Time Travel

I can’t really remember exactly when I became convinced that we had it all Right.

That somehow we – the independent protestant church, and me – had been able to travel through time directly to the early disciples, skipping all the blemishes and growth from church history along the way, without owning or thanking those who’d gone before us.

We are re-creating the infant church – the New Testament church – but not the adolescent church of the 5th or 10th or 15th century.   Never mind the crusades, indulgences, overruling of science, manifest destiny of America, slavery, treatment of women –no, that church got it wrong, but not our church.

That church got it wrong, but not our church.

When we’re so willing to correct yesterday’s practices, how can we be so incorrigible today?

One place in history we happily plan a layover is Martin Luther’s reformation.  Yes, he was speaking the truth to power, pouring his faith through a strainer to separate the religious practices from the pure essence of grace.  We are sure as nails willing to stand with a hammer on the steps of the Wittenberg Church doors to declare our freedom from onerous religion.

How does a people built on reform react when it’s time to reform ourselves? After all, Jesus himself led something of a religious revolt, gently and harshly working to get the Religiously Sure of the day to tilt the prism and see a different spectrum of the same light.   And since the time of Luther, thousands of local and independent churches were born to find relief from the mainline, which themselves were splintered from denominations, and on and on.

How does a people built on reform react when it’s time to reform ourselves?

Those splinters led to a number that I’ve been wrestling this week:  33,000.  That’s the number of Christian Denominations in today’s world (this number probably is overstated, but the premise still holds, see footnote¹).

Humility:  if every single one of those believe they have it right, we have a 0.00003 chance of being The One.

What bothers me more is how tempting it is to make it 33,001.  When we disagree on something specific or broad (this is true sociologically, not just religiously), we can hang on or move on, unless we find openness of thought and sharing of ideas.

We have a 0.00003 chance of being The One

The onus is on each of us to go where we are scared to go:  converse about our disagreements and listen to each other.  I’m writing to myself here, as I’m both ready to talk and afraid to listen.  I’m also a bit fragile, newly “in the thick of it,” especially with others who are very sure.

And I wonder if surety is the great multiplier that gets us to 33K.  How will local churches know when it’s time to hear new voices and that going a new direction is not a loss of all that has been built?  Perhaps if we learned to live in thankfulness for those who’ve led us this far, then we could more easily see ourselves letting go and taking our place among the great cloud of witnesses.

We who were once willing to stand up for change and then creatively and faithfully labor to find a new way, must now receive the joy of allowing others to do the same.

♦ weekendswell ♦

See also The Half-life of Reform for more on Martin Luther’s Reformation


¹ I’ve heard this referenced several places, here is one source with a good breakdown. The number seemed high and indeed after picking it apart there are a few clear oversights: Each country was counted uniquely so church ABC in England and identical church ABC in Kenya count as 2.  Secondly, since independent (say Baptist) churches are self-governing, each one of them counted as a “denomination.  Some good reflections found here.

3 Replies to “Time Travel”

  1. I have never ever thought about all that we “skipped over” before.
    I fact to be honest – I know SO VERY little about any “religious” history in between Jesus and the 1970’s. It’s all Greek to me (pun intended).
    And the idea of adapting what already exists instead of adding anothe splinter is so insightful. The question is : how do those who want to adjust – convince those who are sure they have it right ?


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