The Christian Machine was crumbling at it’s foundation, destined for collapse.
The year was 1517. A storm had been brewing in the Church for centuries. The grassroots uprising that was Christianity in the Roman empire had gone from the persecuted (pre-Constantine) to the persecutor (see: Inquisition, Crusades). Layers of hierarchy had been assembled. Corruption had infected each layer. Intimate ties to state power centers had rotted the church from the inside out. There was a wrench in the gears.
Something needed to be done.
On October 31st, 1517, a monk nailed 95 Thesis to the Wittenberg Church door. History reveres this event, but contemporaries of Martin Luther bristled at the bold, presumptuous act. Still, the storm that had been brewing swept across Europe and flattened hierarchies, cleansed corruption, and gave the Church a new start. It was reformed. Refreshed. Many thought it was much closer to the way it was supposed to be.
That was 500 years ago this year. Most Christians today celebrate what his peers criticized.
A wise observer senses a similar cultural climate presently. Those of us within the Church are often quick to defend our assembled power structures. We’re fast to refuse to admit our mistakes. We scoff at skeptics and critical voices who challenge the status quo. We bristle at the prophetic among us. We downgrade dissenting voices (which are loudest online, the 21st Century manifestation of Luther’s door) to second-class citizens who have no right to speak.
But many outside the church are questioning our grasping for power. They wonder where our compassion is. They question how we spend our money. They sense that our methods don’t always match our mission. We can defend our practices. We can justify our inconsistencies. We can quiet those voices of dissent (the ones in our midst, as well as those outside our communities), but to do so may ignore the lessons of history.
What if our modern day Christian Machine is making the same mistake as the catholic one half a millennium ago? Blinded by our power, nestled in our comfort, justified in our thinking, what if we’re simply missing the point? While we’ve grown confident in our status, digging in our heels against opposition, could it be that we’re hurting our cause more than we’re helping it? Historians may well study this era of Christian history as another time of Reformation.
Which side of history do you want to be on?
What if we’re defending a Machine that is actually weakened by power?
What if by calling prophetic voices divisive, trouble-makers, and “too negative,” we’re quieting our collective conscience?
What if by aligning with the politically powerful, we’re bowing our knee to a strange Lord — a malevolent ruler who seems to share our values, but only because their well-compensated PR firms make it seem so?
What if we think we’re clinging to our beliefs and honoring Christ in our determination, but we’re really only clinging to the wrench in the machine?
Church history reminds us — it mandates us — that we are at our best when we are void of worldly power, quick to listen, and eager to love. 500 years ago a monk thought so. And he said so. And we celebrate that today, while often rebuking those just like him in our midst.
Titus Benton is the Executive Director of The 25 Group, a non-profit with the mission of making “less least of these.” Through preaching, writing, and giving, he inspires people to live a deeper life with Jesus.