On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Thesis on the door of the Wittenberg Church and set in motion what would come to be known as The Reformation. Already, before Luther’s day, there were waves of reform blowing through the Christian world with movements such as the Waldensians in the 1100’s being one example. With the invention of his printing press, Gutenberg was able to illegally print Bibles for the masses. In 1455 complete Bibles were sold at the Frankfurt Book Fair for equal to three years wages for an average clerk. The truth contained in the Scriptures was just beginning to be unveiled and people desperately wanted the truth. When people began to learn what was actually contained within the pages of the Holy Scriptures, devoted people began to make radical changes. Of course, this angered those in power because the common man was now challenging the authority of the established institution of the Catholic Church. By the mid 1500’s there were various groups of people desperately trying to work out their salvation with fear and trembling as they read the precious words in the Bible and put them into practice. It seems that the Renaissance had ignited the minds of many great thinkers who reasoned with their hearts. The “civilized world” was turning back to the past, looking for the intellectual spark that we had somehow lost. It was time to break out of “the dark ages”. As we dug into our history looking for glorious gems, many would find the history of our faith and it would bring about shocking changes.
We had drifted so far away from where we needed to be. There were those who wondered and had a sense that something was amiss, but could we have ever guess just how far off course we had drifted? We had been taught our theology through superstitious traditions, wonderfully amazing paintings and statues, and a whole lot of guesswork. Since we were told that G-d was too difficult for us to understand, we accepted the hierarchy that the Catholic Church had put in place to govern our lives. Most of us simply wanted to be obedient subjects to the King, to the Pope and to the Emperor. But winds of change were blowing as some of us started to learn what was really contained within the pages of the Holy Scriptures. And as we started to learn, we learned we had some choices to make. The spirit of the Reformation was fanned into full flame in the 16th Century.
For many of us, we think of the Reformation as the start of a whole new intensity of persecution of the Jewish community and anyone who may have appeared “too Jewish” or too anything else in the eyes of the Church. There was much evil done at the hands of sinister and callous men who were in high and powerful positions. These outworkings of the time in history known as “The Reformation” contain both good and evil. In our zeal to be right before the L-RD, many of us did some evil things to our brothers and sisters. Yet in our zeal, we began to see layer upon layer of falsehood fall away. It is a very painful time in the history of the world.
Martin Luther was just as shocked as many of us are today when we read the Bible and examine our “sacred cows”. He wanted desperately to reform the Catholic Church. He saw that the Jewish people were the apple of G-d’s eye. He saw that forgiveness of sin is a free gift, not something that we can earn by doing some sort of thing or punishing ourselves physically. In his essay That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, Luther condemned the inhuman treatment of the Jewish people and urged Christians to treat them kindly. Luther hoped that through the discussions that would reform the Christian world, the Jewish people would come to see Jesus as the Messiah and accept Him as their own. What Luther didn’t seem to understand was that he simply couldn’t undo generations and centuries of evil done “in the name of Jesus” so quickly. Luther also didn’t seem to see that though reform was taking place, there was still much more reform needed before the Church ever saw the Messiah Who is revealed in the Scriptures. Much patience was needed because there was much work to be done.
Any farmer can tell you that plowing and tilling the soil is violent work. To rip and break up the fallow ground and prepare it to receive a seed wreaks havoc on the soil. Once the ground has been properly prepared, the seed is gently planted. If the soil were a living being, would it even recognize the seeds that the farmer had planted after being ravaged so deeply? But seeds were planted and in time they began to sprout. If those sprouts survived the early stages of growth and weren’t trampled or consumed by hungry animals, those sprouts might grow into small trees. Do you know how long it takes for a seed to grow enough to produce fruit? The small tree would have to grow for several years before it is strong enough to support fruit. It will have to endure through dry seasons to promote deep root growth and stormy seasons to develop a strong trunk and branches. It can take as few as 3 years and as many as 15 years before a seed will grow into a tree that produces fruit. And there’s no guarantee that the fruit produced will be good fruit! There could be bad weather so that the bees don’t pollinate the flowers, pests that come and devour the fruit as it is developing, or the tree could be bad itself and produce bad fruit. After all this time it would be such a waste to have to cut down this tree and throw it into the fire. But what joy when the fruit is good fruit!
Something started to move and grow centuries before Luther. Luther is the one history credits for kickstarting this move into high gear in the 16th century. It’s the same spirit of reform that had moved before in earlier days. Teshuvah. Our hearts were being drawn to HaShem. Would we follow Him perfectly? What would be the cost? What violence would this reforming spirit of HaShem have to endure in order to produce a good harvest?
