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.”