And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
Could it be that when Christ says about His Church that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” He does so because there will be many times that it seems like the gates of hell are prevailing, or nearly so? Perhaps we should see the history of Christ’s Church to be somewhat like the history of Israel, with many ups and downs, and often more difficult times than others, and most often the problems will be with lack of faith and pursuing false gods than from outside attacks. If this is so, and it seems at least likely, then what should our response be to “the church” when we see or experience the downturns? It may do us well to consider the prophets in Israel, how they spoke the word of God, and how they chastised and often wept, but also how they did not abandon Israel because they loved Israel and they could not go against God’s chosen people even if the people had turned from God. And some even paid for their commitment to Israel with their lives.
If this is true, then it may shine a light into what we call the Protestant Reformation. There have been many reformations, and many reformers throughout the entire history of the Church. Reformation is an ongoing aspect of Christian sanctification, both personally and corporately. It seems that Christians are always falling away and coming back, in a kind of constant flux—and it seems that’s God’s design, something we should expect. If this is true, then perhaps we should see the Protestant Reformation as a kind of necessary prophetic judgement on the Church—something difficult but welcome to those who have eyes to see. But then what do we do with the fact that soon the reformers turned away from the Church entirely, calling her the whore of Babylon and the pope the Antichrist? Strong language is the purview of prophets, but abandoning the beloved is not.
And what should those of us do who have grown up within this abandonment; accepting the mantle of prophets when, in fact, we may not have been called to be prophets in that way or to that degree; living into the “protestation” when we should be submissive; and even elevating disunity as a sign of faith? Perhaps the next step for us “Protestants”, if we are to be truly reformed, is to take up the second step and come back to the Church. That may be what will finally make the Protestant Reformation truly a reformation.