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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!