Martin Luther broke off from the Catholic church in protest of church leadership abuses both in doctrine and in traditions in 1517, his complaints were valid at the time, the church leadership was corrupt.
Was Luther driven by ambition and legacy building or was it service to God? Only God knows with certainty.
Many modern protestants I think have fallen into the same trap of following un-biblical traditions that the Catholic church fell into in the middle ages. I wont try to list them here except for one tradition that I think is unique to protestants.
I think one tradition that we are repeating is breaking off fellowship via protest and forming our own group. We’ve turned Luther’s protest action into our tradition. Pastor’s do it by building their own mini kingdom that they can control, defending their turf, competing with the guy pastor across town, non-pastors do this in many ways including jumping around to different churches… same motives, same tradition.
Rather than be wronged and not get our way at church, we break away and start our own or jump to another fellowship.
It seems that the protestant church is one of the most fragmented and un-unified groups in the US. “World Christianity consists of 6 major ecclesiastico-cultural blocs, divided into 300 major ecclesiastical traditions, composed of over 33,000 distinct denominations in 238 countries, these denominations themselves being composed of over 3,400,000 worship centers, churches or congregations.” (Barrett et al, volume 1, page 16, Table 1-5). I would guess that the 33,000 number is an exaggeration but above a thousand is probably accurate.
Could it be that the tradition of protesting, which is so ingrained within many of us, provides cover for questionable motives of name building, of legacy formation, of factious competition?
Competition at church is heresy, it is toxic and it is an indication of a fundamental problem with how we gather. Christian’s who openly encourage competition with other believers are fleshly and confused about who the church is and how God wants his people to gather.
There is a well-known story when God dealt with a people who were trying to build a great name for themselves he confused the languages at the Tower of Babel, see Genesis 11. He did this so they could not stay unified in their selfish ambition, so they could not communicate and could not agree on anything.
One great lesson from Babel is that when we are out to build names for ourselves and cities and houses for our own names and legacies, God splits us up. Could that be what is happening with our 33,000 denominations?
Maybe we should rethink the tradition of protesting. Luther protested against some terrible abuses. We now protest for far less, sometime ridiculous reasons. Instead lets begin to practice dying to self, practice not getting our way, practice being willing to be wronged without taking off and breaking fellowship… just like Jesus Christ.
1 Cor 6:7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?7
In my next post (on 4/27/15) I will write about ways to break this sacred tradition of protest and understand when it is and is no ok with God to break fellowship with other believers even with competitive and cold Christians.