In a previous post (21st Century Reformation), we introduced the idea that we are now living in a new reformation of the church which has been enabled by the explosive growth of technology and the internet. This is much like what happened in the 16th century during what is known as the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther’s writings (and the bible itself) were rapidly disseminated via the newly invented printing press. The convergence of these two developments 500 years ago was powerful. We are in the midst of a second similar convergence which will likely be much more powerful than the first.
Our previous post only touched on the issue of the cost of reformation to those who lived through it. Martin Luther experienced great persecution from the institutional religion of the day and William Tyndale was ultimately martyred for daring to put the bible into the hands of the common people. Both men suffered greatly, as did others who held similar convictions. Despite current popular teaching, the true cost of reformation has and always will be one thing and one thing only – suffering.
So what were the primary issues in the first reformation compared to our current one? It is widely agreed that the key issues so passionately argued and suffered for in the 16th century were salvation by faith alone and the free access to the scripture for all men and women. In the first case, salvation as taught by the institutional church of the day (it was the Catholic Church then but the name of the denomination means little) was heavily connected to the purchase of indulgences without the need for repentance and confession of faith. Luther’s view was that salvation could be obtained simply through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ. In addition, he also argued that the scriptures were the ultimate source of authority rather than the institutional religious hierarchy. The two issues were tightly linked and also connected to making the bible available to all through the printing press. How else could people access the ultimate source of authority without access to scripture?
In comparison to the issues addressed in the first reformation, in the 21st century we are dealing with another issue that was left undone by Luther and his compatriots – the priesthood of all believers. While it was an issue that was raised, it was never fully addressed at that time and in fact while salvation by faith and access to the bible for all were both tremendous breakthroughs, the Protestant church that arose out of Luther and Tyndale’s day was just as much a hierarchy as the Catholic one. Whatever the label – Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Anglican or Presbyterian – the structures are similar. A hierarchical structure or empire with someone prominent at the top (e.g. priest, pastor, bishop and more recently apostle or prophet). This is the issue we face in the 21st century. By its definition, if all believers are priests (insert one of the other titles here) then there is no need for an empire or hierarchy. The two views are in conflict with one another and cannot co-exist.
It has now been approximately 30 years since John Wimber uttered his famous statement “Everybody gets to play” during the early days of the Vineyard movement in the 1980’s. In our view, this began another reformation which is still playing itself out in the 21st century. The corresponding technology explosion (e.g. PC, Internet, mobile telephone, email, text, Facebook, etc.) has only accelerated the process. However, we still have a long way to go.
In the decades that followed John Wimber’s statement, many leaders have gained prominence in the modern day institutional church. Rick Joyner, John Paul Jackson, Bill Johnson, Kris Vallotton, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Heidi Baker, Joyce Meyer, Patricia King and in our local city, Wesley and Stacey Campbell. Sadly, while we are thankful for their contribution and did begin well, these same names have remained prominent year after year, decade after decade. While one may hold different views on whether they are personally responsible or not, the clear evidence remains that the system they have created and continue to perpetuate is in direct opposition to and persecutes those who attempt to live out their conviction of the priesthood of all believers. We have personally experienced this (more on this in a future blog) as have others who have paid a great price for holding this conviction.
At this point you may be asking, what evidence do you have for such an accusation against these elders or pioneers of revival in the church? Your recognition of their names should be your first hint. The simple answer to this question is another question – If these and other prominent leaders believe and live out the priesthood of all believers then why are their names still prominent after so many years? Also, why would you defend them unless they are at the top of your hierarchy? Perhaps their followers are the issue rather than the leader? After all, God held the people responsible for their insistence on a king.
As already mentioned, Luther, Tyndale and others paid a huge price for their convictions in the 16th century. We should expect nothing different in the 21st. Standing for and living out the priesthood of all believers will result in suffering and being misunderstood. Opposing heretical teaching such as the covering deception and continuous serving of the vision of a leader will result in real pain in our lives. Today we may not face physical execution by the religious hierarchy as Tyndale did but rather the methodical elimination of our personhood by stonewalling, ostracization and rejection by empire oriented leaders and their followers.
At this point it is important to remember that we are not fighting people or “flesh and blood” as the bible says but rather spiritual beings, archetypes and powers that will defend their hard won turf at every turn. They simply use whatever method they can, including established “ministries” to prevent true unity of the faith, full maturity and growing up as true sons and daughters of God. It is wise to reflect upon the consistent defence of empire and religious hierarchy when challenged with truth – an accusation that one is attacking the leader, priest, bishop, pope, apostle, prophet, high-priest or pastor rather than addressing the issue being raised. It was true in Luther and Tyndale’s day, in Jesus day and in the early church. It is also true today.
Are you willing to bear the true cost of reformation?
John and Katherine Matthews