This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation started by Martin Luther in Germany Sick of indolences, corruptions, and hypocrisies within the Catholic Church, Martin Luther gave voice to the injustices and theological double-standards of a hidden and heavy materialism within a movement meant to shepherd those in search of a spiritual life. The result was a the hewing of a healthy new channel for Christian practice among many Europeans sincerely trying to follow the teachings of Christ Jesus.
The main element of the Reformation was that it came at the same time that technology, in its form of the Guttenberg Printing Press, (the iPhone of the 16th Century), pioneered book publishing so that the every day man or woman could actually have access to the many books from Hebrew and Hellenistic authors compiled together called The Bible. These books gave specific instructions on how to live a holy life and coalesced in a complete statement of the necessary steps and practices that would bring eternal life.
And is eternal life still relevant today? Absolutely! Although social and technological progress has transformed our collective concept about how we think about ourselves, our interactions with one another, and, most importantly, our perceptions and thoughts about our divine Creator, commonly named God.
In Martin Luther's day, people relied entirely on the interpretation of Church leaders, priests, and clerics as to what the Bible was teaching and, without a primary source document, the core message was easily manipulated, twisted, and discarded for the lower tendencies of the human nature.
In our day, we are finding a similar need for reformation within the Church as a whole. In this era of Truth, where lies and corruptions are being exposed left and right, those who believe in the historical accuracy of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth must give pause to how we are fulfilling the great commission and purpose intended for those who claim the cause of Christianity.
Some say that more attention must be paid to the drowning out - or out arguing - the growing voice of scientific rationalism (aka atheism) in Western Society. Others believe that there must be an inner-faith dialogue within Christendom about race, social justice, and those who have been historically marginalized by the dominant male, and mostly white, voices of Church leaders and doctrine-makers.
However, at this time, there is also a third option, a road less traveled, so to speak, integral to the surviving and thriving of Christianity in our world: an increased spirituality, self-examination and inward focus on how we are each modeling of lives after the great example of Jesus. The fascinating thing about technology in our era is, like the revolutionary printing press, social media and the power of individual broadcasting has caused the demonstration and action of Christianity to eclipse doctrine and theology espoused by the elders and power structure of the Church. Meaning, there is a new - and glaring - emphasis on lifestyle Christianity for true believers from the bottom up rather than simply Sunday church attendance and Biblical knowledge.
Less and less is the focus on televangelists, mega-church pastors and preachers, and big-blown worship concerts (thank goodness). More and more it is about how our lives reflect the compassion of Jesus on a day-to-day basis, self-abnegation, and the letting go of worldliness in exchange for a life lived by faith and a full-confidence in divine Love to overcome every obstacle and trial of this life. Prayer movements, love-based evangelism, and a commitment to emulating Christ regardless of circumstance is the fledgling blade of an entirely new harvest for Western Christianity.
In the same spirit of Martin Luther's protest, here are seven bullet-points for the Western Church to take into consideration today when we consider how the Church is still holding to the Protestant Reformation and its promise to make the Word of God the center of the Church :
1. Stop worshiping pastors and worship leaders like they are gods.
A spirit of idolatry has come over the church when it comes to pastors and worship leaders - making them "infallible" in many cases over the Word of God. Allowing a monopoly of power to sit with the head pastor or the worship leader strangles creativity and progress. The book of Acts tells us what happened when Herod allowed himself to be worshiped as if he was a god (Acts 12: 23). And it's not pretty. Why then do so many churches allow pageantry and egotism to run rampant through fervor and adulation so focused on celebrity pastors or worship leaders? This is holding the body of Christ back and needs to be dethroned while meekness and humility takes its place for church leaders.
2. Help the homeless and poor who come to your Church and prioritize your resources to do so.
The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, are filled with commands to make sure that the poor are cared for. In large urban centers, especially in the United States, the Church does very little, if not actually persecuting, those who are poor in the wealth of this world. Before revival can come, reformation must change the hearts of the Church to do more than just tithe to Churches and expect them to help the poor. We are called to be hospitable and to welcome people into our homes and carry one another's burdens in the body of Christ especially instead of outsource it to a local or federal government organization(Galatians 6:2).
3. Preach from the Word of God and not personal opinions and doctrines of men and demons.
The book of Nehemiah describes what powerful reformation occurred when Ezra simply read directly from the Scriptures while the worshipers worshiped, "So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading" (Nehemiah 8: 8). It is imperative that the Word remains the focal point of any and all preaching in the Church. In some cases, it would be far better for the Word to be read, directly, over music rather than a long sermon with many fallacies and falsehoods. Personal preaching often strays from the Word of God and do not often enough lead listeners to a deeper relationship with the Word and its true meaning. There is a Prayer movement rising in this nation that is demonstrating this type of congregational worship and it should be replicated by more than simply a handful of evangelical and pentecostal churches.
4. Give voice to the prophets and evangelists and seek their experience in Church decisions.
There is a lack of "prophetic voice" in the Church today. The conversation is mostly dominated by worldly, political agendas and so infrequently about the true heart of God for radical transformation and healing in our world. The Church in Jerusalem modeled the importance of seeking the perspective of the prophets when they fasted, prayed, and ministered to the Lord and all heard the Holy Spirit tell them who to send out as evangelists (Acts 13: 2-3). This commit of leadership to real consecration and a willingness to set aside the way things are traditionally done in order to further the expansion of God's kingdom on earth is necessary in these days when so, so many Church decisions are being made for the wrong reasons. The result of the Church's faithfulness was the tearing down of the reign of a corrupt sorcerer, a false prophet, in Paphos. The Church needs to be tearing down false prophets and sorcerers again today, but we can't unless we are obedient to switching it up.
5. Stop discriminating against cultures that do not fit into the monolithic so-called “Western Christianity.”
One thing about globalization is that the West - and particularly America - which has dominated the globe for about 100 years now, is great at stomping out indigenous cultures and offering, and then forcing, the biggest and "best" option on the people it comes across. Unfortunately, the Church has not been much better. Based on God's beautiful dissemination of a "diversity of gifts, but the same Spirit" (I Corinthians 12: 4) there can be a willingness to welcome in new kinds of expressions of Church and the gifts that God has given to us. This means there must be patience and a willingness to study and understand cultures radically different than the dominant western, evangelical way. It is a daunting task in a world of such incredible diversity, but it just so important for us to work at bringing an openness to cultures right here in the United States. That includes African-American culture, Latino, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Eastern European, African, and, of course, hiphop and urban culture in all of its flavors.
6. Step outside of your Church walls frequently and welcome the stranger into your gates.
There is nothing more deadly to any social movement than isolation and a form of echo chamber where all we ever see or hear is our own perspective. Unfortunately, this is mostly what has happened in the Church. Jesus models this so beautifully when he ministers to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). How many opportunities do members of the Body of Christ have to minister the way Jesus did at laundromats, on public transportation, while enjoying weekend leisure? Yet how many are never acted on because of a strange unfamiliarity with how do engage strangers in authentic ways? This is truly a Church education issue and it is something we can correct by beginning to take our youth groups and Sunday School students out on outreaches that, although require careful planning and security measures similar to school field trips, will result in incredible progress for the Church.
7. Practice collective fasting, praying and mourning for present and past sins of the Church.
The Bible is full of powerful examples of the power of prayer and fasting from Daniel, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah to Esther and the Gospels and Acts, yet too many Churches have no concept of the uncomfortable act of collective fasting and praying and mourning for the sins of the past. This stretches us in many ways, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. While many Churches spend their time and effort to support sports activities, there could be a similar fervor for the Biblically-taught act of prayer and fasting with great urgency - especially in the United States right now. When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, he was doing two things: praying and fasting. And his solution was a sign to come of the importance of Martin Luther's Reformation, he spoke only from the Word of God and told Satan, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4: 4). Are we willing to say the same thing in an era where we are being tempted more than any other? If we want real reformation, we must.