A Reformation Day Call for Unity in the Church

Ecumenism…have you heard of that word before? If you serve in Christian ministry, you are probably aware of this philosophy.  Ecumenism is the aim or principle of promoting unity in the world’s Christian churches. I’ve become very familiar with it in recent years, not so much by conscious choice, but by the promptings of the Holy Spirit in my life.

Gratefully, my journey into ecumenism has radically changed my faith and broken through years of religious bias.  Unfortunately though, bitterness is still frequently harbored between denominations throughout the world.

Photo credit: lutheranregormation.org

The Split in the Church

How did this disharmony and division start in the Church?  What caused the divide between Catholic and Protestant denominations?

It started 500 years ago on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, nailed his ’95 Theses’ to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  His controversial proposals disagreed with the practice of selling indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church.  This practice took advantage of the poor, promising them the absolution of sin and hope of eternal salvation.

Martin Luther also contradicted the Church by claiming:

  • the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God and
  • salvation is based on grace, not by deeds.

Luther’s writings were declared heretical in 1520, and he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church the following year. Luther went on to translate the New Testament into German while in exile in 1522. In 1534, Luther and his colleagues translated the entire Bible into German, making scripture accessible to common people and not just the highly educated and leaders of the church.

The ’95 Theses’ is commonly referred to as the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation.  Although his assertions and those of other reformers made important changes to the universal church, it did not come without a significant cost. The split of the church into Catholicism and Protestantism led to religious wars and persecution in countries across Europe for hundreds of years, saturating the soil with the blood of the martyrs. Pope John Paul II even made an unprecedented apology for the sins of the Church in March 2000.

Drawn to Catholicism

It’s not surprising to me that growing up in a Catholic family, I never heard about the Protestant Reformation.  At 17, I converted to Protestantism, but still didn’t know anything about the Reformation. It wasn’t until I met Protestant missionaries from France in 2011, that I was enlightened about the Reformation and its impact in Europe.  I learned that the Protestant Reformation never took root in Spain and that Protestants were considered a cult compared to the over 90% Catholic population.

That came as a total shock to me. In my conversations with Pedro and Rosa, practicing Catholics from Spain, our religious differences never surfaced.  In fact, our shared belief in Jesus gave us a strong family and spiritual bond.  With the passing of my mother, a practicing Catholic, in 2011, I was drawn back to the mysteries of the Catholic Church.  I started attending weekday mass and devoted hours there in prayer.

My first encounters with the Catholic women were very warm and inviting. Some in their zeal for Catholicism tried to convert me. It led to some interesting conversations.

My Protestant friends were mostly encouraging me–to listen to the Spirit and not be boxed in by religious rules or what ‘church’ is supposed to look like.  They’ve called me a bridge-builder and a catalyst for change.

Others were biased against Catholics, mostly claiming they didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus–a commonly misconstrued belief by Protestants.

By the time I was making travel plans to visit Spain in 2013, the Lord was already working on me and preparing me to pray for the Church in Spain and for unity in the Body of Christ.  That trip, my personal pilgrimage to Spain, and my prayers, led to another prayer assignment the following year–the Celebrate Recovery mission to France and Spain.

A Holy Shift

Since the completion of that prayer assignment in 2014, the Lord revealed to me my unique wiring: Catholic by birth, Protestant by choice, and then opening my eyes to the genesis of Catholicism again as an adult. My spiritual heritage, and affinity and openness to both denominations gave me a great desire and calling to pray for healing of the wounds of the past, and for renewal and unity in the Church.

I never stopped believing that the Lord was leading me and that He was calling me to be a voice for unity and healing in the Church, to be ecumenical.

My faith journey across denominational lines has given me insights into how both Catholic and Protestants show up on Sundays and how they do community during the week.  I’ve witnessed major shifts in the Catholic Church that are creating a more engaged environment, and not one where parishioners just come on Sunday to fulfill their weekly obligation and warm the pews.

Catholics are being encouraged to read and study the Bible, to attend Alpha groups, to serve from their strengths (Gallup StrengthsFinder) and to grow spiritually.  I’ve seen the hunger and openness that is being fostered from the leadership of the church.  I’ve heard salvation through grace being preached in homilies. I’ve witnessed the charismatic renewal that the Holy Spirit is pouring on the Church.

In fact, some might even say that reformation is occurring in the Catholic Church.

A Call for Unity

When God orchestrated my journey down this unusual ecumenical path, I was ignorant about the Reformation and uneducated about the spiritual climate in Europe. Having experienced the darkness and witnessed the divide there, I believe the Church needs to undergo a holy shift toward healing and unity.  We are joint heirs to the Kingdom and called to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:16-18, NIV)

500 years after the Protestant Reformation, on this Reformation Day 2017, let’s join together across denominations, in prayer, calling heaven to earth and uniting His people as we prepare for a Holy Shift in the Body of Christ.

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    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

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