“Increasingly fewer people are buying what we’re selling.”
Regard protestant de Logan Dunn (28.10.2017)
31 October marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther publishing of his Ninety-Five theses and with it the beginning of what Protestants call the Reformation. Luther certainly intended to provoke, but he hardly anticipated where the forces he unleashed would lead. He did not know it would turn out to be – from any perspective – one of the more momentous days in the history of Christianity, in the history of Western Civilization.
For those who consider themselves heirs of Luther’s movement this is an occasion to celebrate, and for all those who think history matters it is an occasion to remember. In these narrow (and narrowing) circles, the events of 1517 and their aftermath are currently receiving much attention, but for the vast majority it is a matter of indifference or, more likely, ignorance. Despite inhabiting a cultural landscape indelibly shaped by the Reformation, most likely regard its concerns (to extent they are even familiar with them) as thoroughly antiquated, the type of unhealthy religious preoccupation happily consigned to the past. The old faith is irrelevant.
The sad irony is that the Reformation itself may bear some responsibility for establishing the conditions for its own disregard. Division is an undeniable characteristic of Protestantism. From its inception the movement splintered into various factions, each convinced that they alone interpreted Scriptures rightly. And this phenomenon continues unabated; no one can count the world’s denominations. The quest to instantiate the one true church remains stubbornly elusive, each new attempt at perfect righteousness sewing further disunity.
From the standpoint of the West’s foundational dogma – consumer capitalism – this appears to be pleasing outcome: the more products in the marketplace, the better. A particular brand of faith is yet one more product to be consumed, and as long as there is a big enough market, every brand can maintain a satisfactory market share. But the market, as it were, has collapsed. Increasingly fewer people are buying what we’re selling.
In John’s Gospel, immediately prior to Jesus’ betrayal, he prays that all believers would be unified just as he is one with the Father. It is the unity of the church, Jesus says, that will cause others to believe in him (John 17:20-21). And if believers are not united, the implication is clear: people will not believe.
If today’s believers – Protestant and Catholic – find themselves lamenting the apparently inexorable forces of secularization and with it the marginalization of their faith, they would do well to prioritize Christian unity. The future just might depend on it.
The author is pastor associate, All Nations Church