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.

To the Christian, All of Life Is Holy


Heard  a good message recently that was marred by someone adding her thoughts to it. The ruinous addition was that we need always to be careful about those things in life that distract us from God or bring us down to a more worldly level.

When I was younger, I would have heartily endorsed that addendum. Now, I see it as a dilution of the Gospel.

One of Paul’s consistent understatements in his books is that the sacred/secular divide is something of a hoax. Yes, the OT is filled with illustrations about what is holy and what is not, but doesn’t Christ’s death redeem ALL of life?

What verse in the Bible is more astute than this one?

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure….
—Titus 1:15a ESV

Nothing destroys the joy of Christ more than dogmatic, persistent sin management. We encounter these semi-tortured folks who burn worry lines into their faces from all the concern over potential sinning. It’s like grace doesn’t even exist. To those people, I recommend reading about Martin Luther’s rediscovery of grace and his own fight against perpetual sin.

Can I have a glass of wine, play a game of Ca$h ‘n’ Gun$ with friends, and read a novel that makes no pretenses at being Christian? Why would anyone have to even ask that question? Yet there are M-A-N-Y Christians out there who struggle with all that. (Why? Because well-meaning Christians in authority positions keep knocking certain actions as sinful when those actions are anything but.)

One of  the reasons people don’t want to be Christians is that they don’t want to constantly monitor themselves for “sinful” behavior. You know what? I don’t blame them. Call me lazy, but I don’t want to either. That’s not what being a Christian is about.

Crazier still, the sins that most bother some Christians are the ones the Lord Jesus spent the least amount of time denouncing. He wasn’t so worried about how people dress, what they eat and drink, their leisure activities, and so on. Instead, He was angered by pride, injustice, lack of concern for other people, factionalism, materialism, and the like. Last time I checked, those latter sins were the ones least addressed and most stumbled over by the greater crowd of Christians in North America.

Even if we are guilty of any and all of those sins, let’s deal with them and move on. Let’s not keep wallowing in our own filth and lamenting it. Instead, be glad for grace and live fully.

To the Christian, all of life is holy. And there is joy in that!

Now at the RCC Carnival: Bingo, Beer, and a Hot Tetzel


From the big city paper nearby:

Mary Schatzman knew right away what she would do last week after learning that a church near her Green Township home was offering “indulgences” to interested Catholics.

While some parishioners seemed indifferent or confused by the offer, Schatzman didn’t hesitate.

“I’m going to get one,” she said.

Her eagerness reflects a renewed interest among Catholics in a tradition that had for decades all but vanished from their religious life.

In the past year, Catholics across the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and thousands more around the world have gone to confession, taken communion and said the prayers necessary to receive what is known as a “plenary indulgence.”

For the indulgence, a blessing that helps Catholics avoid punishment in the afterlife, it is a remarkable comeback.

The practice suffered a precipitous fall from grace 500 years ago when the Catholic Church began selling them to rich people looking to buy their way into heaven.

Although the church stopped selling them long ago, the stain on the indulgence’s reputation endured for centuries.

The church never abandoned the indulgence, however, and it now is part of a broader campaign by Pope Benedict XVI to revive some fading church traditions and to draw Catholics back to teachings that younger generations know little about.

The article also add this “explanation”:

The shorthand version of the rules goes like this: Confession removes the “eternal punishment” of sin that can condemn a soul for all eternity, but a “temporal punishment” remains. This punishment is meted out in Purgatory, where Catholics must wait to be purified before moving on to heaven.

That’s where indulgences come into play. They can shorten or eliminate the purification process, clearing the path to heaven.

“We must be purified, either here on Earth or after death in Purgatory,” [Rev. Earl Fernandes, dean of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Cincinnati] said. Bang, bang, Martin's silver hammer comes down on their heads...“What an indulgence seeks to do is remit the temporal punishment.”

Click the link for the rest of the Cincinnati Enquirer article on indulgences.

I’m as open-minded as the next guy, but c’mon. Indulgences?  They’re  simply indefensible theologically, unorthodoxy at its finest, no matter what the Vatican says.

Sure, the local archdiocese isn’t selling them as they were in good ol’ Martin Luther’s day, not even on eBay, but “free” doesn’t make them any less nutty.