Five Centuries Divorced

As a Protestant Christian, I know that many of my colleagues who are clergy, and many of my brothers and sisters in congregations, began this week, October 29,  with “Reformation Sunday.”  And not just any “Reformation Sunday”, but the Five-hundred Year Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to it as “Reformation 500.”  Some are celebrating on November 5, as I write.

On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther wrote to Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg,  protesting against the sale of indulgences. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences”, which came to be known as the Ninety-five Theses. (Wikepedia).  Of course, most of us Protestants were too busy with Halloween to celebrate on Tuesday — therefore, we had to pick one Sunday or the other.  The first Halloween after a divorce is lonely, whether we were getting along during the previous one or not.  But 500.  Some of us have forgotten too much to be nostalgic.

But when one is divorced — and typically we think of divorce from the singular point of view (unless it occurred to someone else) — one Sunday is probably as good as another to “celebrate.”

Blog Picture Sale of Indulgences

In this blog, for the Disciples College and the Mission for Biblical Literacy, we are about to take a turn into delving into this divorce — its causes, its language, its impact, and its potential for reconciliation. Normally in a divorce the Judge asks that earth-quaking questions: “Is this marriage, in your most honest opinion, irreconcilable?”  Eager to escape, or just to have it over with, we are willing to place our hand on a Bible, over our hearts, or fold them to pray, and answer “Yes, Your Honor.”  It is finished.  Or so we think.

A divorce is never over.  Like marriage, it is merely another beginning.  And it is not because one got the house, the other the car…or one the checking, the other the savings…or one seemingly everything, the other seemingly nothing.  I once ran into a former friend on the street, a friend with whom I had done business many years earlier, a friend whose life had seemed to be on the “high road” of success and family delights.  Now homeless, he was barely recognizable…except for his eyes and  the face I could discern behind those lines and wrinkles and…well, to be graphic, dirt.  I  exchanged a greeting and, knowing little more to say that might be personal, I inquired about his former wife.  The mention of her name inflamed him, and his response was clear and forthright: “Never mention her name. She is dead.”  I learned, soon, that he was using the term “dead” metaphorically, and permanently (I saw her in another location in our small town).  Maybe their divorce WAS over.  But as I have reconsidered that brief encounter over the years, I have come to understand that such fury and rage as I saw lying beneath was not the sign of an end. That is not to imply that I saw any seeds of reconciliation; but some living things are kudzu-like, and, no matter how hard you try to kill them,  something from the roots always returns…often overnight.  Again and again.

I am not celebrating “Reformation 500.”  I don’t know that I have ever truly, in my heart of hearts, celebrated the Protestant Reformation.  For my first 12-15 years, I was ignorant.  For my next 12-15 years, I was proud.  For my next 25 years, I was too busy doing what we reformed folk do — as we carry out our duties as pastors and preachers and teachers — to even re-consider Reformation.  But here we are at a HUGE anniversary, and having spent the past decade or so seeking reconciliation, I am clear about this one thing: A Divorce is nothing to celebrate. At least not one of this importance.  I will not be celebrating Reformation Sunday 2018 either, or any others in our future.

But like a broken marriage, this fracture in the Church does not call me to try to patch up old wounds and call it a marriage again; I don’t think it could ever be that.  But I do believe that there is ample room for dialogue and discussion and discernment and decision-making when it comes to what we as Christians — Protestant Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and any of the other 200,000 varieties of denominations and fellowships and ministries that this broken marriage gave birth to.

We are about to embark, here on “Counting The Cost” on an adventure of discovery.  What does the Scripture tell us?  How does that compare and contrast with what we think we know?  Where and how should we go, if we want to leave something better and more “reconciled” for the coming generations?

I do not promise that this blog will have a great effect. But I know that the research and writing will impact me, and I know that I still have space and time to make a difference.

Go with me for as much or as little as you choose.  And look for resources to add to your places to explore, places in addition to  More will be provided.


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