Why We Need One
The Original Reformation
Before I address a new Reformation, a summary of the religious and social context for the original Reformation is necessary. Here is the Encyclopedia Britannica’s.
The world of the late medieval Roman Catholic Church from which the 16th-century reformers emerged was a complex one. Over the centuries the church, particularly in the office of the papacy, had become deeply involved in the political life of western Europe. The resulting intrigues and political manipulations, combined with the church’s increasing power and wealth, contributed to the bankrupting of the church as a spiritual force. Abuses such as the sale of indulgences (or spiritual privileges) by the clergy and other charges of corruption undermined the church’s spiritual authority.
The Current Church Crisis
When I survey the political-spiritual situation in the Western Church today similarities with the 16th century Reformation are obvious. Although the current Church has nowhere near the practical political power as did the medieval Roman Catholic, its subservience to secular political power is undeniable. Anyone who has been following this blog will have been exposed to many examples within context of the PCUSA. However, were I a member of the Episodical, Congregational, Methodist, or Evangelical Lutheran Church (among other Mainline denominations) the evidence for secular politics’ dominance would be of similar weight.
In the age of Trump we see the more conservative Evangelical churches embracing a man who just a decade ago would almost certainly have been rejected. While I make no defense of President Trump’s morals, it takes a mountain of chutzpah for progressive Christians to criticize the politicization of Christianity by Evangelical leaders. Some progressive Christians, upon seeing their strategy turned back on themselves, are beginning to recognize the danger of a Christianity captured by human ideology. However, their voices are drowned out in the maelstrom of SJW Tweets and mob action.
This crisis is certainly not limited to the Protestant churches. The positions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on health care, poverty programs, human conflict, environmental policy and immigration are almost as inseparable from secular progressive cant as are those of the Mainline denominations. However, they remain at odds with progressivism on abortion and religious freedom. Thus the political situation is less certain.
However, it is in the area of sexual morality that the Catholic Church is experiencing an existential crisis. As state Attorney Generals have become more aggressive in pursuing sexually deviant Catholic clergy it has become undeniable that there has been a longstanding, wide and deep coverup of pederasty. This scandal directly involves Catholic leaders at the top of the hierarchy. Potentially even Pope Francis has been credibly implicated in the protection of criminal clergy to advance the coverup. Unless the Catholic Church fundamentally reforms we could be heading for a crisis on the order of the Protestant Reformation.
At the core of all these developments is a loss of spiritual authority that can be traced back to a substitution of human ideology for religious faith. It appears that at some time in the last century many in the Christian clergy and laity concluded that, in effect, “God is indeed dead.” However, they also realized that the institutional church yet wielded great moral power that could be put to “good” use. When they looked around for a new moral compass they settled on secular progressive ideology. This development is well summarized in An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America by Joseph Bottum.
Formed in the victory of civil rights activism, a new version of the social gospel movement became the default theology of church bureaucrats in the Mainline. The churches “increasingly turned their attention to the drafting of social statements on a variety of contemporary problems,” as the religious historian Peter J. Thuesen has noted, and their statements “revealed a shared opinion among Mainline executives that the churches’ primary public role was social advocacy.”
As has been noted the Catholic Church is far down this path as well. One can only guess as to where the more conservative Protestant churches are heading, though the polar opposite of the progressive denominations seems to be most likely.
As I recently wrote:
However, regardless of if we find ourselves in the Mainline Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox or Nondenominational branches we must seriously consider if our Christian testimony has been so corrupted by the poison of secular cults that it has been fundamentally compromised. My thought is that something akin to a new Reformation will be required for the Church to rise to this challenge. But, not my will be done, rather His.
I believe that only something on the order of a New Reformation has the power to extract the Western Christian Church from its current crisis. Too many denominations and leaders have been corrupted by secular political power for anything less to do.
This isn’t a new idea. But if my prayer can add to those of others seeking God’s intervention then let me not remain silent.