This latest round of clergy sex and cover-up scandal could help usher in the next big thing: a Reformation Point Three. I think Reformation Point Two has been underway already in the globalization of the church and the emergence of the Church of Asia and Africa. We think of Reformations as basically theological movements. But I wonder if they aren’t just as much about power, and the breaking down of mental, institutional and social fortresses, so that the power within can be dispersed, shared, and multiplied, as it was meant to be. Even the great theological councils and creeds, perhaps even the formation of the Canon, may have happened in part as reactions against the abuse of power, and to establish or affirm external standards of faith and conduct by which to hold leaders and authorities accountable to the people whom they are to serve and empower. Popular imagination holds heretics like Marcion in the 5th Century A.D, who tried to eviscerate the Canon of everything Jewish, as renegade heroes fighting for our freedom to think for ourselves (the prequel to The Da Vinci Code). But their brands of faith required at least as much faith in themselves as orthodoxy requires in its sacred scripts. And that without the stringent moral standards of the scriptures. Or the accountability of other believers, living or dead.
As I talk with unbelievers, one common reason they cite for not believing is not so much the beliefs themselves (they often believe things that require at least as much faith), but the church’s abuse of power, politically and economically, as well as sexually. A Reformation Point Three would recycle some of the original Protestant and Anabaptist criticism of entrenched, hierarchical, institutionalized religious power. It would also take us back to an apostolic understanding of church leadership, as a tool for the maturation and empowerment of all believers, even to the cultivation and multiplication of power and leadership. In the kingdom of God, those are not zero-sum schemes; Holy Spirit-given power and leadership grow with the sharing. And that takes us back to the model of leadership and power exercised by Jesus, who gave himself away to the ultimate degree, so as to share his life, power, mission and authority with his disciples.
In a Reformation Point Three, we will relearn how to minister and witness without the kinds of power and prestige that the church hierarchy was trying to protect with its cover-ups. That kind of power and prestige are going, going…..gone even as I type this. That will lead to new/ancient and more grass-roots forms and shapes of church, operating against social headwinds of mistrust and contempt. Again, nothing new in our history. The setting, in fact, for some of our finest moments.
April 7, 2010
Pastor Mathew Swora