October 31, 2020, is Reformation Day. On this day throughout Christendom followers of Christ Jesus all around the world are called upon to remember an historical event that rocked the Christian world and changed the course of western civilization.
It was on All-Hallows Eve (the day before All Saints Day) in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses (arguments) to the door of the Castle Church in the university town of Wittenberg, Germany. In that day and time it was the best means of broadcasting his “Top 95” list of grievances against what he viewed as the corrupted Church of Rome and the Papacy, criticisms meant to be debated among his students. Little did Luther imagine that these hammer blows would soon thunder throughout the halls of the Vatican and eventually reform and rebuild Christendom into its modern Roman Catholic and Protestant sectors.
October 31, 2020, is Reformation Day. And on this day across America followers of Christ Jesus are called upon to remember that the Protestant Reformation is not a done-deal. It is not merely a once-upon-a-time event buried in the pages of history.
As a part of today’s mainline Protestant Christian Church, Presbyterians for instance hold fast to the great motto of the Reformation, “Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda” – the church reformed and always reforming. The thrust of the Protestant Reformation and the Presbyterian denomination’s loyalty to its principles was and must continue to be the preservation and restoration of a more authentic faith and life–a church reformed and always to be reformed according to the Word of God.
Now in the face of today’s American cultural, ideological, theological and partisan divide, the authentic faith and life of the Christian Church according to the Word of God is at question and under duress. It is, therefore, not insignificant that this year’s sacred Reformation Sunday/All Saints Sunday serves as the prelude to America’s secular Election Day 2020.
Today, 503 years after Luther’s protest against a corrupted Church, what is perceived to be the Christian Church in America comes in more varieties than Heinz has condiments and more flavors than Baskin Robbins has ice cream. The modern Church in America can be compared to a chain of convenience stores on every corner that cater to whatever belief system and ideology may be held by its varied customer base.
It is no exaggeration to say that Luther, Calvin and the other early reformers wouldn’t recognize today’s Christian Church in the USA as it has evolved over the centuries, and would find parts of it both unsavory and unpalatable. It is also fair to say that the ‘Founding Fathers’ of this great American experiment in democracy would find today’s practice of governance a far cry from what they had planned and hoped for on this less than hallowed eve of Election Day 2020.
Today in these divided states of America there is a certain corrupted brand of religion that impersonates Christianity. It passes itself off as the purest form of the Christian Church, the true face of Christ in America. But it is an imposter in dire need of reformation if it is to accurately claim any likeness to the Christ Jesus revealed in the New Testament ‘Word of God’.
The essence of today’s blog post, therefore, is not about eco-justice, but rather a protest against such pseudo (fake) Christianity and a prophetic call for the real Church to stand up and nail down the case against the imposter in true Reformation fashion. In this regard Presbyterians as a product of the Protestant Reformation have a critical role to play in exposing and correcting ecclesiastical falsehoods.
Case in point is the movement within American Christianity known as ‘Christian Nationalism’ along with the growth of ‘Patriot Churches.’ The non-profit organization, Faithful America, in response to this movement recently issued a communication that echoes Luther’s hammer blows exposing a corrupted Church. It reads in part:
A new Washington Post article, “Seeking power in Jesus’ name,” unmasks a disturbing network of so-called “Patriot Churches.” From Georgia to Washington state, the goal of these churches is to make religion and right-wing politics truly inseparable — and organize the growing Christian nationalist movement. Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, claiming you can’t be a patriotic American unless you’re also a devout, conservative Christian. The toxic-yet-spreading ideology demands that Christianity be privileged by the State, enables white supremacy, and is an affront to both the Gospel and the Constitution… At one service attended by a Post reporter, “Patriot Churches” founder and Trump supporter Ken Peters prayed that “socialism and transgenderism and homosexuality and abortion will not have their way.” Peters also dangerously called masks “face diapers.”
In response to the growth of Christian Nationalism and Patriot Churches, over 17,000 Christian clergy and laity from across denominational lines have come together in Reformation fashion to decry the dual threat to Christianity and democracy that the Christian Nationalism movement poses. Please visit the Christians Against Christian Nationalism website, read the Statement and consider joining thousands of others in signing onto the Statement. While on the website, also read under the ENDORSERS section the arguments presented against Christian Nationalism by respected denominational religious leaders.
As one example, this is what Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Director of the Office of Public Witness for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) says:“The merging of faith and politics into a single ideology is idolatrous and dangerous. The Presbyterian Church’s 2018 social witness statement, “Honest Patriotism”, determines that, “Bearing our civic responsibilities as Christians in mind, we must also at times, in our role as active Christian members of a civil community, take seriously our prophetic role. Because we understand the state as ordained by God we must, in all humility and acknowledging our own propensity for error, call the state to task when it fails in its obligations.”
Speaking as the President and General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ, Jim Winkler says:“Christians Against Christian Nationalism reminds us of the importance of teaching and practicing both sound patriotism and sound theology. When we place our nation and our faith over against others we have distorted the gospel of Jesus Christ and laid the basis for war, violence, racism and extremism. Let us remember who we are and whose we are.”
Luther protested by nailing his concerns and convictions about a corrupted religion to the church door and then stood his ground against all odds.. Today a common sign of being a “protest-ant” is to carry signs into the streets to show opposition to all forms of injustice. As we remember the birth of the Protestant Reformation we aren’t asked to hammer on a church door. Nor must we carry a sign into the streets in order to champion the preservation and restoration of a more authentic faith and life–a church reformed and always to be reformed according to the Word of God.
Friends in Christ, we can protest the pseudo-Christianity of Christian Nationalism and bogus patriotism of Patriot Churches right now by simply becoming informed and signing onto the Statement from our computer keyboard. It’s a simple but faithful act in the true spirit of Reformation Day.
“Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda”