The Radical Reformation
“Every revolution carries within it the seeds of its own destruction.” Frank Herbert, Dune.
Bucking the establishment
Very quickly after Martin Luther officially began the Protestant Reformation, further reformations broke out. Many folks felt that Martin Luther did not go far enough because he respected some church authority and tradition. Groups were emerging who felt that after 1,500+ years, they were the only ones who finally got the Bible right. This movement was called the Radical Reformation. These groups would continue to split and schism, sometimes within a few years of forming. Now we have thousands of denominations that fall under the Protestant umbrella.
Why is it that we are so prone to splitting? Why does every generation witness a church movement in which the members believe they are the ones who finally have it right?
What Martin Luther found out hundreds of years ago is the same thing that Mainline Denominational churches discovered a couple of decades ago: every new movement eventually becomes the establishment. Our society has no patience for tradition and a great aversion to anything that is “the establishment.” No matter how new or revolutionary an idea is, eventually it becomes status quo. Our western culture highly values, maybe even idolizes independent thinking. It is part of what the Reformation was built upon: every person should have their own Bible and be their own pope.
The fall out
I’m not opposed to reason or critical thinking; however, I wonder if what we are witnessing in the Christian Church is an idolization of independent thinking. If you don’t believe me, reflect on this: “What do you think this passage means?” is a much more frequently asked question during a Bible study than “How has this passage been interpreted by church fathers over the past 20 centuries?” We like new, fresh ideas. Interpretations from stuffy, old, dead guys just don’t appeal to most of us.
The result of this is the reason for one of the top complaints I hear from pastors: a lack of commitment. Congregants church hop so frequently that it would not surprise me if about 75% of most Protestant congregations completely change every three years. Think about your own church experiences and those you have met in churches. There are always a few folks who are there for the long haul, but most congregants are transient. Why? At least part of the problem is that we are subconsciously taught not to respect church tradition or authority. So if someone doesn’t agree with the pastor’s point of view, they change churches instead of asking, “Is it me that needs to change?”