The Third Great Rummage Sale — The Reformation

I think most people, especially those who call themselves Christian, are at least a little familiar with the third great rummage sale in Christianity which was the Reformation.  I will only give a very brief look in this post. Martin Luther, a monk with an incredibly low self-image, started it in 1517 when he nailed his list of 95 complaints about the workings of the church on the Wittenberg church door.  Martin’s initial goal was to try to turn the church from corruption of its day. But, due to bruised egos he ended up causing the second great schism in the church.

Luther would not be the only person who would separate from the catholic church; many more would follow.

  •  John Calvin in 1534 followed Luther in forming his own church. Whereas Luther decided that the most important part of the bible was that we are saved by grace alone and works don’t really matter, Calvin went even further to believe that God simply chooses certain people to give his grace and everyone else is doomed to an eternal agony regardless of how they lived their lives or what they chose to believe.
  •  Ulrich Zwingli would started a Swiss reformation in 1523.
  • The Anabaptist movement began in 1525.  They did not favor church bureaucracies such as pope and bishops. Like most of the reformation proponents this group would later split into many others arguing over doctrinal and beliefs differences.
  • In 1523 King Henry VIII  split due marriage issues around wanting to marry Anne Boleyn. He started the Church of England
  • John Knox started the Scotland reform in 1559
  • In 1608 John Smyth baptises the first Baptists. He fixated on the method of baptism for his split.

Over the centuries many others would jump onto the separatist bandwagon. Of course splitting over interpretation of sacred documents and other such things continues even now. It is believed that there are now over 39,000 different versions of Christianity in existence today.

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Next time we will be talking more about the rummage sale that we are now engaged in. This time around some are basically trying to reassemble the church around actions rather than man-made beliefs. The emergent movement has some exciting possibilities in that regard.

Let’s close out this post with another visit into the book The Great Emergence  by Phyllis Tickle. This time about the coming age:

Now, some five hundred years later, even many of the most diehard Protestants among us have grown suspicious of “Scripture and Scripture only.” We question what the words mean— literally? Metaphorically? Actually? We even question which words do and do not belong in Scripture and the purity of the editorial line of descent of those that do. We begin to refer to Luther’s principle of “sola scriptura, scriptura sola” as having been little more than the creation of a paper pope in place of a flesh and blood one. And even as we speak, the authority that has been in place for five hundred years withers away in our hands. “Where now is the authority?” circles overhead like a dark angel goading us toward disestablishment. Where indeed? 

Rummage Sales

Before I get into the “details” I wanted to throw out another unique way of looking at church history.  Here is the way  author Phyllis Tickle describes church history in her book entitled The Great Emergence :

The only way to understand what is currently happening to us as twenty-first-century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. And, he (Rev Mark Dyer) goes on to say, we are living in and through one of those five-hundred-year sales.

Now, while the bishop may be using a bit of humor to make a point, his is nonetheless a deadly serious and exquisitely accurate point. Any usable discussion of the Great Emergence and what is happening in Christianity today must commence with yesterday and a discussion of history. Only history can expose the patterns and confluences of the past in such a way as to help us identify the patterns and flow of our own times and occupy them more faithfully. The first pattern that we must consider as relevant to the Great Emergence is Bishop Dyer’s rummage sale, which, as a pattern, is not only foundational to our understanding but also psychologically very reassuring for most of us.

That is, as Bishop Dyer observes, about every five hundred years the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be at that time, become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered in order that renewal and new growth may occur. When that mighty upheaval happens, history shows us, there are always at least three consistent results or corollary events. First, a new, more vital form of Christianity does indeed emerge. Second, the organized expression of Christianity which up until then had been the dominant one is reconstituted into a more pure and less ossified expression of its former self.

While Phyllis Tickle calls the current age the Great Emergence from what I can glean it is also analogous with Harvey Cox’s the age of the spirit. The term emergence has been overused already and its meaning therefore is not yet solidified. We will get into that in future posts. I may also flesh out just what those five hundred year milestones are. A rummage sale seems to be a very effective way of describing the about-faces that the church has done throughout its history.

Until the next time I bid you peace….