October 31st 2017 marks the 500 year anniversary of
the day in which Martin Luther is famously said to have nailed to
the doors of his Wittenburg Church '95 Theses', calling for
discussion and change in how the Church understood repentance and
the sale of indulgences. While that specific issue may seem
unrelatable and far away from the things we face as a Christians in
Sydney, it is significant to us because it is the major starting
point in understanding the Protestant Reformation.
This would be the movement that generated "Protestant" Churches,
drawing a clear line of difference, and in some cases opposition,
with the Roman Catholic. The historical impact of the Reformation
cannot be underestimated. Whole nations found themselves at odds
with one another as they adopted opposing views. Violent conflict
was not unheard of.
It is important that we learn from these realities. Even the
best motives, the purest intentions, the right positions, can be
tainted by sinfulness. It is telling that in humanity's story,
getting things right so often come with glaring oversights that
gets so much wrong. We are not so good that our well meaning
efforts to uphold the truth have never come with wrongful harm.
The Reformation as a whole engaged with a wide range of issues.
Things like the accessibility of the Bible and the value of
everyday people were important battlegrounds. There were even
socio-economic influences at play, as society experienced changes
moving away from Medieval Society towards that of the Renaissance.
Politics was an ever close issue with many utilising the commotion
of the time to their own personal advantage. Even science and
technology was a factor, the development of the printing press
being an important element of the distribution of Reformation
But its enduring effect, the heart of its continued meaning, is
still its exploration of the doctrine of salvation. In challenging
the tradition and teachings of the Catholic Church, the reformers
established with force and clarity the Scriptures witness to the
gospel being all about Jesus, by grace, through faith and for the
glory of God.
These truths are the source of our confidence and hope. And
while they were always there in the Bible, witnessing to God's
goodness, the Reformation's rediscovery of them, and the consequent
insistence on them as central, helps us to hold on to the
foundation we have as Christians. We ought to give thanks to God
for this movement as it continues to shape how we do Church and how
we understand our faith.
It is regularly noted that the great lesson of the Reformation
is that we need to constantly be looking to God's Word. The truth
of Jesus and the gospel are revealed there. But perhaps the great
lesson that is often overlooked is the Church's great need for
unity. That a schism or split was necessary is regrettable. The
simple reality is that the Christian witness was and is still
today, compromised as the world see's two (and more) separate
groups, who both call themselves Christian.
In John's Gospel, Jesus himself says this -
I pray also for those who will
believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one,
Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in
us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Jesus prays that believers would be united. And that this unity
would be so rich that it would be like that of the Trinity. This is
no small thing, and its impact is profound. The Church as it is
joined together, and as it is joined also to God, then becomes a
witness, a proof, that Jesus is who he says he is. In short, the
unity of the Church is evangelistic: a God given source of
confidence in the gospel, one of our best and most compelling
arguments for the Christian faith.
Our unity as Christians is God ordained. It is His intention
that it would testify to the truth of the gospel. And it has been
given to us in Jesus. We must do everything we can to maintain and
uphold it, and to build it up, even when the threats are not
How many times has the question been posed, "What's the
difference between Catholics and Protestants", or "Why are there so
many different denominations", and "How come the views of one
Church can be so completely opposite to another?" There are answers
to these questions, but when asked they reflect a confusion about
what Christianity really is. And it all comes with a feeling that
Jesus makes less sense, that the gospel is less real, that the
Christian faith is less true, because those that proclaim it are
The impact isn't limited to our witness and evangelism. It also
affects our fellowship. How often have we ourselves, Christians,
wrestled to reconcile the real division we sometimes experience
with the glory and goodness that should be? It is a special
frustration to sit across a table from another believer who you
know stands a world away from you on an issue you've been
Unity is important, far more important than we have typically
given it credit for. We need to learn to make Jesus truly central.
Only then will other things, important things that we may disagree
on, be unable to drive a wedge between us.
While few of us will have the opportunity to speak into
worldwide Christianity, every single one of us has a place in our
little local Church. So let's make sure we promote unity where we
are right now, and that we are humbly looking to God and the
goodness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that we are saved by grace
through faith alone, even as we wrestle to find it.
May a remembrance of the Reformation help us be thankful for God
and the many ways he has preserved gospel truth in our world. And
may it teach us to humbly and tenaciously pursue the unity we have
already been given in Christ.