A History of Change
The date is reported to be October 27, 312 when Constantine had a vision of the Chi-Rho symbol in the sky during the battle of the Milivian Bridge. Constantine would win the battle and later rise as Emperor of Rome. He would lend legitimacy to the Christian faith and would call church councils where many creeds and doctrines were codified. Though some modern scholars have questioned whether this was a good thing for the Christian faith we cannot argue that this historic period radically shaped the structure and institution of the church.
Fast forward a handful of centuries and we find ourselves at the Great Schism of 1054 the time when the Church split between East and West. Resulting in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Once again, a radical shift in the understanding of the church.
Again, fast forward some 500 years and we arrive at the fateful date that Martin Luther set the Protestant Reformation in motion. That date is historically considered to be October 31, 1517 and so we find ourselves on the cusp of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. 500 years since that crucial day when Martin Luther is reported to have nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg castle church.
These are critical dates in the history of the church. Each a fixed period of time which represents a drastic shift in how the church understood itself within the world. Though we can highlight these dates we should not discount the events that led up to them, nor those that followed after. However, what we see is a major reformulating of the church every five centuries. Over the last several decades many have asked the question, ‘is the church about to go through another reformation like event?’
It is hard to predict such an event and I don’t want to speculate about what could or should happen. Globally the church is in various stages and it is difficult to imagine a singular event affecting the global church. However, perhaps we can look at the church in North America and note trends.
Mainline denominations have lamented for years about declines in membership. We must consider issues such as Truth and Reconciliation with our First Nations peoples and how we make our society free and accessible to all people. Technology has radically shifted the way we communicate with one another. These represent a snapshot of the pressures and opportunities that are before us.
Considering this we might ask, is God asking the church and the follower of Christ to act and engage with the world in new ways? Are we being called out as much as we are to welcome in? At a conference I attended this week Rev. John Bell from the Church of Scotland reminded us that “Jesus is not interested in our problems. Jesus is interested in our potential.”
Our potential for reconciliation. Our potential for generosity. Our potential for transformation. Our potential for a just society.
Perhaps the question we must ask is can we deal with our own potential?
Working out our potential is challenging work and can be daunting. It requires self-reflection. However, such reflection may very well what the church needs as a catalyst for change and growth. We are fortunate that after centuries of change and divisions in the church we are seeing old wounds being healed, a form of reconciliation is taking place. What does God have in store for the church? I don’t know, but I stand ready to do my part.