrawn. People broke off from the Catholic Church and came to be known as Protestants. The Catholic Church went through its own reformation within. The Reformation made people take a hard look at what they believe and their church practices. That is a good thing! The course of history was changed. But sadly the ill feelings between the two carried on through the generations.
This all came about because people tried to define what was essential to the Christian faith.
It impacted you. It impacted me.
And yet people are strangely ignorant about why it occurred.
I grew up in the Presbyterian Church. It was the church of my ancestors. It was my heritage. My aunt was big into genealogy her entire life. When I moved her to assisted living I acquired a big box of research on my father's family line. As I sifted through it, I realized how important to my ancestors was their Presbyterian faith. They helped build Presbyterian Churches, were buried in Presbyterian Church cemeteries, and some were described in the family genealogy as "consistent Christians."
I came to accept Jesus as my Savior way back in middle school. But the Lord part - not so much. While I was a member of a local Presbyterian Church, my faith didn't take very deep roots. I hadn't read the Bible. I had some off-beliefs. I call myself back then an Occasional Christian. Then I hit a black period in my life. It was at that point that I begged God to take over. If He would, I would be all His. And He saved my life in every way imaginable.
God led me to a non-denominational church. I sat there in church every week in and week out listening intently to what the pastor said and what other Christians were saying. I was like a critical skeptical sponge. Often thinking in my head, well you say that, but I'm not sure I buy that. And my journey really began. Someone would say something as small as, "We told our kids animals don't have souls and don't go to heaven." and I would be like WHAT? And I would go into research mode. What is it I believe? Someone would say, "Heaven got another angel." WHAT? People become angels? Why would they think that? And I would go into research mode. (They don't become angels btw.) Someone said they told their son that Jonah being swallowed by a big fish was not true. That it really didn't happen. And I asked, "If we don't believe that happened, why do we believe Jesus was born of a virgin and was resurrected?" (To which I got very strange looks!) Both seemingly impossible events.
My point is I didn't accept what others told me to believe or what they believed. I went on this journey to figure out what I believe. And that has been life altering for me. I am very sure of my beliefs. I know what I believe and why I believe it. My faith has taken on deep roots.
I attended and was involved in this non-denominational church for 5 years before I joined. Why did it take me so long? Because I couldn't give up my Presbyterian heritage. That really was the difficult part for me. I felt like I was turning my back on my ancestors. The non-denominational church required believer baptism to be a member. I had been baptized as an infant and I had been confirmed into the Presbyterian Church where you meet with the Session and then profess in front of the congregation your belief in Christ. I had meant that when I did it. I believe at that point where I made a public profession of my faith way back then that I had done what was required of the Lord. But I wanted to be a member of this church. And so for 5 years I struggled with the believer baptism part. I researched it. I prayed. I read what the Bible said on baptism. I finally concluded why not, I was a believer. I was finally baptized (again) as a believer! Now it seems so silly to have struggled over this issue.
Years later I felt God's prompting to move to another church. I wanted a small church, one where the people really knew me and my family... I had certain requirements in looking for a new church - how were they governed, did they give to missions and how did they do that, did they serve the community, did they have a women's ministry,... I found a little church and before I became a member I met with the pastor and asked him all of my questions. I joined. Oh was my aunt upset when I told her! Why wasn't I Presbyterian? Why would I do that? She has dementia and has since forgotten I am now a Baptist. Thank goodness.
The very first class I taught back at the non-denominational church was called Bible Basics. This church had many people from a Catholic background and when I was going over the 39 books of the Old Testament I had a student ask why her Bible (a Catholic Bible) had more books. I sort of knew, but was not able to adequately answer her. That led me to research the Apocrypha and why Protestants don't believe those books are inspired by God. In another class I was explaining who wrote the books of the New Testament and when I got to James and Jude and said Jesus' brothers wrote those books; I had a woman from a Catholic background go off on me. I did not understand her hostility. I came to find out that Catholics believe Mary was a virgin her whole life. Mark 6:3, Luke 8:19-21, John 2:12, Galatians 1:19, and Jude 1:1 say Jesus had brothers and sisters. And who was this James who led the Jerusalem Church and ruled at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts? The apostle James, brother of John had already been killed in Acts 12:2. I researched the doctrine of perpetual virginity so I understood why Catholics believe this and would be able to answer this question in the future. Does it really matter in salvation terms if Catholics believe in the doctrine of perpetual virginity? I'd say no. (But just the heads up, Catholics get testy over this one. So tread lightly.)
All of this led me to research the differences between Catholics and Protestants. And then as I worked on my family history I was struck with my Presbyterian heritage and the many Protestant denominations which led me to research the Reformation and all of the nasty ugly events that occurred. I am like Alice jumping down a rabbit hole!
I was going to develop a class on the Reformation and what happened in the centuries that came afterwards - why all of the denominations - and I spent a summer in research. Then I got a job, I am the caregiver for my aunt, started Passion to Know More, and couldn't find the time to develop the class. Probably will never happen now.
What has stuck with me though is the idea of 'Is this an essential to the Christian faith?'
In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, liberty.
And in all things, charity.
Let's go back to me asking the Baptist minister a bunch of questions. Were what I was asking him essential to the Christian faith? No. They were essential to me - to the church I belonged to. They were essential to my beliefs. But they weren't essential to being a Christian. In non-essentials we give others freedom.
I believe heaven will be made up of Christians from the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Puritans, Pentecostals, the Amish,...
I believe very strongly in the universal church.
I believe that is what Jesus established.
I believe the universal church is the body of believers.
I believe other Christians are my brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Protestant Reformation which began on October 31, 1517 was history altering. It shaped all of our belief systems. It should be understood why and how it did because in the figuring out of that is what grows deep roots in your faith. In the understanding of history we come to see why we believe what we do. We own our faith.
The Protestant Reformation was based on 5 Solas. What you believe on these 5 things is important to your faith. They are significant.
(I took this picture at the Reformation Wall in Geneva, Switzerland in 2016.)
But they don't change we are all part of the universal church. Any who are Christians are part of this universal church.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
Why did the churches make it so complicated?
My journey over the past years has led me to where I am now. My little women's Bible study group that meets at my home weekly has 2 Baptists, 2 Methodists, 2 Catholics, and 1 non-denominational woman in it. We are the universal church. And we are studying the Sermon on the Mount right now - a universal teaching to us all. Do you know how radical that is? People of different churches coming together to study God's Word?!
And we have found we have much much much more we agree upon than not.
Let's live out the universal church in our lives.
Let's stand firm on the essentials.
Let's give freedom to those on non-essential beliefs.
And let's treat all with love and kindness.
What part of history will we hold onto?
What part will we let go?
We have the chance to write the history of this generation.
Let's be the universal church.
And what is it?
One, Holy, Universal, and Apostolic.