Today marks the 496th anniversary of Martin Luther’s bold act of nailing 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church at Wittenberg, providing the public kickoff for the Protestant Reformation. (Some historians would argue, I believe rightly, that the reformation was already brewing but Luther’s act gave the movement a public voice and a tangible jolt.) For Reformation Day, I thought I’d reflect a little here.
I once read an interesting simile for the Protestant Reformation. I wish I knew to whom to attribute it. It goes something like this:
Reformation movements are like cleaning out the refrigerator. There are two ways of doing it. You can throw out everything that is rotten, spoiled, or out of date, leaving only the good stuff. Or you can empty the whole thing, wash it down, and put back only what belongs. Luther did the former, Calvin the latter.
What died in here?
I’m not going to argue the veracity of the last statement, but I think the image is cool. As the pastor of a church that is struggling to grow and looking for direction, I wonder which reformation path I should take in the coming year. Do I help the church let go of what’s not working? Or do we strip it down to the bare essentials and only put back what does work? How radical do we want to get?
Because there’s a truth that churches don’t want to deal with. They don’t want to hear it, see it, face it, or think about it. That truth: change is inevitable. There is no such thing as standing still. There is only progressing and regressing. If you attempt to stand still you will regress because time marches on right past you. Change can be forced, it can be navigated, it can be coped with, or we can live in denial of it. But it’s a reality we have to deal with, and the choice is ours. Do we embrace it or do we stick our fingers in our ears and go, “LALALALALALALALA!”
Through the scriptures, we are constantly told that God is “doing a new thing” and “making all things new.” God is portrayed as taking what is dead and motionless, and giving it new life, setting it back in motion. God is never portrayed as a museum curator, propping up what is dead and displaying it as though it is alive. Therefore, we have miniature reformation movements in our own lives, in our own churches, in our own communities. Every fridge needs cleaned out on a fairly regular basis!
Where have you seen reformation at work in your own church? Feel free to respond and discuss!