Have the Protestant Reformation and Democracy Harmed Christianity?


I enjoy reading Coffee with Jesus, one of those minimalist Comics 2.0 strips where the images don’t really matter but the text does.

While I normally nod my head in agreement, a recent strip bothered me:

Coffee with Jesus -

Is it naive to think that all you and I really need is Jesus? That He is the only one we should listen to?

I mean, Paul said to imitate him as he imitated Jesus. And we are a Church, which is meant to function as a Body, which means communication between the parts. And my spiritual gifts are not intended just for me alone.

The other day, I was considering whether two of history’s most respected events/institutions have actually amplified our confusion within the Western Church. Anyone who has a pair of eyes and ears can look and see that the Church is struggling in what seems to be a losing battle against a degenerating culture, while simultaneously drifting along with what that degenerating culture deems important, breaking down into 40,000 sects, schisms, and strains as a result.

The Protestant Reformation attacked the singular authority of the united Roman Catholic Church and deemed that each man and woman has been empowered to be his or her own priest. Reading the Bible for oneself and coming to a personal understanding of what it says was a hallmark of the Reformation. This idea broke the (genuine) stranglehold the RCC had on most of Christianity. It wrested power away from the controlling, organized clergy and put it back into the hands of the people.

Most would consider the Reformation an improvement.

In the New World years later, democracy took hold in the federal republic of the nascent United States of America. The idea that power rests in the will of the people mimics politically those spiritual concepts found in the Protestant Reformation. The two go hand in hand, and it’s hard to imagine America as a democracy without Martin Luther and his “rabble-rousing” kin.

Most would consider democracy an improvement.

But were the Protestant Reformation and democracy an improvement for the Church?

Reading that Coffee with Jesus above, one wonders. In turning every man and woman into his/her own spiritual authority, have we introduced too much confusion into the Christian faith?

If I am my own authority while I listen to the Redeemer, what happens when I encounter someone who thinks he is the authority while he listens to the Redeemer? What happens is that he drifts into a sect of his own leaning while I drift into another.

The comic above nails the problem. But does it only muddy the solution?

One of the most damning verses in the Bible:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
—Judges 17:6 ESV

While spiritual people will clearly note that this “right” was too often downright wicked, what happens when we in the Church get into a situation where the Good is the enemy of the Best?

Paul says that when a revelation is given, the spiritual will debate its veracity and usefulness so as to arrive at a united understanding. Does this happen, though? Or are we too quick to start another sect because we can’t reach unity because we have made everyone his own authority?

A joke many have heard, but it applies here:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! Which denomination?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

Northern Conservative†Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

The Coffee with Jesus strip above certainly had this joke in mind. Yet as much as the comic says the answer is to listen to Jesus alone, it seems doing so still resulted in 40,000 sects, schisms, and strains.

Makes you wonder sometimes about the Reformation and a democratic mentality.

Thoughts on Halloween and Reformation Day


We interrupt this Cerulean Sanctum “Being the Body” series to bring you the ubiquitous Godblogger posturing on Halloween and Reformation Day. I’ve seen scads of previous analyses of the former over the last few years, but now there’s a push to bring the latter out from under the covers. Better discuss both.


As to Halloween, last year I wrote a piece detailing why I now opt out even though I was raised in a Christian household that had no problems with the “holiday.”

The Obligatory “Halloween Is Bad” Post

Rob Wilkerson over at Miscellanies on the Gospel is one of my favorite bloggers. His recent post on Halloween is outstanding:

A Gospel Perspective on Halloween Horror

I don’t know what it is about folks from charismatic and Pentecostal backgrounds, but they seem most leery of Halloween, almost without exception. Meanwhile, Christian folks on the far, far side away from that perspective seem to be more tolerant of trick or treating.


Celebrating Reformation Day, for me, is a little like remembering someone you loved dearly who has passed away. As a dyed-in-the-wool, anti-RCC Protestant, I would love to rousingly celebrate the anniversary of Luther’s pounding his 95 Theses into the cathedral door at Wittenberg. But I think we’ve squandered a lot of what the Reformation bought us.

I don’t think we practice most of the backbone concepts of the Reformation, even in the most ardent Reformed churches. I grew up Lutheran, and even so I ran into disconnects all over the place.

