Since that notorious date in 1517 when a certain man by the name of Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door’s of a church building in Wittenberg, Germany, the last 500 years have been filled with movements and stirrings amongst God’s people that have brought change, reformation and transformation amidst churches, cities and nations leaving lasting impressions to never be forgotten. It’s not that great stirrings never happened prior to what we call the great Protestant Reformation. It’s just that, for the better part of half of a millennium, following the breaking away from the state-institutional church of Rome, the church has been perpetually stirred towards a willingness to be reformed and transformed by God.
The unfortunate thing is that, when these movements have stirred over the past 500 years, at times, there has been an extreme amount of persecution against such groups. And a lot of it has been offered by the religious folk of the church. Perhaps that is part of the nature concerning persecution – the religious of the day will always persecute. Such was the reality when the incarnate-God walked the dusty roads of Judea, Samaria and Galilee.
We have all probably heard of the stories of what happened to Luther following his 95 theses (at least through the movie). In the end, he was not murdered, but Rome and the local law would have looked the other way had his head turned up on a silver platter.
And how many other movements can we name that have had persecutions along the way, some great and some smaller? What about the Anabaptists who were quite adamant that the Scripture taught credobaptism, or believer’s baptism. Some Anabaptists were killed by both Roman Catholics and Protestants, since the status quo of the day was paedobaptism, or baptism of infants.
I know plenty of stories of ridicule and exclusion of those in the Pentecostal and charismatic renewals of the 20th century. These people were ostracized for the most part. They were the whackos, the theologically untrained, and were labelled worse things at other times.
And I have recently brought up plenty of reminders of what happened when people like Copernicus and Galileo who, in the 16th century, challenged the prevailing geocentric view of the day, which said the Earth was at the centre of the universe. The church blushed at the idea of a heliocentric universe with the sun in the centre. For them, this challenged the teaching of Scripture, and the church. And so persecution was heaped, I mean heaped, as these new-thinkers were labelled heretics. But, today, we could not imagine such a reaction.
But, unfortunately, this is what I have begun to notice in recent weeks: Whereas, at one point in time, a particular group or circle or denomination was part of a major stirring and move of God, all the while receiving great ridicule and possible persecution for such, some point down the line that group can quite easily move into the role of the persecutors themselves.
Think about it. The Lutherans were on the cutting edge 450 years ago. How excited might this group get over a Pentecostal church that believes in prophecy and tongues, does not baptise infants, and holds only to a memorial viewpoint of the bread and wine at communion?
Or what about the Methodists who had such a fine man of God, John Wesley, as their initiator? A man truly used by the power and grace of God. Who might they be shaking their heads at these days?
Or what about an evangelical charismatic church that sees the Bible as the only authority in the life of the believer? How might they be cringing over the emerging church?
The list could go on and on and on. Each group and/or denomination was mightily used of God at some point in history. Some shorter, some longer. But, again, all of these aforementioned groups were definitely used to stir the church, cities and nations. But now, some have lost a bit of their salt, the light has faded, and their potency zapped. Still, even worse things have come about for many who were once used in helping to establish a little more of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
My point is that, here we are in 2010. Not a super-special year by any means. At this point, I am not aware of anyone standing up and saying, ‘In the year king Uzziah [or king whomever] died, I saw the Lord…’ (Isa 6:1). Or maybe some are doing so. But, no doubt things are always stirring, things are always moving forward. And here we find my generation rethinking some things. Just as the Reformers, just as the Methodists, just as the Anabaptists, just as the Pentecostals, just as the charismatics. We sense that some things need to change.
Now, of course, it might be easy to say, ‘Well, those movements of the past were certainly and obviously of God. But to rethink something theologically, especially using your noggin’ (head), well, that’s not any stirring of God. Plus, anything “stirring” today is more progressive-liberal and not founded upon the truth of God’s word.’
Perhaps. And perhaps we are using our noggin’s too much, though God did give us these wonderful thinking mechanisms. I suppose with the former groups, it all didn’t just – BOOM – drop out of the sky. Yeah, I guess it did with the Pentecostals and charismatics (remember, I am one). But I am certain Martin Luther had to think through things. I suppose the Anabaptists had to think through whether persecution and death was worth changing their views on baptism. I suspect other groups – even Pentecostals and charismatics – had to think through some of the changes. I know 16th century scientists were doing some thinking in their day, and some faithful and true thinking at that.
And, so, as I mentioned, my generation is thinking through some things. We are rethinking the roles of women and whether women should be allowed to function as church leaders (what the Bible calls elders). We are reconsidering the nature of Scripture and how to faithfully explain it in a 21st century world. We are wondering whether previous conclusions about evolutionary biology are worth reanalysing. We are thinking maybe we can learn better how to interact with people from other faiths and those of a homosexual orientation.
To some, this sounds like good news. To others, they would offer cautions. To some, this would seem very dangerous. To others, they would mark us out as heretics. The whole spectrum is represented.
My challenge to those who see us taking part in dangerous or heretical activity would be to give the up and coming people of God in the earlier years of the 21st century some space to think through some things. We need it, just as you guys did at some point in time (individually or corporately). And my challenge to the up and coming people of God in the earlier years of the 21st century would be to stay connected to faithful leaders and a solid local body of Christ, and even be willing to consider the challenges put forth to us. Why one way and not the other? We must admit that we are a bit too arrogant, accusing others of thinking they have it all figured out, but we are really just saying the same thing with our propositions and actions.
But I can only hope that the once persecuted groups would listen to my few words and not begin to persecute. Do you remember your days when such happened? Or do you remember the stories of your fathers and mothers? Oh, if space had been allowed for Luther! Oh, if freedom had been given to Wesley! Goodness knows what could have taken palce if we had not ostracised and persecuted and even murdered some of those looking to move forward in the purposes of God in their day and age.
I do not write as one who has received persecution myself. Ah, a few jabs here and there with words. But that isn’t much, at least compared to the shedding of blood (Heb 12:3-4) on behalf of the humanity that, at times, would rather persecute than give space for others to think through some things.
I simply challenge that we who were once persecuted would not become the persecutors.
Good stuff. Luther remains a hero of mine.
Also, I think of the Dutch Reformed folks persecuting the Arminians. Man, you’re dead on. Interesting how the tide turns.
More discussion happening over at Theologica.
We are rethinking the roles of women and whether women should be allowed to function as church leaders (what the Bible calls elders).
Can’t happen soon enough, IMO. For nearly 2,000 years half the church has been relegated to second-class status or pigeon-holed into “roles” by a patriarchal and at times misogynist application of a few verses by persons either oblivious or hostile to the trajectory of the New Creation and the reality of the New (Hu)Man.
Here is another related article I wrote a few months back: Our Scriptural Presuppositions. I think it continues to help challenge and humble us.