Broken Church

Five hundred and two years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, touching off a debate and conflict that came to be known as The Reformation. Thus ends the most predictable sentence a Lutheran pastor could type in the days leading up to Reformation Day. It would now be predictable to shout the praises of brother Martin and point to the eternal truths revealed in that historic moment. I’m not going to do that. I’m actually tired of doing that.

One could say that Luther and other reformers sensed deeply that the Church of Jesus Christ was broken. The 95 Theses were a kind of inventory of the wreckage.  You could look at the Church as an institution and find corruption and all manner of idiotic proclamations of “truth” that bore no resemblance to the gospel or the Christ who uttered it. The Church just wanted to find more ways to keep itself in power. The people were uninformed about the faith and cared little for growing as Christians. They just did what the were told to avoid the damnation they feared.

Sound familiar? We live in an age where the Church is no less broken. Maybe it is even more so. Denominations struggle to be relevant while keeping their place and power as an institution in a culture that cares not. Congregations are more concerned about “surviving,” no matter what they have to do; what they have to give away or give up, than about being the transforming body of Christ in the world. 

We are deeply concerned about “Nones” (those who answer “none” to questions about religious affiliation. In fact, a significant cause of “nones” is that so many of us Christians should say “nominal” when we answer questions about religious affiliation. We are nominal in our commitment, knowledge, engagement with faith and so exhibit no compelling evidence in our own lives that would encourage someone to become engaged in faith. We are, at best, tepid.

The truth is, that like the Church of 500 years ago, the Church of today is broken. It is in need of house cleaning, change, transformation of the kind that happened five centuries ago.

I’m no Martin Luther – nothing even close. But, as I think about it, there are a few theses I would offer if we are to address the Church’s brokenness.

  1. The use of religion as a means of keeping people out, apart, inline, under control is over, folks. We need to stop with the judgmentalism, the hate, the exclusion if we say we worship a God of Love.
  2. The notion that believing the right thing makes you “saved” must give way to living a life, each day, steeped in confession, forgiveness, and growing into Christ. 
  3. “Saved” does not mean bound for heaven when you die. It means that your life is being ever more deeply united with Christ and so becoming ever more eternal every day.
  4. Prosperity is not the same as abundance. You can’t buy love, happiness, meaning, or anything that matters. Abundance comes from union with Christ as it is found in a community of people who live like Jesus.
  5. Our insatiable consumption and rabid individualism is killing us and the planet we inhabit – faster and faster each day. We must repent and return to sustainable, communal, earth-bound habits of living at peace with all – and with ourselves.
  6. Our politicians, our teachers, our bosses, our coaches, our celebrities cannot save us. Only God has a deep enough resume for that project.
  7. God’s economy has nothing to do with capitalism, Wall Street or “return on investment.” It has everything to do with justice, all being fed, and all sharing in the peace and joy of God.
  8. Every congregation will die; every denomination and nation will disappear. Death is not a final word and all that matters is how much love happens while you’re around. Fearing death is silly.
  9. If you hate someone, you hate God.
  10. You only matter as a person as you matter in a community. So, be humble, gracious, forgiving and never assume you are the smartest person in a room or on a social media feed. That makes you a fool.

I could go on, but that is 10% of Luther’s production. We are a Broken Church, no doubt. The Good News is that, like the Reformation 500 years ago, our Lord is a broken savior. He dies on a cross and was raised from the dead so we would never fear brokenness and pain; so that we w=could walk boldly into the fierce waters of change and nor drown. 

So, this weekend, as we remember the Reformation, lets be a broken Church, dependent on a broken savior so we can save a broken world together. Amen

copyright © 2019, Timothy V. Olson.