As the Reformation movement grew, good and bad things began to take shape. We passionately persecuted our brothers and sisters yet we continued to dig deeper into the Scriptures and allow what we found to guide our lives. The truth began to be revealed, light began to shine, but there was much darkness. What we thought was a bright spotlight was truly just a spark, a smoldering wick. In our deep darkness, even the faintest light was bright and alarming. This spirit of searching for truth, the wrestling with it’s meaning, implications and applications, the working out of our faith has been a painful, and often times violent, journey.
Many of us have had the same awakening that Luther did. Many of us have felt the stirring in our spirits that something was amiss, something needed to change. Most of us have felt a zeal growing deep within and sometimes we have acted without thinking, or even caring. We run the risk of becoming angry and allowing that anger to grow into something arrogantly sinister. As we have learned more, we have grieved deeply yet at the same time we have rejoiced exuberantly. We have found ourselves identifying deeply with Israel and beginning to see “the church” as a seriously flawed organization. As we continue to learn and test, we begin to grieve our own history.
We find ourselves shocked by the atrocities that we inflicted upon our Jewish brothers and sisters. It is horrifying indeed! That we did this “in the name of Jesus!” We are shocked at the truth and deny it. This is the first stage of grief. We suffer with the pain and guilt of what our forefathers have done in their ignorance and arrogance. Would we have done the same had we lived in their time? Oh we suffer with guilt and pain. Then we begin to become angry. Now that we better understand that we are the ones who are grafted in, it is we who are adopted into Israel by our faith in HaShem and His Messiah, we find ourselves identifying more with our Jewish brothers and sisters than we do with our Christian brothers and sisters. We are angry at “the church” and Christians in general, and sometimes in our zeal we act without thinking or even caring. We propagate the same hatred that our forefathers did and we don’t see the irony of it all. As we are learning and growing we tend to feel very isolated and lonely. We don’t feel we fit in with the church and many of us pull out of the church in frustration and disappointment. As we wrestle with our ugly history we can find ourselves angry, rebellious and alone. Does this sound like a good description of the greater Messianic movement today? May it never be!! We must press on, HaShem never wastes a moment in the lives of His people. If we can get past the first four stages of grief we might be able to shine a brighter light into this dark world. We cannot throw away, waste, the potential harvest of good fruit! We cannot allow the adversary to sneak in and infect our fruit with worms and disease.
Martin Luther doesn’t seem to have been able to get through his own grief that mass conversions never took place. He hadn’t wanted to create a new sect of Christianity, he simply wanted to reform what already existed and in doing so he envisioned a joining together of both Jewish and Christian people under the banner of Messiah. When the Jewish people didn’t welcome him or his message with open arms he became angry. If we’re honest, we would see that each of us does the same thing. We may become angry or we may bargain with the people in our lives, wanting them to “catch our vision”. In Luther’s case the flames of his hurt and anger were fanned by the doctrine that was so deeply embedded in his Christian faith. Even though reform was taking place, there were so many ugly stones that needed to be removed before the true beautiful foundation of our faith could be revealed. The same is true even today. Many ugly and unnecessary stones have fallen away, but some still remain. We don’t need to beat them out, we need to dissolve the mortar that holds the stones in place. Their falling does not need to cause harm to the wonderful foundation it is obscuring by our zealous violence to forcefully remove them.
As this spirit of reformation continues to move, will we repeat the same horrible mistakes as our forefathers? Will harm be done by our hands, by our words, through our walk? Will future generations look back at us with the same scathing fury that we look upon our ancestors with? At one time we did not have the privilege of freely owning and studying the Holy Scriptures. We did not have access to the teachings of G-d through Moses or through Yeshua. Today things are different. We cannot honestly stand before our King and say “I didn’t know”. We cannot say that we didn’t know that both Moses and Yeshua taught us to love one another, to do good to one another, and above all Shema Yisrael, HaShem Eloheinu, HaShem Echad. We cannot abuse another, who is made in the image and likeness of G-d, and still think we bring Him honor and glory. If this current wave of reformation is to bear any good fruit, we must not let the swarms of insects bring a deadly disease to our fruit tree! What good will it do if we fail to grieve properly and weather the storms? We will surely be cut down and thrown into the fire. Though He never wastes a moment, we can.
We have been born for this time, right now. We did not live in the past and we were not reserved for the future. Right now is when we are intended to live in such a way as to bring delight to the Father and to honor His Son. How will we do this? We will be lamps that reflect His light, in truth and in love. We will love our brothers and sisters, whether or not they love us in return. We will not compromise but we will not be arrogant and haughty either. We must allow this reformation to mature and grow and we must accept the fact that we may never see the fruit with our own eyes. We must be humble, loving, patient, kind, gentle and accept that we do not have all the answers. The seeds that were planted in the violence of The Reformation must continue to grow and produce good fruit. We are among todays stewards of that movement. Let’s not waste it.
Part 2 in this series, Continued Reformation
and an earlier post Luther and Modern Messianics about anti-semitism in today’s Messianic/Hebrew Roots movement