Friday, October 31, 2014

A Reformation Ghost Story


On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of Wittenberg Church leading to the Protestant Reformation. On October 30, 1534, English parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, breaking with Rome placing the king as head of the church. Is there something in the chill of autumn air that leads to fracture? Did the Lutherans and Anglicans plan to leave the Church just before All Saints? And why do they celebrate bad break-ups? I find Reformation Day much scarier than any Halloween tale.

One of the reasons that attracted me to the Catholic Church was the fracturing of denominations. I do believe that there should be a unified church. It did not have to be the Roman Catholic Church, but I needed a little-c catholic church, one that did not have origins in breaking off from an earlier church. I dream of a mended schism, reuniting the East and West and drawing the Protestant pieces back together into the Church. I know it’s a rather impossible dream. I look at the Reformation and see Pandora’s box. There is no going back. 

There continues to be more splintering, more fractures. New leaders emerge promising to set things right, but they just create a new cult of personality, another Christian flavor of the week. I’ll admit that their intentions are (usually) sincere; they love Christ and are trying to do follow him to the best of their understanding. They are my brethren in Christ. But my heart still hurts looking at all the fractures of what should be a “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”

As a child of the 90s, I’ve always been taught to celebrate diversity, that differences are good and should be celebrated. So I feel guilty for not finding the positive in the many denominations. But I don’t see it as diversity. Diversity is how different cultures add their unique spin on shared traditions; how chant sounds in Egypt versus England, how Mexicans celebrate Dia de los Muertos with marigolds and Slovenians celebrate All Souls with candles, how Japanese bow and Americans hug during passing of the peace. However, the diversity of hundreds of heresies? That just makes me sad. 

The Reformers (the ones wanting reform not revolution) did not envision the fracturing upon fracturing that would befall Western Christianity when they began. They wanted to fix the Church that needed fixing. The Counter-Reformation addressed several of those issues. I don’t blame Luther for the state we’re in now. I don’t blame anyone in particular. I blame pride. I blame arrogance. I blame evil permeating the flock and pitting brother against brother. I see Pandora’s box leaking for 500 years, and I want to lose hope. 

But despair will not help the problem. God would not approve of me planting myself in a corner and bemoaning the state of things. So even if it seems impossible, I should still dream of reconciliation. I should do my part to mend ties where I can, draw people to the Church when I can, and be willing to whatever I can to work toward unification. Maybe it will take another 500 years, but I’ll continue to dream of a Church where the fractures are nothing more than faded battle scars and where the one true faith has put a lock on a pagan goddess’ box.

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