Editor’s note: 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Once a month, we're looking at different aspects of the movement.
In February, I interviewed singer and songwriter Matt Maher. I used a small portion of that interview at the time. However, Maher spent a long time talking about church history, especially the Reformation and how Christianity will look in the future. Now a month from the Oct. 31 anniversary of the Reformation, here’s a look at what he said.
Maher started his historical look with, “Every 500 years in the history of Christianity, there’s been a split. …
“This November is the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation, and I would say we are witnessing a greater fragmentation of the church that’s slowly unfolding.
“You have to remember, 500 years ago, when Martin Luther walked up to the cathedral in Wittenberg and nailed a bunch of theses on a door, nobody was there to live tweet it. It wasn’t screened. CNN did not have eight panelists talking about the socio-political implications.
“They weren’t talking about 8 million Christians were now going to be murdered as a result of the war that was going to follow. They didn’t talk about the impending showdown at the Diet of Worms.
“There was none of that. It was one guy on a church door. The only thing you heard was the sound of the hammer. It took decades for the effects of that to unravel. People think that because we live in such an immediate time that there’s going to be some singular defining moment.
“It’s going to work much like it did 500 years ago, where we are witnessing all these different events, and historians 75-100 years from now are going to look back and go, ‘Oh, wow, all these things were kind of building up for this outcome,' ” Maher said.
“I don’t think it’s going to be that the church is further fragmented. I think more and more Christians are going to need to find a center that they can come in around. The easiest center is a Gospel that is centered around Jesus.
“He is the glue. It’s not our doctrine. It’s not our theological constructs or the things that we hypothesize about our understanding of grace and mercy and atonement and justification. Those things are hugely important, and they deserve to be talked about, debated and us come to a deeper understanding of it. (But) at the end of the day, salvation is a gift from God. …
"What we understand is that in the person of Jesus, in the revelation of who he is and what he has done on the cross, we really see the central message of the Gospel, and more than ever, Christians have to go back to that and say, 'We need to be unified around that,' otherwise western civilization will fall into chaos. History shows us that.
“If you are a sociologist, you can look at trends in history and there’s enough examples of countries abandoning their faith and their Christian identity, and there currently is no other spiritual/philosophical view.
“There are a lot of people who don’t believe in God, that want secularism to somehow be the savior of humanity, but what history shows us so far is that that is not the case.
“You can make the argument that ancient Greece was far more intellectually adept that our current society, and they couldn’t hold it together. Roman society was much more liberal than our current society, and it couldn’t hold together."
Maher said despite differences in beliefs with friends, “what we do hold in common is who Jesus is in terms of his revelation, who the Trinity is and what God has done for us at the cross in terms of giving us salvation. After that part, we have disagreements, but that central part, the beginning part, the proclamation part we hold in common.
“We argue about how much did he save us, and we argue about what’s our role. Those are the arguments we are having, and those are arguments family can have, but we first have to be family. We have to see each other.
“I don’t think in our lifetime we are going to see us (as a) fully unified church in terms of doctrine. I don’t think that’s the point. I think God and the Holy Spirit will work things out in his timing and his will.
“But I think our responsibility is to see each other as brothers and sisters toward the common destination, which is Jesus, and it’s heaven, and it’s salvation, and it’s our understanding of it. Once we see each other and get to know each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord, I think God very naturally through relationships brings about a sense of understanding. … We still might have disagreements but we understand better where each of us is coming from, and our lives and our faith are actually enriched by having those people in our lives.”
Maher said, “I’ve had this passion for that center, which is Jesus, and that’s where I write songs from, and I think when you are worshiping God with someone you can’t yell at them.
“I think that’s a good place to start.”