Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Such verses in the Bible make it strange to celebrate the division of the western church, which began 500 years ago. It was not, it seems, Martin Luther’s desire to split the church asunder when he posted his 95 theses to the Wittenberg door. He desired to remove sin from the church -- primarily the selling of indulgences.
It is inappropriate to think it is only the Roman Catholic Church that can stray from God’s will. What reforms might churches need today? Here are some possibilities:
1) Our churches spend much more time and money propping up the institution than on doing the things Jesus said to do in Matthew 25 -- feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, providing clothes for the poor, caring for the sick, and visiting prisoners.
[Jesus] will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”(Matthew 25:45).
2) Injustice and racism persist among Christians because we do not really love those who suffer and those who are different from ourselves. Like our culture, we think love is a warm feeling rather than an active giving of ourselves for others. We are so unlike Jesus in this.
We know love by this, that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another (1 John 3:16).
3) We identify more with leaders and groups than with Christ -- Billy Graham, Brian McLaren, C.S. Lewis, John Piper, Beth Moore, and on and on. And this list includes some of my heroes.
For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? (1 Corinthians 3:4).
4) We think God is conservative or liberal, whichever inclination we like best, especially when it comes to politics.
Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God (1 Corinthians 3:18-19).
5) We are enamored with rank, title, and position. It is no longer sufficient to be “Pastor;” it is now “Senior Pastor.” We get educational degrees for the titles and opportunity that go with them, not for the education itself. Where is the pursuit of wisdom amidst all of this show?
Happy are those who find wisdom,
and those who get understanding,
for her income is better than silver,
and her revenue better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her (Proverbs 3:13-15).
6) We say all people are of equal value, but we often give greater honor and deference to the rich and powerful in our midst.
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4).
7) We spend much more time listening to other people talk about the Bible than actually reading the Bible ourselves -- over and over, seeking to understand its deep truths not just the surface facts. Others can be a great help, but they are no substitute for the actual text.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).
It is so easy to look back 500 years and honor the pursuit of truth, wisdom, and faithfulness by our Christian forebears. It is not so easy to look at ourselves and to see our weaknesses and failures. It is not easy, but it is essential if we really desire to be followers of Christ in our place and time.
All quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.