Take the idea of the priesthood of all believers. Nothing in our practice of our church life proves that we believe this foundational truth of the Reformation one iota. Too many of our churches have pastors who lord it over their congregations, disempowered congregants who are routinely told that only the specially trained (read “seminarians”) are equipped to minister, Martin Luther sticks it to the RCCand vicious church factions debating the same “who is greater?” nonsense that got the disciples in hot water with Jesus. Truthfully, our practice of the priesthood of all believers better resembles that classic line from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

I know in my own life I’ve encountered that hypocrisy more times than I can count, none more glaring than my experience in the church Martin Luther founded. I worked at a Lutheran camp a couple summers and got in serious trouble with the leadership of the camp for baptizing kids who converted to Christ. Seems like a perfectly ordinary action to take with new believers, baptizing them and all. From the reaction of the leadership, though, you would’ve thought I’d killed those kids à la Jason of Friday the 13th movie fame.

At sole issue was the fact that I wasn’t a pastor. When I countered that the Philip who baptized the Ethiopian eunuch wasn’t an apostle but a guy who waited on the tables, I was lucky not to be stuffed into a canvas sack and thrown into the lake right then and there. So much for the priesthood of all believers. I guess some priests are more equal than others.

I could walk through the Reformation’s five solas and ask how we practice them in reality. Just the other day, I experimented by Googling the phrase “What must I do to be saved?” and perused the answers provided by leading Protestant Web sites. If that cursory survey is any indication, we’ve got to do a whole lot more to be saved than have faith in Christ, trust His Scriptures, and receive His grace. (Though I think soli Deo gloria still holds up in all cases.) Sadly, at the site of one prominent Reformed blogger, the list of requirements for salvation (according to the sermon by Cotton Mather posted there) included a whole lot more than what we got out of the entirety of the Reformation. Somehow, we Protestants have found a way to obscure the simple answer to that most necessary question. In many ways, we’re back where we were just prior to the Reformation.

But I guess the main reason that I’m not quite as pumped about Reformation Day as some others is my speculation about Martin Luther. I fear that some of the loudest celebrants of Reformation Day might be the very same people who would call for a good old burning at the stake for Martin Luther if he showed up today and pounded a new set of 95 Theses on the doors of our modern Evangelical churches. Love to see them Catholics squirm, but don’t tell us to give up our modern indulgences.

Too many of us Protestants have capped Christianity at the Reformation. We believe that nothing more can come out of Christ’s Church than what we got out of the Reformation nearly five hundred years ago. In some ways, we’re like the fifty-year-old shoe salesman at K-Mart who once quarterbacked his high-school team to a state championship. Our entire lives revolve around that day when we threw the winning touchdown. We relive it, revel in it, and on and on. But we let that one event in time become the be all and end all of our existence. It can never get better than that time, nor can we ever let it possibly come close.

But oh what we may be missing because we can’t see the opportunities that lie before us today!

Don’t get me wrong. I supremely value the Reformation. I also supremely value practicing what we preach and asking if we need a new reformation even better than the old one.

Now what church will let me nail that to their door today?

Continuing Reformation?


Martin Luther and his 95 TheseFrom the Shepherd’s Conference (so ably liveblogged by Tim Challies) last week, Phil Johnson led a seminar called “Is the Reformation Over?” It’s a good read. It’s also a riff on Mark Noll’s book of the same title, though I side with Johnson and not Noll.

Thinking over that question, I had another one: Is all reformation over?

What do I mean by that? Well, as you know, this blog’s main talking point is the Church, specifically the American Church. From the day that Martin Luther pounded his Ninety-Five Theses to the front door of the Cathedral at Wittenberg, we’ve lived in a Church Age in which Protestantism has been considered—at least by Protestants—as the sole expression of the True Church. The stand he took against a blasé Roman Catholic Church that had fallen into ungodly excess and a tax-code-like set of rules for salvation should resonate with us all. We’ve lived out nearly five hundred years of Luther’s assertion that salvation is by faith alone, not by works or any other man-made machinations. Thank God for Martin Luther’s obedience to the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures!

But I wonder if his is destined to be the only Holy Spirit-inspired reformation of the Church.

If we were living in the age of RCC theocracy, would we—like Luther—have recognized the errors of what was then considered the only Church in the West? Being in the belly of the beast doesn’t always afford a person the most objective view, but Luther saw beyond the innards and got it right.

But what if the 21st century Protestant Church has fallen into the same kind of mire as did the 16th century Roman Catholic Church? Are we in the need of a 21st century Reformation? Or have new reformations occurred on some level, but we’ve missed them for what they are, or have labeled them blips on the radar?

Can there be another Reformation? We’ve seen one of grace, but are other pressing Church issues in need of reforming?

What do you think?