Luther nails the theses | Wikimedia Commons

The event commonly known as the Protestant Reformation was not a reformation. To reform something is to change or fix problems and abuses. A revolt, on the other hand, is to separate oneself from an institution or to renounce allegiance.  

Martin Luther aimed to reform the abuses and corruptions in the Catholic Church, of which there were many. Luther instead sparked a revolt that splintered the Christian Church. Regardless of theological views, Christians should view the protestant revolt as a great tragedy in world history. Protestants should not celebrate it as a joyous or hallowed event. Instead Christians should denounce it and treat it with a seriousness that becomes its history.

Even if people view the Reformation as a necessary event, they should still treat the Reformation as a tragedy. In 1054, the Great Schism divided the Church into the East and West or Roman Catholic and Orthodox. The Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Church, however, do not celebrate this day as a victory of theological debate. Rather, both churches express sorrow and regret concerning the divisions of the Church.

In 2001, Pope John Paul II met Archbishop Christodoulos, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church. At the meeting, the Pope formally apologized to the Archbishop for all the violent acts committed against Eastern Christians by Western Christians. The religious leaders also released a joint declaration saying, “We shall do everything in our power, so that the Christian roots of Europe and its Christian soul may be preserved. We condemn all recourse to violence, proselytism and fanaticism, in the name of religion.”

Those celebrating Reformation Day should take notes from the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church. A schism between believers is not to be celebrated. The unity of the Christian Church is vital, now more than ever. Instead of celebrating the small differences that keep us apart, we should observe the key similarities that all Christians possess.

The events that followed the nailing of the 95 theses to the Wittenburg door are nothing short of catastrophic. The amount of Christian on Christian violence is appalling. From the Slaughter of the Huguenots in 1572 to the Thirty Years War in 1618, Protestants and Catholics alike faced persecution and death at the hand of their brothers in Christ.

The violence continued into the modern age. Christian on Christian violence plagued Northern Ireland throughout the twentieth century. It’s useless to point fingers and make claims about who’s to blame for the Reformation. The reality is Catholics and Protestants alike are responsible for the violence that befell Europe after 1517.

It doesn’t matter whether Christians believe they are right about baptism or eschatology or predestination, etc. Instead of being a reformation in which peaceful dialogue and debate led to changes, it became a revolt and a bloody one at that.  Regardless of your theology, the date October 31, 1517 should be marked with sorrow, regret, and reflection.

Christianity is meant to be unified. When Jesus said, “I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church”, he said “church” not “churches.” If Christianity was still one, then as a united force, what could be accomplished? Imagine the estimated 2.2 billion Christians all united, all together. Imagine if we weren’t all preoccupied with debating paedo and credo baptism or eschatology or predestination. The good that would flow from a unified Christian Church would change the world. But Christians live in house divided, and, as told by Mark 3:25, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”

  • Paul Martin

    A few things: (1) Martin Luther was not a revolutionary thinker and wasn’t really the reason for the Reformation. Many people thought like Luther hundreds of years before he was even born. The difference was that Luther lived in the time where the printing press had revolutionized Western Europe. Arguably, the printing press was the cause of the Reformation.
    (2) The Reformation was not always violent. Take John Calvin in Geneva. That was quite peaceful in contrast to Germany or England. It’s one thing to say that one should view the Reformation with regret, but it would be more accurate to say that people should view some parts of the Reformation that way.
    (3) If it hadn’t been for the Reformation, the Catholic Church would not have learned its lesson on indulgences, and a great many people would have lived in squalor due to those unnecessary and unethical payments. The Reformation saved people from unnecessary poverty.
    (4) The Great Schism was drastically different, especially because of geography. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches we’re geographicly separated. The Reformation was more violent because Protestants and Catholics had to coexist, and Protestants initially had to live in hiding from the Catholic Church, so that they wouldn’t be killed. Were Protestants perfect? By no means. But the Catholic Church incited the majority of the early violence by killing early Protestants.
    (5) If it hadn’t been for the Reformation, America (the country you love so much) either wouldn’t exist, or it would be different to the point of being unrecognizable.
    (6) If you think that we should not celebrate October 31 as Reformation day, then we cannot celebrate July 4, because that led to a bloody war between Englishmen and colonial Englishmen.

    All in all, we can celebrate the Reformation, because the positives outweigh the negatives. To quote Mr. Spock from Star Trek the Wrath of Khan, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Many more people were affected in a positive way by the Reformation than were negatively affected.

  • Clifford Ishii

    Because of Martin Luther and John Calvin, we Biblical Christians are no longer under the authority of the pope and the Roman Catholic Church, but under the authority of Jesus Christ, the true church.

  • Go Cougs

    Paul, your right that the printing press is what led to the reformation. Making it possible for everyone to read the word of God for themselves proved to be a huge problem . The Bible is easily misinterpreted, proven by the thousands of different theologies taught by the thousands of different Protestant Churches. That is why Jesus established A Church, guided by the Holy Spirit. That Church is the Catholic Church. Being under the authority of the Catholic Church is being under the authority of Jesus. Jesus made Peter the first Pope. Since then we have many imperfect men as our Pope or local priest. Even Peter denied Jesus 3 times. That didn’t change the fact that he was still the first Pope, chosen by Jesus himself. That’s an obvious indication that Jesus knew his Church would have challenges. Reform was necessary, but as the article says, the division that resulted is the greatest tragedy in the history of Christianity. The first indication that the devil is present in confusion. By dividing Jesus’ true Church into thousands of pieces causes confusion. Confusion leads to indifference. Indifference drives people away from Jesus. The Reformation drove people away, not together. We need to unify. The only unification possible is back to the Catholic Church!